Blog %

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?

Strength in numbers: Making quotas matter for women

Women are “trending,” again.

More than 200 years have passed since the first wave of feminism started; more than 40 years since Gloria Steinem became the leader of the second wave of feminism in the United States; and nearly 20 years since The Spice Girls unleashed “Girl Power” on the world during feminism’s third wave.  (Yes, that pop group.)

As the women’s movement moves from voting booth to bedroom to boardroom, strategy seems to have shifted as well:  if you can’t lick ‘em, “lean in” (preferably with statistics, solutions and a social media plan).

  • The 30% Club – founded in the UK in 2009 by Newton Investment Management CEO Helena Morrissey to address the challenges of recruiting women to board-level positions – aims for 30% women’s representation on boards, the proportion which research suggests a minority group starts to have a voice.

  • In 2010 Tina Brown, the English-born former editor of The Daily Beast and Newsweek, started the Women in the World Summit, an annual event “inspiring solutions to women’s issues.” This year’s ethnically-diverse speaker and participant roster features 82 leaders, influencers and notables, including 10 men.

  • The European Commission adopted a European Union law whose “objective” is 40% participation of women in non-executive board positions at large, public companies by 2020.

  • This year, The Art Directors’ Club (a global gathering place for leaders in the visual communications industry) launched a 50/50 initiative.

  • More  recently, The American Institute of Architects hosted a sold-out 3rd Women’s Leadership Summit (Read about lessons learned from Rosa T. Sheng), and Martha Stewart headlined the Indiana Governor’s Conference for Women.

In June 2013, AIA San Francisco adapted a similar 50/50 initiative:  At “The Missing 32%” – its annual women’s conference – then-AIA SF president John Kouletsis, AIA announced the goal of 50/50 representation on all awards juries; all boards of directors, with a woman serving as president every other year; and all speaker selections.

While these steps are significant, quota creation can be a double-edge sword: It can appear to perpetuate the status of women as a special interest group.  But it can also open doors to success by giving women not only sideline access to, but more importantly, frontline opportunities for leadership, power and influence.  As my colleague Catherine Nueva Espana pointed out, the real challenge is achieving meaningful representation for maximum impact. What do you think of quotas?

by Lisa Boquiren