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PRACTICING AS PEERS ALI MENKE JOINER, AIA

Practicing architecture is hard. We go through rigorous studio sessions in college to achieve a degree and then continue to prove our value creatively and technically at work every day for the rest of our careers. Architecture school graduation and employment rates are finally at an all-time nearing of equality between genders, women are present in our schools and our firms, yet we continue to lack equal representation at the top of the profession and across leadership roles in our field. Our careers are born of passion that we shouldn’t have to give up or set aside. Yet women are not excelling at the same rate as men and are leaving the profession, so we must ask the question: why? Surrounded primarily by male leaders,we allow the industry to use the label “female architect” as a descriptor which automatically positions us as outsiders from the norm. When in truth, we are the norm. We do belong. And we should absolutely be designing the spaces of our future generations. EXPECTATIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES Social scripts run rampant in many aspects of our society. They create biased expectations of behavior, opinions and decisions, putting additional pressure on people to act a particular way. I believe social influences are holding women back in their careers, creating expectations at work and at home that we didn’t write for ourselves. I find this topic particularly hard to have a conversation about because women and men can easily become defensive due to our personal experiences. My intent here is to outline the general problem that I see, while understanding there is a range of occurrences for each of us. One career damaging assumption is that a woman focused on her career will not be a good candidate to be a spouse or mother. History tells us that we should have only one priority in life. Thus, if we choose to have a family, our leading identity is chosen for us: a working mother. Work is a compromise to mothering. Ask yourself: Have I heard a colleague being described as a “working father?” For men, their identity at work is their occupation. These titles are social constructs that influence how we see each other in the workplace. Secondly, women are so eager to participate and prove their value that we take on more than the job description includes, and we start with low-hanging fruit. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and University of Pittsburgh discovered that women tend to take on more “low promotability” tasks at work,¹ like planning a social event or serving on a committee. Usually these office tasks are essential for an organization’s cultural success, yet they don’t reflect capabilities as architects or add value to our professional

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CONNECTION

THE ARCHITECTURE AND DESIGN JOURNAL OF THE YOUNG ARCHITECTS FORUM

skills, thus slowing women down on the road to success. While the decision to volunteer might seem minor, in the time spent doing the office housekeeping, someone else is meeting with the boss or a client producing work. To reach the pinnacle of this profession, we need to focus on the work itself. Breaking down traditional gender roles benefits men and women. Each of us can’t keep "doing it all" and succeed in all aspects of our life. We need to be disciplined about our priorities and goals, find balance with our partners at home and at work, and learn when to say no, both inside and outside of the office. AUTHENTICITY OVER EXPECTATION So often, women hear advice like “don’t be emotional at work,” or they read articles about “thinking like a man,” which are typically directed toward women who want to succeed in a room full of men. Those strategies don’t hold an ounce of sustainability. They are statements that mute individuality for the sake of conformity or the refusal to adjust. Women do think differently; not better, not worse, differently. We were raised with different expectations and experiences. The best way to highlight our capabilities is to own the differences. We need to be our whole, honest selves. We need to establish connections and supportive relationships with our partners, in and out of the office. I’ve accepted that the way I see the world is intimately aware, emotionally responsive, and critically analyzed through a lens that is unique to my experiences and interpretation. I believe a specific viewpoint can be an advantage for certain projects and clients. Everyone should feel encouraged to identify their unique strengths and develop a network of people who have complimentary skills to yours. Build a dream team around you at every level of your career. Teamwork, and an ability to make progress with people, moves the needle. GET IN THE RING All women lose if any one of us expects an opportunity short of earning it. Future leaders need to embody enduring confidence, have an ability to take risks, and be strong in powerful "rooms." Strength cannot exist without vulnerability. It has been proven that women fear consequences more greatly than men do,² and nowhere is that more evident than in a creative dialogue. It requires vulnerability to sit at the table for the first time, to take on more responsibility, or speak up with design direction, but it allows others to see who you are, and it is then that your potential becomes visible to your teammates.

Profile for Young Architects Forum

YAF CONNECTION 17.01  

Since 2015, The Young Architects Forum has helped lead the national conversation on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives in architect...

YAF CONNECTION 17.01  

Since 2015, The Young Architects Forum has helped lead the national conversation on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion initiatives in architect...

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