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Calling All Men of Architecture --- WE NEED YOU!

This piece was posted by Megan Blaine, AIA, Founder of Blaine Architects. It was written by a former colleague of Megan’s as a call to action.

Believing in gender equity is not just a female issue. We need support from everyone, including men. We know most men believe in equity, but they often aren’t aware of gender discrimination in the workplace, and perhaps more importantly, they don’t know what to do about it.

We're recruiting male allies or “Manbassadors”, if you will, to help combat the subtle ways that gender discrimination creeps into our workplace. You don't have to sign up, declare your intent, or march with a sign. By doing any one of the small actions below, that's it; you're part of the movement. 

Take a look at this list of surprising things that happen to your female coworkers, and the small steps you can take to be an advocate for gender equity: 

  1. THE MENIAL TASK: We get asked to do many more non-work-related menial tasks than our male counterparts, from fetching everything from coffee, picking up prints, making copies, and breakfast to organizing parties and planning social events. If a woman in your group is asked to do something that isn't her job, don't turn and look at her expectantly, or avoid her eye contact. Say "Oh Michelle doesn't need to grab coffee, I'll do it."
  2. THE MENTION: Frequently women have a hard time gaining notoriety for the quality of their work. A lot of this is because we're not as good at self-promotion, but that's on us, we're working on that. What you can do: Recently my husband took 60 seconds out of his annual review to say "I think Amy and Kristen feel under-appreciated here, and it's really going to suck for all of us if they leave. I just want to put in a plug for them that I think they're doing stellar work above and beyond what their job description is and what they're being compensated for." There were zero negative repercussions for him, they didn't give his raise to Amy and Kristen. And he said his boss seemed surprised like he hadn't yet considered all the these women had been doing for their department. 
  3. THE CONFERENCE CALL WALL OF SOUND: Studies actually show that people just do not hear women's voices as well as men's, so we get talked over and interrupted in conference calls... a lot. If you notice a female team member struggling to be heard in a conference call, use that deep, baritone of yours to say, "Hey guys I think Kate has something to contribute here." It works like magic. 
  4. THE PUNCHLINE: Laughter in the workplace is a necessity, but be wary of jokes at the expense of women. Femininity is the butt of the joke far too often. Whether it’s playful banter with other guys for playing with Barbies, or joking about women talking too much at a board room table, it communicates to women that we’re less respectable by nature, while elevating masculinity as the more respectable trait. A couple of male colleagues used to joke around by challenging the masculinity of the other, often putting each other down through feminine qualities, until one of the men privately messaged the other, “Hey man, what’s wrong with being a girl? You’re putting me down by saying I’m a girl, but why is being a girl an insult?” There was no big show of it, but the guys still work together and still get along.
  5. THE CC DROP: This happens all the time, someone sends an email to the group, and on the Reply All the woman in the group is dropped from the thread. If you notice this, add her back in on your reply. Extra credit: say "Adding Sarah back into the thread, think you guys accidentally dropped her."
  6. THE SWEETHEART: We get called things like 'girls' and 'sweetie' a lot, especially on site. We get asked if we’re “going shopping” during site observation walks. Crude jokes are often made at the expense of women, right in front of us. Like, you would be shocked how much. Unfortunately it's often when we're by ourselves. This is a tough one to fix, so you get lots of extra ally points if you can do it. If you hear someone call your female team member 'girls', 'sweetheart', or basically anything they wouldn't call you, try to find a private moment with that person to say "Hey, I know you didn't mean anything by it, but as a firm policy we try not to call the women in our organization 'girls', and I'm wondering if you might do the same. I'm sure you understand." This has so much power coming from you in a non-confrontational way. 
  7. THE EMAIL TO 'GENTLEMAN' OR 'GENTS': Yes, even if you are writing to a group of all men. Chances are very high that women will be added into the thread or have the email forwarded to them, and it feels incredibly exclusionary to see that no one considered a woman might be able to contribute to the topic. Unless you are planning a bachelor party, try using gender neutral terms like All, Everyone, Team, or even Folks if you want to get cute.
  8. THE LEAP OF FAITH: This one is the most important: Just believe us. It takes a lot of guts for a woman to speak up and say she feels unfairly treated. She's probably not making it up! Instead of immediately defending the behavior she is relating to you, try the mental exercise of "What if she's right?" At a minimum you will be a more supportive ear, and at best you'll be fostering a better, more inclusive workplace.



