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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?

"How to Eat a Whale" and other 2014 Resolutions

We started this project in July 2013 after The Missing 32% Symposium with rose-colored glass induced euphoria. Embracing the call to "be the change" is a noble undertaking and it is clear that architectural practice needs to change. But identifying "what" to change and then figuring out "how" to make this happen suddenly became a very daunting proposition; signing up to resolve the gender equity challenges for women in Architectural Practice is nothing short of trying to eat a whale.

 Melinda Mae by Shel Silverstein

 Melinda Mae by Shel Silverstein

In this very moment, I think of a childhood poem by Shel Silverstein titled “Melinda Mae”. It’s about a little girl who claims that she will eat a whale. People doubted her ability given her size compared to that of the whale. It took her 89 years and she finally did it, chewing the bites slowly and carefully until only the bones were left. The image occasionally bubbles up when I realize at times the chagrin of “biting off more than I can chew” with the simultaneous sense of renewed determination that follows to finish a daunting task.

Amazingly like Melinda, bite for bite, we were able to get ourselves organized, meet regularly, name ourselves (after much debate), and bring focus to our mission. We started an online presence including this blog site, Linked In, Facebook and Twitter (@Miss32percent). We have shared many posts on relevant articles with useful strategies and enlightening statistics, adopted policy changes in local government and abroad, and made numerous connections with leaders across the profession. We were able to find an amazing Research Team from Mills College to collaborate with us on our "Project"; An upcoming survey of employees at San Francisco Architectural Firms to begin understanding the factors causing chock points for advancement and retention.

So, where do we go from here? Alas all this progress only feels like the "first 1 or 2 bites of the whale". So, going into 2014, we are determined to continue our promise to #eatthewhale. And alas, with more people choosing to "dine" with us, perhaps it won't take as long as Melinda Mae to achieve our goals. Here is our optimistic list for this year in no particular order:

  • Bring more men into this conversation and build advocacy for equitable practice
  • Produce learning curriculum to foster leadership building and advancement
  • Organize and support Peer Group Mentoring
  • Honor the work of inspiring women architects and their co-collaborators via our upcoming "Honor Roll"
  • Seek sponsors for our current and ongoing research goals
  • Produce and host The Missing 32% Project: 3rd Symposium


This post is written by Rosa T. Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C