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Posts tagged ‘feminism’

The Advantages of Being a Woman in Architecture

When I first thought of this blog post, I was excited. I figured, “why not! There must be a ton of reasons. Right?” I mean, there are missing women in the field but there’s also an emergence of recognition for women in architecture (and the missing ones!). People are claiming the proverbial the glass ceiling is shattered! I could find a positive spin too, couldn’t I?

I decided to sit in a quiet room and really think this one through. Actually, I’m on hold with Orange (the equivalent of ATT in France), so I have tons of time. I pick up my pen. I pause.

Are there any advantages at all?

In fact, it took me a long while to come up with a narrative for this blog. I wanted to stay away from the simplistic notions, like women are better at interior design and kitchen design or that women care more about program so they are better at planning.

I decided I would make this a personal perspective about why architecture suits me as a women and a human being.

  1. I do not have to go play racket ball with my male client as they never ask. Same goes for golf and poker games.  This is all good since I’m not much for team sport or activities.
  2. Being one of the few women architects who owns her own business in Northern California confers respect and means I am a slighter bigger fish in a huge pond.
  3. I have learned a ton (pun intended) about structures and construction and yet, like many of my male architects friends, I’ve never felt the need to pick up a hammer and put that knowledge to use.  I’m happy to have the contractors do that.
  4. In the same vein, I can easily impress any contractors when I start to talk about construction technologies.
  5. Architecture is a multi facetted endeavor that fits many personality types. For me thinking outside the box is an essential part of what and how I operate and architecture is a good fit.  Architecture also moves at a snail’s pace while I move at the speed of a bullet train. It’s good for me to work on something that slows me down.
  6. Architecture involves a lot of multi tasking, which is really just a euphemism for having to juggle about ten balls up in the air all at once. But I love juggling.
  7. My feminist social values have always been at the forefront of my architectural thinking.  It is my commitement to women reproductive rights, right to abortions and affordable health care, that led me to work for Planned Parenthood, Feeling social injustice is a big motivator and I feel proud using my career as a tool to help make an active difference in health care design.
  8. 8. And finally I have enjoyed the camaraderie with other female architects. Nothing like being a minority to make you stick together. Us women architects really know what it means to be in the trench and it has made us closer and willing to share experiences expertise and just a good stiff drink.


You can’t find us in binders, Mitt, but don’t worry – we’ll find you.

 If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely — and the right to be heard. – First Lady Hilary Clinton at the U.N. Women’s Conference in Beijing (1995)

Last week, I participated in a panel at the AIA San Francisco conference called The Missing 32%.The panel sought, through discussion, to better understand and improve the fate of women architects. The 32% refers to the women who disappear from the profession after graduating from an architecture program.

I want to mention that, initially, I was not one of the invited speakers. And when I first found out about the event, I mentally noted that they had no speakers that were women, sole owners of their architectural firms. But I led it slide off my back–I was not going to broach the subject with the AIA.

I don’t know why I let it go at first. I have always been extremely outspoken, some might even say vociferous, about the need for equality and diversity in architecture and have never hesitated to try and shake things up. I grew up a feminist. I have never doubted for a minute that I was as good as the guys and as deserving.

I started my own firm more than 25 years back. I have a successful design business and I am old enough to feel that I have nothing more to prove. I know that I have spent the last few decades proving that a woman can run her own practice.

But fate intervened. I received an email from the AIA California Committee asking for suggestions on where to find new members of a committee I was on.  The list of prospective broke down to 8 men and 3 women (28% women).  It was so normal for women to be the minority.

 The fact that this AIA official does not even think that diversity on a prominent AIA committee is a priority, if not an obligation, is typical. After all, we only make up 18% of licensed architects but that number becomes even smaller, even less significant, in smaller firms, on committees, within bureaucracy.

I knew then that the women’s panel was too important to pass-up.

But I had to make the calls (well, the emails) and contact the powers that be. This is the reality of being a woman in architecture, day by day, event by event, I trek through this life looking for ways to show that women are as good as men and deserve the same opportunities, the same design awards, the same committee positions.

If you want to have more power in your firm, if you want more opportunities in the work place, than you must ask for it. Sometimes you can ask quietly, sometimes a little more forcefully, and sometimes you will have to shout. Sometimes, you might even have to grab the opportunities yourself, like I did with the panel.

If you want to see more women rise in the rank of leadership in architecture and in the AIA, you need willpower and perseverance. And you can never forget that is a daily battle and a daily decision to make the world a better place for women tomorrow.

And if you’re feeling hesitant, step 1 is easy: voting for anyone but Mitt Romney.

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