If you're interested in these issues on a global scale, check out the United Nations' He for She campaign: 

Women Leaders in the Age of Social Connection

This piece was written by Katia McClain, AIA, DBIA, LEED AP BD+C, Associate and Managing Director at LPA.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend's 13-year-old son had a homework assignment regarding women in leadership and equity for women. He asked me if I knew how many current world leaders, head of state of government are women. My answer was 20 and I was short by 9. As of January 2017, there are currently 29 female leaders in the world - the lowest number in several years. Included are women such as Queen Elizabeth, Angela Merkel, and Michelle Bachelet. Some have inherited the position, but most have fought hard for it. But while the imbalance in these figures continues to be a struggle, there are other ways women have taken hold of powerful leadership positions. 

We don't have to be "world leaders" to truly lead and affect our world. There are women that are not the head of any government, but in this age of social change, technology, and social media, they have great influence in our community. I think of women like Mother Teresa, Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, and Malala Yousafzai, who, when they speak, with their callings and passions unique as a fingerprint, they inspire us all.

For me to respect and follow a great leader, I need to recognize and understand those leadership traits that make a great leader. Women, in particular, have off-the-chart instincts and emotional intelligence that empower them with a unique ability to lead in a different way than we've historically observed from men in leadership. The best women leaders I know are empathic and demonstrate an inclusive, team-building leadership style of decision-making. With global attitudes towards leadership shifting toward more collaborative and inclusive strategies, these traits are not only sought after, but necessary in order to make a difference in the world. Now is the perfect moment for women to embrace their collaborative nature and step up. Leadership is not about controlling. It is about inspiring. 

The women leaders I know are resilient because they have a circular vision and can see what is around the corner. But with that forethought comes cautionary insight. Paired with a perfectionist mindset, and we tend to avoid risks to a fault, needing to be absolutely positive of success before trying something new. Stop! This thinking holds us back from taking charge and it must change! Let’s strive for excellence, but not for perfection. True leaders carry an “I’ll show you” attitude when faced with adversity and have an insatiable desire to always do better, rarely satisfied with the status quo. Tory Burch once said, “If it doesn’t scare you, you are probably not dreaming big enough.” Dream big and take risks; don’t let others tell you what you can and can’t do. And remember that you aren't alone - embrace your support system through the challenges, and celebrate with them through the wins.

I have learned from women mentors that being genuine is of upmost importance. They know their strengths, limitations, fears, and emotions, and they don't mask them. This authenticity makes them connect with others at a deeper level, with their heart and their mind. It takes kick-ass women to encourage future kick-ass women, and these mentors have encouraged me to be myself, love myself, forgive myself, and accept who I am.

These undervalued traits make women different type of leaders; we understand survival and we are not afraid to fight for what we believe in. We reinvent ourselves every morning and live our lives in a constant entrepreneurial spirit. We value our families and are the glue that keep things together. In times of cultural transformation, it is our right-brain, feminine consciousness, our best guide. 

Embrace the shifting tides, embrace your unique strengths, and lead - the future depends on it.

Build Your Tribe - 8 Values for Leadership Success

This piece was written by Mariana Alvarez Parga, AIA, Director of Architecture + Sustainability at MADI Architecture + Planning. It was inspired by a few books and videos listed at the bottom, as well as a conversation with her best friend and colleague, Jorgelina Roset, General Manager at Blaisten SA in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

. . .

As soon as I started reading Tribe, a new book from Sebastian Junger where he explains our evolutionary heritage from tribal behavior, I couldn't help but think about his message applied to a firm’s leadership. As I read along and realized that his message was about our society’s flaws, it made perfect sense to interpret it for the small scale society that is work.

In his book, Junger explains that a big struggle for returning war veterans is their reentry into society (or lack-of). This is because they are coming from a “tribal” environment where they had a defined role and responsibility towards the group, but that vanishes when they can't clearly see how they're needed in the society they are returning to. Their sense of belonging and self-worth is almost non-existent when they return, and Junger explains that it's not the veterans but society that's the problem.   

This idea made me analyze my work experiences through the years and I found that those moments where I felt the most demotivated were the moments were my role in the “tribe” was not clear. The key to resolving this is communication. Both leadership and members of the team need to have constant communication for a clear understanding of a project, its milestones, priorities and the roles of each member. 

