Researchers at the University of the West of England are investigating why so many qualified female architects leave the profession.
Some 37 per cent of architecture students are women. This represents a 10 per cent rise over a decade, although the rise has now levelled off. Only 13 per cent of practising architects are female, however, and over the same period the proportion either remained static or fell.
Ann de Graft-Johnson, senior lecturer in planning and architecture at UWE, is leading the Royal Institute of British Architects-funded project to canvass the opinion of women architects, higher education staff and students on what they believe are the problems with a view to drawing up guidelines to overcome these.
She said there was no single reason for the dropout rate, but issues cited so far were poor pay, a culture of long hours, a dearth of female role models and being treated less favourably than men.
Architecture is notoriously vulnerable to the economic climate, and one female architect said that during a redundancies round in her firm, all the women had been laid off.
Ms de Graft-Johnson said: "I think that while this generation of female students is probably more assertive and more ambitious, there's an issue about a gradual slipping of confidence if they're out of the profession for some time, either because of children or redundancy."
Architecture pays more poorly than comparable professions requiring a similar level of training, but women were paid less than men. This could be more of a reflection that women do more part-time work, thereby losing out on promotion prospects and potentially higher earnings. But one architect complained that when she asked for a pay rise, she was laughed at and ignored.
The UWE recommendations might include better information on employees'
rights, said Ms de Graft-Johnson, since architects lacked an advisory body.
"A lot of people don't know their rights in the way that a profession with more union activity does," she said. "Some of these issues affect men as well, and this will be a useful review of the profession."