In honor of Women’s History Month, AIA hosted the March #AIAChat on breaking the glass ceilings, mentors, sponsors and women leaders in architecture. Moderated by HKS Associate Principal, Julie Hiromoto, the discussion brought to together architecture professionals from California to Massachusetts – all sharing their experiences and advice for women in architecture.
It was an inspiring hour-long discussion which we wanted to keep going. So with that in mind, we sat down with Payette Women in Design Co-Chair Alison Laas for her thoughts on the questions addressed in the discussion.
Name one woman you think has had the most impact on breaking architecture’s glass ceiling.
Denise Scott-Brown, in her design work, writing, and visibility she has brought to architecture as a collaborative endeavor.
What progress has been made for women in the architecture profession?
Recently I have seen greater visibility and attention paid to the need to make changes in how we do business in the architecture profession in order to keep women in the profession and support them into positions of leadership. I see this as a result of the efforts of the AIA in the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion survey and other efforts that bring hard data to issues women face throughout their career. Now that visibility has been raised, action needs to be taken at the individual firm level to shift how we work and support women and others of diverse backgrounds to make it easier to succeed in the profession in the long term.
Name one woman who personally impacted your career. Why was this meaningful to you?
One of my colleagues at Payette, Elizabeth Cox, has been one of my most valued peer mentors. She is always reminding me of my strengths when I am not always good at self-promotion or advocacy. Because we are going through many of the same professional and life transitions together, she has also been a great sounding board and compatriot in how to deal with new professional challenges as we grow in the architecture profession together.
What can AIA do nationally to ensure women are encouraged and valued at firms? What should the programs, initiatives, or guidelines look like? Do we need more training, webinars, informal meetings, etc?
Education of firm leadership is critical to making an immediate change in how women are advanced in the profession. Even as more women are graduating from architecture programs, if those graduating designers are to have role-models in women who are licensed architects and working in the profession in all phases of career development. Education in why role models are important, why women leave the profession, and how better to support women throughout various stages of their careers to keep them in the profession are all important. Data gathering to support this education is already happening. Delivery methods for this education may need to occur informally and personally in addition to more traditional methods of program delivery.
A mentor is a trusted adviser or confidant. A SPONSOR advocates or creates opportunities for your growth. Do women in architecture need more active and purposeful support?
I have been fortunate in my career to have received both mentorship and sponsorship from a variety of talented individuals. My career growth has benefitted from both, but I have found that having a sponsor has been critical for me at key junctions in my career. While my mentors have helped me to figure out my own goals and reflect on where I want to be, my sponsors have helped those goals become reality when something really needed to change for me to take the next step. Everyone in the profession would benefit from this type of support. The reality for many women is that we often face more of these transition moments in their career, especially around times of starting a family or caregiving, and at those transitions sponsorship is critical.
What would you tell a male colleague who wants to better understand challenges women face in our profession? What can they do to help?
Women are still often be stereotyped in their roles on project work, typically finding themselves in management or interior design roles. Male colleagues can recognize the individuality of the strengths of their female colleagues to ensure that project roles and design opportunities are assigned based on merit. The easiest things male colleagues can do to help this is to ask and discuss with women where they see their own strengths and interests in design lie and how project teams can be shaped to support individuals without making assumptions.
How can women support and encourage one another at work?
I have a great group of peer mentors of women in my network who I turn to when I need perspectives of others who are in the thick of similar experiences. This group is a great sounding board and support providing each other positive encouragement and advice when we have it to share. Even a quick email congratulating a peer on a job well done or offering an ear is a great and easy way for women to support each other in the profession.