In late October 2013 an amazing group of architects (who happen to be women), gathered in Phoenix for the third biennial AIA Women’s Leadership Summit. Big congratulations to the Summit Chairs – Diane Jacobs, Melissa Farling and Maria Salenger. They, along with their committee and support from the AIA Diversity and Inclusion staff, planned a fabulous event.
What are these Women’s Leadership Summits and how did the come to be?
Two of us from Payette, Sho-Ping Chin and Heather Taylor had a big part to play along with a committee of dedicated leaders here in Boston. In 2006 Sho-Ping, along with Katy Flammia, founded the Women’s Principal Group – a group of architects and allied colleagues in the Boston area who gather quarterly to discuss issues senior women leaders face in the profession; topics range from firm management to design process, industry liability and other issues and ultimately how we can better serve our clients.
In early 2009 we wondered if these conversations were occurring in other parts of the country. If these conversations were happening, we wanted to know the topics and how we could further the dialogue. The AIA was supportive of our inquiry and suggested a time slot a mere five months later in Chicago! Our group went to work – the core WLS planning group at the time included Sho-Ping Chin, Carole Wedge, Carol Burns, Jeanne Lukenda, Heather Taylor and Leila Kamal with support from Jane Weinzapfel, Katy Flammia and Janet Ross. Those with extensive rolodexes reached out to architects across the country. We pulled off the first Women’s Leadership Summit in Chicago in 2009. While the AIA anticipated about 50 attendees; we had over 150 of very senior leaders in the profession and design from across the country. With many roundtable discussions, each attendee was a participant in this two-day summit that focused on Leadership and Design.
The core goals from that summit remain our focus:
- Raise the Profile of Women Principals and Leadership in the Profession
- Share and Promote the Design Work of Women
- Explore New Paths to Leadership
- Learn from Each Other: Issues and Challenges
The conference was a success. It was a clear there was a need for this type of venue and gathering. Knowing how busy leaders in this profession are, we opted to meet every two years. Energized by what they saw and with an active WID group in Kansas City, Amy Slattery and Laura Pastine quickly volunteered to host the 2011 WLS in Kansas City. This summit was full of energy and brought architects from all corners of the country. It was clear we had something here!
These summits are different than a typical conference because the planning and advisory committee carefully crafts a framework of topics to be discussed and invites speakers. The planning is still a grassroots effort. One participant who attended all the summits noted, “This careful planning and detail is what makes these summits so rich in content.” Another active AIA member said, “This had an energy unlike any other AIA event I have attended.”
This year’s event had around 225 attendees. The idea of the conference is keep the size intimate and draw from all corners of the country to reach women in different parts of the practice. Part of the success of the conference is its intimacy. We are already discussing different models, so that we can maintain that feel, but also reach more people as it is clear there is an appetite for these conversations and we want others, including our male counterparts, to benefit from the positive energy of these summits.
The structure of this year’s conference maintained the original model of a day dedicated to leadership and a day dedicated to design. Marilyn Jordan Taylor, FAIA, Dean of the School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania and formerly a partner for more than 30 SOM, was the keynote speaker. Marilyn spoke about her history and her roots in Iowa. She mused on how someone from the land of good black dirt came to do what she has and shared with us, “I love the mad crazy energy of cities.” She noted the serendipitous events that led her to her current position. We heard from amazing panels that took us through different facets of our careers:
EDUCATE – women representing the academy
PRACTICE – women from all scales of practice
OWN – architects who have become owners and our clients
PUBLICS & POLITICS – getting involved
PROPEL – women who opened our eyes to the expansive boundaries of our reach in engineering, sustainability and space – yes, the final frontier!
Day two of the conference focused on design – and was located at the Phoenix Art Museum, design by Todd Williams Billie Tsien Architects. The INSPIRE panel featured Billie Tsien and Hsin Ming Fung. A very engaging conversation was moderated by Julie Snow. The final panel, ENGAGE, highlighted inspiring young leaders who have already made their mark in the profession.
The summit concluded with a tour of the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix by Will Bruder, guided by Will Bruder himself.
The question we return to is; how to keep the dialogue going between these Summits – and continue to strengthen the ties we’ve made and celebrate great work. These discussions are on-going – please reach out to us with questions or comments. Planning for WLS 2015 in Seattle is underway. If you have comments or thoughts – more information will be available soon. You can also reach out to Sherry Snipes at the AIA under Diversity and Inclusion with questions.
AIA Women’s Leadership Summit 2013