UPDATE (3/30/17): Bjarke Ingels Group CEO Sheela Maini Søgaard has defended the firm’s gender balance and equal opportunity culture following the social media backlash to an Instagram post showing the 12 partners at BIG, all men except for Søgaard. According to Søgaard, 50 percent of BIG's managers are female, 60 percent of its directors are female, and female employees account for 40 percent of total staff across the firm’s New York, London, and Copenhagen offices. "I personally, along with the rest of my partners at BIG, have dedicated much time and focus in these past years to fostering and promoting female talent," she told Dezeen. "I feel confident in having created a pipeline of diverse talent, which is the best insurance for diversity trickling up into the partner group.” Read her full statement here.
An Instagram post shared by Danish architect Bjarke Ingels over the weekend is generating an impassioned conversation in the comment section about gender in architecture. The photo, embedded below, depicts the 12 partners at Bjarke Ingels Group posing in the courtyard of Via 57 West, the firm’s tetrahedron-shaped, skyline-altering residential complex in New York City. Notably, all the partners are men, except for CEO Sheela Maini Søgaard, who has been with the firm since 2008 and describes BIG’s culture, in a 2015 interview, as “a true meritocracy.” Besides the head-to-toe black garb stereotype of architects, the image also seems to reinforce another known problem in the industry: the underrepresentation of women.
According to the American Institute of Architects, some 45 percent of architecture school graduates are women, but only 17 percent of principals and partners in AIA firms are women. The past, present, and future of this attrition of women in the profession is also the subject of a 2016 book, frankly titled Where Are the Woman Architects? More recently, a Curbed investigation on diversity in architecture shines a light on how the gender gap plays out in the field.
“If you're a woman, you have to prove that you know what you know. The tendency to dismiss you or call you a decorator is very, very strong,” Suchi Reddi, founding principal of Reddymade Architecture & Design, tells Curbed. “For me, that's certainly been more difficult than the racial thing.”
The BIG Instagram post in question, along with an all too on-the-nose caption, puts it all in plain sight. Here’s a look at some of the comments on Instagram, calling attention to the issue.
More female representation in architecture is necessary. How can we say that we build for all when the faces of our industry do not reflect the communities we provide for? - @lunashl3y
1 woman?! So 92% men building houses that will be lived in by 50% women. @bjarkeingels needs to work on this. - @honorfishburn
Yes, there is no good reason there should be only one woman at a company. It's not cute, nothing to be proud of. Either their unconscious biases prevent them from hiring qualified women, or there isn't really a pipeline of women in design (a larger systemic issue) and this firm isn't actively trying to recruit women. Or, they have done this but haven't retained any because the firm culture isn't good for women. Something is wrong and this firm is not blameless. - @keiruuhhh
Curbed has reached out for comment from BIG and will update this post when we hear back.