Becoming part of a firm’s leadership is an endeavor that is personal and unique to each individual. We all have different qualities, goals, and motivators. As I continue to learn about my own, I recognize that by doing a better job in understanding our human nature, we can start to correct global problems with our society one firm at a time. Here are 8 values I've identified that will help strengthen leadership skills:

  1. Build work environments where there is a predominance of trust, happiness and commitment within the team. These are first affected by structure, culture and strategy of a firm and its leadership - invest time on defining and developing them. Next, embrace what is needed for your team members to feel trust: team support, fair work, equity, team work, participation, belonging, and good communication. 
  2. Communicate. Good communication can be achieved by being impeccable with your words, speaking with integrity, avoiding assumptions, respecting all voices, recognizing others, and encouraging group participation and creativity
  3. Build sustainable teams by understanding people’s personalities and the basic things that keep most of us content. In the big picture, we all need to feel competent at what we do, authentic, and connected with others - competence, autonomy, and community. In Junger’s words “these values are intrinsic to human happiness and far outweigh extrinsic values such as beauty, money and status.”
  4. Frequently check the climate, that is, how people feel. It's not enough to setup the system and let it run. Things will break down overtime. Make it a habit to review and make adjustments as needed.
  5. Stay relevant, be visible and approachable. Transparency, openness, and approachability will ensure good communication is reciprocal. You need to not only be a good speaker, but an excellent listener.
  6. Take care of your own happiness first. If you're unhappy, others will feel and reflect unhappiness back to you. So seek out what you need to feel good: inspiration, freedom, friendship, being yourself and feeling valued.  Express gratitude and make time to laugh.
  7. Travel abroad. It will give you a broader perspective on things and help you reset priorities (both in business and in a personal level). 
  8. Perform periodic self-evaluations and remind yourself of what you think a leader should be. Look back at leadership models, your sponsors, mentors.Ask yourself what legacy you want to leave, and assess whether you're on the right path. If you aren't, make adjustments. If you are, keep moving forward!

I believe these values can greatly help everyone because they reinforce the sense of community we all need in our core - a tribal structure, one which has been all but lost in modern society. These values create healthy organizations that give individuals a purpose while also strengthening the whole - when your people thrive, your tribe thrives. 

The Power of a Mentor

Written by Patricia Galvan. This piece is dedicated to Kevin Davies, AIA and David Whitney, AIA, two architects whom I admire for their professionalism, hard work, patience, and dedication to mentoring design professionals.

. . .

At the top of my annual review questionnaire this year was a quote by the notable late architect, Zaha Hadid,

“You have to be very focused and work very hard, but it is not about working hard without knowing what your aim is! You really have to have a goal. The goal posts might shift, but you should have a goal. Know what it is that you are trying to find out.”

While the quote was meant to inspire me to think about how my professional goals dovetail with the firm’s goals, I’ve had some extra time while on maternity leave to slow down and reflect on all of my accomplishments, both professional and personal. My life is about to change dramatically as I prepare to welcome my first child into the world. I don’t know what the future holds, but I know how I grew to be who I am today. Zaha Hadid’s quote reminds me of a time, early in my career, that was loaded with objectives, focus, hard work, and the development of critical professional relationships.

. . .

In 2004 I graduated from the University of Southern California’s School of Architecture on the cusp of major changes to the California Architects Board’s (CAB) requirements for licensure candidacy. I was faced with a decision: declare exemption from NCARB’s IDP by establishing candidate eligibility with CAB before 2005, or forge ahead and complete the IDP. My concern was that, without a structured and nationally recognized internship, gaining experiences that would sculpt me into the best Architect I could be would be an uncertain, uphill battle. So, when given the opportunity to opt out of NCARB’s IDP, I opted in, wholeheartedly.

If I’m being honest, the experience of completing the IDP was nothing short of stressful. In the years following the economic recession of 2008, during a time when most firms were laying off employees, I was fortunate enough to be employed by a firm whose specialty market was thriving and growing, despite all odds. Unfortunately, this meant that there was little time for the experienced architects to impart their wisdom on the junior staff, despite their best intentions. I use the term “junior staff” loosely. There’s no denying that the process of becoming an architect can be long and arduous; a licensure candidate could easily have upwards of 10 years of experience working in the profession and be no closer to licensure than a recent grad, and that was certainly the case at this firm. But unlike my junior staff peers, my commitment (and the firm’s commitment to me) to complete the IDP in the allotted 3 years turned out to be my secret weapon.

