UP THE LADDER | Landscape Architecture Magazine


Research by Samantha Solano, ASLA and TJ Marston of the VELA Project.

New research from the VELA project examines gender equity in landscape architecture education.

Samantha Solano, ASLA and TJ Marston again took a look under the hood of gender equity in landscape architecture. Following their groundbreaking research initiative (and winner of the 2021 ASLA Professional Excellence Award), the VELA Project (Visualizing Equity in Landscape Architecture), in which the team aggregated 17,000 data points on women in leadership positions, they turned to the pipeline of female educators.

In their original research project, Marston and Solano found that while 55% of landscape architecture graduates are women, only 15% of businesses identify as being run by women. “I kept hearing, ‘Yeah, we just need more women in the pipeline,'” says Marston, visiting professor at Florida International University school of landscape architecture. Drawing data from professional associations and schools, this research initiative first examined professional practice (licensing, ASLA leadership, professional rewards, and career phase) and created data visualizations who made their conclusions clear and instantly clear. “We were surprised to find that the data showed it wasn’t a pipeline issue,” Marston says. “There are a lot of women coming in. We’re just losing them.”

In the academic realm, Marston and Solano saw many of the same dynamics at play. Just as obtaining a license has become a point of attrition for women in professional practice, obtaining a position in the Academia is also a limiting barrier for women, with fewer and fewer women represented in the upper echelons of university leadership.

Research by Samantha Solano, ASLA and TJ Marston of the VELA Project.

Before entering the workforce, women do more than hold on: VELA research has shown that women won 55% of ASLA student scholarships from 2004 to 2018. But there is a steady decline after graduation, with 10% of women leaving their fields when they become eligible for the LARE exam, 15% leaving during licensure and mid-career leadership, and an additional 15% of women in leadership roles advanced businesses. The VELA study also listed that from 1981 to 2018, less than 10% of ASLA Professional Awards went to women-led companies. Forty-five percent of tenure-track assistant professors identify as female, putting gender equity at a striking distance. But from there, the rate of women represented drops to 28% of full professors.

Research by Samantha Solano, ASLA and TJ Marston of the VELA Project.

There are reasons to believe that at least some corners of academia could be a more equitable environment for women than professional practice. With their survey limited to public schools, which are often subject to regulations on equal representation, pay equity and pay transparency, these metrics (particularly academic salaries, which are comparable for men and women in landscape architecture on average) are more equitable. “You can see that reflected in the data,” Marston says. “These regulations and transparencies have an effect on opportunities for women.”

In private practice, younger staff, with fresher experiences of such academic environments, have a strong desire to see equity modeled in their workplaces, Marston says. In the absence of regulations that schools must meet, “in private practice, it’s really up to practitioners to see the demand in the workforce for these kinds of practices,” she says.

Research by Samantha Solano, ASLA and TJ Marston of the VELA Project.

In March 2021, VELA presented its new research on equity in academia, examining graduation rates, faculty rank and salary, and research and teaching awards at the Council’s 2021 conference. landscape architecture educators, and last month they shared their graphics on the WxLA Instagram feed. Even in a relatively fairer environment, Marston and Solano found plenty of room for improvement. Notably, only five women in 21 years have won the prestigious ASLA award Jot D. Carpenter Teaching Medal, which honors outstanding educators in landscape architecture, and only 18% of distinguished faculty members (the highest level of academic leadership surveyed) identify as women. But there are bright spots. In 1975, there were only six tenure-track female landscape architecture professors. Today, there are approximately 388 women across the United States teaching landscape architecture at universities at all faculty ranks. And there has been solid progress among junior faculty members, where parity is within reach. Forty-three percent of instructors and lecturers are women.

Research by Samantha Solano, ASLA and TJ Marston of the VELA Project.

At all levels of faculty, there are more non-tenured than tenured women (43% versus 39% respectively). Marston attributes this discrepancy to women’s need for career flexibility to balance often heavier loads of domestic responsibilities: a balance more conducive to auxiliary roles. The emphasis on single authorship of scholarly research required by tenure, she says, runs counter to the way landscape architecture is practiced collaboratively in business and becomes an additional barrier that inhibits the full participation of women as they balance their commitments to their families. “I find that to be a problem in the academic stream,” Marston says. “Women, at certain times in their lives, tend to have greater hurdles to overcome in caring for their families. That kind of flexibility and the ability to work more with other people and find different ways to recognize accomplishments not just on the basis of single fatherhood would help women be more empowered.

Research by Samantha Solano, ASLA and TJ Marston of the VELA Project.

The first survey of gender equality in landscape architecture took place in the 1970s, with a 1973 study of women in the profession by Darwina Neal, who eventually became ASLA’s first female president and was recently awarded the 2021 ASLA Medal posthumously. Her study found that ASLA members at the time were only 5% women. A 1975 report by Miriam Rutz focused on the role of women in teaching landscape architecture.

Solano and Marston then want to address the representation of minorities and also illustrate the experiential dimensions of widespread inequality. “There is a connection between the data and these lived experiences,” says Marston. “It’s really important for those conversations too, because it [can] help us understand why certain things happen, because that’s how you can identify and fix problems.


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