The rapidly-spreading panic created by the latest Women in Architecture survey has been as-swiflty watered down by one of Australia’s prominent spokespersons for women in the profession.

‘Disbelief as gender pay gap widens at top level of practices’ was published by Architects Journal (AJ) on 26 February and reflected on the results of the 2016 Women in Architecture survey conducted by The Architecture Review (AR). It expressed the authors ‘disbelief’ and ‘shock’ that female directors, partners and principals of UK firms are taking home around $40,000(AUD) less than their male counterparts and in doing so sparked an outcry that was heard across the globe via various architecture media outlets.

This was followed by a similarly alarmist article by AR which said the survey warranted attention because it concluded that one in five women would not recommend a career in architecture to other females.

In response, Gill Matthewson, renowned spokesperson for women in Australian architecture and co-editor of Parlour, an incorporated association that promotes gender equality in architecture, took to Parlour’s website to express her own disbelief that the survey was a true depiction of women in the industry.

Matthewson’s main concern is that the authors of the above articles have overlooked the stated aim of the Women in Architecture survey which is to “track perceptions of equality, salary and flexible working”.

“The word ‘perceptions’ is key here,” explains Matthewson.

“The survey is not a targeted survey eliciting responses from a representative range of architects, it is more of the loose ‘see who answers’ kind.”

Such surveys are excellent at snapshotting perceptions, says Matthewson, but the survey sampling method means that year-to-year comparisons are seriously unsound.

“The most you can say is that the particular group of respondents who answered this year’s survey reports a bigger gap than the particular group who responded last year.”

From there, Matthewson digs into the stats and finds that some of the drama evaporates on closer inspection. Here’s the rest of her assertive article titled ‘Shock horror statistics’ as published on Parlour:

“Let’s have a look at the group this year. The AJ article states that more than 1,400 people responded around the world: 1,152 women and so approximately 300 men. Only 68 per cent of respondents live in the UK, which is where this alleged large increase in pay discrepancy is recorded. According to the UK Architects Registration Board, at the end of 2014 there were nearly 9,000 registered women architects and over 26,000 men. And that’s not including the legions of unregistered people working in the profession, which I estimate adds another 50 per cent to the numbers. So that’s well over 50,000 people, of whom less than 1,000 replied to the survey. Yes, there are pay gaps, and they matter greatly, but this series of surveys does not get us any closer to understanding their extent.

“Statistics are really important because as they are able to depict trends that might only be visible when you add everything up. They are also the most convincing tool available to those advocating for gender (and other) diversity in the profession. But they need to be available in as detailed, sophisticated and accurate a form as possible. The WIA survey year-to-year comparison statistics do not meet this criteria and their use diminishes the importance of the collation of perceptions in the surveys.

“It is these kind of scare statistics that helped generate the recent Gender Agenda debate in London (they called it “the irresponsible propagation of flawed statistics”). Pete Maxwell asked at the end of his blog review of this debate: “do we want to convince a generation of young women practitioners that they cannot succeed without a leg up?”

“Women do not need a leg up, they need the drag on their ankles of negative gender bias and discrimination to be removed, so they are as free to move as men. It is as simple as that. But also as complicated as that, because such bias is deeply embedded in every aspect of our social lives and society. Dismantling that is a long hard road and misrepresenting the situation does not help.