“…treat your professional development like you would any other project.”

The IDP forced my employer’s hand to expose me to aspects of the profession that I might not have otherwise experienced. More importantly, it forced me to find a mentor within the firm. Unexpectedly, this mentor became my advocate in staffing meetings and one of my most trusted and esteemed colleagues. Together, we were able to complete NCARB’s IDP on schedule. Our mentor-mentee relationship was intentional; we scheduled monthly “Meeting of the ‘Ments” that took place outside of the office, allowing us the opportunity to speak in earnest. Looking back, some of our most memorable and most productive meetings were in times of distress. I would find myself at my wit’s end and my mentor would help me see past my frustrations and offer me motivation to keep forging ahead. That relationship was crucial to my growth and success.

The role of mentors, whether formalized through a structured program or unofficial and casual, is invaluable for professional development in architecture. Mentors offer a special kind of support that friends and colleagues might not be able to offer: keeping up a mentee’s spirits and stamina. In recent years the movement to improve the quality of life in the profession gained steam, thanks to survey results published by organizations such as the AIA San Francisco’s Equity by Design Committee, but there is lots of room for improvement. Without the support offered by mentors, junior staff find themselves facing stressful and overwhelming pinch points throughout their career, often leaving the profession altogether. In order to improve the health and success of young professionals, we must forge these mentorship relationships.

To aspiring architects and candidates on the path to licensure, here is my advice:

  • Make connections and start evaluating potential mentors early on.

Once you’ve got a good understanding of who your possible mentors are, take a step back and define what it is about those individuals that you are drawn to. Certainly you will need to get along easily with your mentors, but you should also be able to recognize in your mentors characteristics and skills that you can identify as needing development in yourself. One important aspect of a mentor-mentee relationship that should not be overlooked? Honesty. You need to be able to pick up what they’re laying down – the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  • Keep a list of skills and qualities that you want to master, then establish tangible goals and assign timelines.

In short, treat your professional development like you would any other project - check in with yourself regularly to document your progress. You may find that your goals, desires and timelines shift, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Professional development is about making changes, and when it comes to change the only real form of failure is failing to make progress. Achieving goals is a wonderful thing, but you may one day realize that your true value as a professional cannot be measured by certificates, plaques or a pay check. You may realize that your value is more closely linked to who you’ve grown into as you’ve faced and cleared the obstacles along the way. Remember: progress, not perfection.

 “…the only real form of failure is failing to make progress.”
  • Give back: Do good and you’ll do well.

What your version of giving back looks like is entirely up to you. The bottom line is to get out of yourself, go forth and be the change you want to see in the world. My personal volunteer experiences have ranged from building care packages for the troops (I’m a proud Blue Star Sister – Go Navy!), leading design exercises at middle school career days, working the coffee bar at my church, and chairing the WIA Committee of the AIA Santa Clara Valley Chapter during its inaugural year. Whatever your passion is, let it lead you to something bigger than yourself. You will be amazed at how much you have yet to grow, at how much your help is needed and appreciated, and if you’re paying attention you might find yourself humbled when you are able to make that special connection with a person whose path was meant to cross yours. I’m reminded of the lyrics to a song made popular by the artist Rihanna, “Funny you’re the broken one but I’m the only one who needed saving...” I firmly believe that there are no coincidences in this life and we were not meant to muddle through it in isolation.


Maybe my decision to participate in NCARB’s IDP was a foolish waste of time and energy, or maybe I’m a stronger Architect for having completed it. What I do know is that the connections I’ve made, the relationships I’ve built (particularly, the relationship I shared with my mentor), and challenges I’ve overcome along the way, have made me a stronger person. With my mentor’s support and advocacy, I achieved my goal of becoming a licensed Architect, and that’s what I consider a success!

Leah BayerComment
Call to Submit Work by Women in Architecture!

The WIA is hosting Designing Equity for All, a Chapter event and panel discussion, on April 19th at the San Jose Women's Club, and we'd love to showcase your work!

To be featured in our rotating slideshow of women-led projects during the program:  Please submit your projects to, preferrably using the template offered below.

We look forward to promoting your work
and discussing equitable practice with you at our event!

Leah BayerComment