Dear Members of the Interior Designers of Alberta,
Without a doubt, the pandemic has caused all of us to rethink about the way we live and work, thus providing us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a new normal. In the churn of these thoughts, conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion have stirred up feelings regarding the injustice of gender bias as it relates to the design industry. Recent discussions in our industry have focused on creating equity for female architects, interior designers, and engineers within their respective disciplines, and elevating women into leadership roles. However, I would like our industry to dig deeper on this topic. I would like to talk about gender bias in relation to the differences between architecture and interior design.
Our profession has its roots in gender inequality, as interior design is considered feminine, superficial and imitative compared to the masculine, rational and original field of architecture. This boundary between our disciplines remains in place even though, clearly, there is great overlap in the scope, responsibilities and expertise of the two professions – so why is there still such a gender disparity? Architecture has been recognized as a profession for millennia, yet interior design didn’t emerge as an architectural specialization until the turn of the 20th century. This paternalistic evolution of the professions continues, and as such has devalued interior design.
According to Interior Design magazine, 69% of the 87,000 interior designers in the USA are women and Data USA, states that 89.9% of people in America with an Interior Design degree are female. Whereas the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that in 2019, 75% of the 208,000 people working as architects in the United States were men. These numbers indicate a large gender difference between the two professions, which has been translating into a bias in the value of work produced by an interior designer, versus that of an architect. While we have made progress in gender equality with respect to education and continue to see a greater gender balance in those enrolling in design schools, women continue to earn less than men do, and are less likely to advance in their careers.
These facts hit home recently as I was mentoring an interior designer through the process of creating a work plan and balancing the fees against the hours of work. This designer was stunned when she discovered that her charge-out rate was less than that of an Architectural Technician. “Why with my 4-year degree in Interior Design, is the fee we charge a client for my services is less than someone who has a 2-year diploma in architectural technology?” My response was not satisfying at all as I told her society values architecture more than interior design, and therefore will pay more for those services.
The odds are stacked against women, as highlighted in the following points from the Canadian Women’s Foundation:
- “Traditional “women’s work” pays less than traditional “men’s work.” Jobs that conform to traditional gender roles tend to be undervalued because they parallel domestic work that women were expected to perform for free. Research also suggests that when women make up a large percentage of a specific industry, wages become devalued.”
- “In Ontario, the highest paid 10% of women still earn 37% less than the highest paid 10% of men.”
- “Research shows that women who have children generally pay a price when it comes to salary, while men may benefit from becoming fathers. Mothers with at least one child under the age of 18 earned 85 cents for every $1 earned by fathers, while women without children earned 90 cents for every $1 earned by men without children, based on 2015 data from Statistics Canada.”
- “Even when children have grown up, mothers often continue to face earning penalties associated with caregiving for aging relatives.”