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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession losing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

Mentorship, informally.

For the past three years I have been mentoring two young architects. We have ended this relationship as informally as it began, when one found a new position in a great firm and the other won a design competition abroad.

I didn't work with either architect at their respective firms, but such is the close-knit architectural community here in San Francisco that I found myself informally mentoring them when they started their careers during the recession.  As with many of these mentorships which I take on from time to time, this happened easily and naturally. We got to know each other during social and professional settings; quickly a relationship formed. I wanted to help and guide.  They wanted someone (who was not their supervisor or co-worker) to talk to. While mentoring takes time and commitment, the time together can be quite easily productive, even when it is informal. Over coffee or after-work drinks we talked about work schedules and commutes, dealing with unprofessional colleagues, pay disparity, the latest projects in the pipeline, and the etiquette in approaching principals who moved to new firms.

For my part, I hoped to impart the value of asking the right questions - of colleagues as well as of themselves. In a deadline- and project-oriented environment, it is difficult to step back and consider the long-term view, particularly when you are just starting out. For their part, I think they found it useful when I shared tools and ways to keep engaged, confident, and calm, especially in the face of impending deadlines and studying for licensure. Since there was no employer-employee relationship, it felt easy for me to consistently (and confidentially) give both critique and support, and to help them remember that there is a network of colleagues outside of their firm who can help. Informal mentoring is a good time for both mentor and mentee to step back, reflect and re-consider.


by Catherine Nueva Espana