A long road

Oct 28, 2019

Progress is slow, but the AEC industry is becoming more diverse every year, particularly with the newer generation.

The recently released 2018 AIA Firm Survey reported that over the past decade, the share of women in architecture has increased from 28 percent to 35 percent and minorities have increased from 22 percent to 27 percent. Other sources state that there are significantly less women represented in engineering firms (11 percent), and even less in construction (1.3 percent).

At present, 40 percent of emerging professionals on the path to licensure are women, and it’s expected that by 2025, 41 percent of all architecture firm staff will be women. Firm ownership is rapidly becoming more gender balanced; just 11 percent of principals/partners were women in 2008, and today that figure is more than 30 percent. Zweig Group surveys found that across all AEC industries, 17 percent of principals are female.

Looking at the AEC industry as a whole, Zweig Group surveys found that there’s a significant age correlation with the gender gap. Equity among gender is increasing among young professionals, but drops as age increases. Last year, 10.8 percent of the AEC industry was between 18-25 years old. This age range is 40 percent female. By the 26 to 35 year-old age range, (30 percent of all people employed in the industry), it’s dropped to 33 percent female, for the 36-45 range, the industry is 29 percent female, and the 46-55 range is 26 percent female.

So is there a problem with diversity in the AEC industry? We asked principals in the 2019 Principals, Partners & Owners Survey and the majority answered “yes.” Splitting responses by gender, 75 percent of females believe diversity is an issue compared to 58 percent of men.

What can be done to promote diversity and equity? Zweig Group’s Best Firms To Work For program found that just 42 percent of firms specifically recruit women, and 41 percent specifically recruit minorities. Just 10 percent of all firms hold diversity seminars/education; however, 43 percent of firms with 500-plus people participate in this practice. According to the AIA report, smaller architecture firms were most likely to center diversity-related practices around K-12 education activities, community outreach, and alignment with business goals. Larger firms were more likely to engage in specific recruiting and retention strategies.

The most popular approach is simply offering “a range of benefits that appeal to different people,” however, this seems to be where firms fall short. Zweig Group’s 2019 Recruitment & Retention Survey found that 41 percent of firms have no maternity leave and 64 percent of firms have no paternity leave. The corresponding gender gap with age also suggests that many women decide to leave the AEC industry when they decide to have a family.

Much of the data does point to good news and a positive case for promoting gender equity and diversity. Zweig Group Salary Surveys found that overall, women make about 93.3 percent as much as men in architecture and 94.7 percent in engineering. These figures are much closer to equality than is seen in many other industries, where the pay gap is reportedly 80 percent or more.

For firms looking for a case to become more diverse, Zweig Group’s 2019 Valuation Survey found that certified women-owned business enterprises outpaced the field in five out of the six value ratios. Generally, firms with a designation (minority, disadvantaged, women-owned, or small business enterprises) performed better than those with none.

Christina Zweig Niehues is Zweig Group’s director of research and e-commerce. Contact her at czweig@zweiggroup.com.

About Zweig Group

Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.