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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?

An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Laura Melville Thomas, AIA

I am a newbie to social media. I was born in the Baby Boomer years, and learned to draft and letter and do construction documents by hand.  Here’s the catch, the only reason that I am involved in any way with “social media” is my eldest son---an advertising, communication digital media guru.  So, yes, I am an #ArchiMom and proud of it.

I have been following the discussions about the missing 32% of women working in the architectural profession on social media, and saddened because in the –gulp--almost 35 years since I graduated with my professional degree it has not improved much, if at all. Following my sons’ instructions about keeping up with social media (interesting how things flip) I have been following the “Day in the life of an Architect Series” on Twitter.  It was great, but wait ---hold on, what? Where are the REST OF THE WOMEN?  Twelve posts, and only two from women architects. How can that be?

I look at this a bit differently, a bit in the rear view mirror, as I am somewhat more “seasoned” (read older) than many who posted.  Perhaps this is a good thing, I am looking at motherhood and the working architectural professional with many years experience.

I became an Architect because I loved to draw and make things. I didn’t yet understand what design was. I still draw and paint and design. My mother was a working professional, and a British Navy veteran of WWII. She set my compass.  It never entered my mind that I would not continue to work professionally with a family. 

I was blessed to have a woman professor as part of my thesis committee, to move to Boston after graduation and get the job that I really wanted, during (OK, yet another) recession, and to be hired by and work with a woman partner in a great firm. Thank you Donna and Dell. I had mentors. They taught me to be tough enough, yet genuinely human in my thinking and in the workplace. We are still friends.

I have been married to another Architect for 32 years now. He is my biggest supporter and will not let me quit---no matter how tired I am or frustrated or disappointed I might be.  He helped me with our children daily, making their lives part of his.  Except laundry. He hates laundry, but that’s OK, I am a terrible cook.  We have raised our young children together into our grown sons.  I relate to every comment about juggling client needs and family needs,  personal time, and even baby spit on black clothes.

Now I am “the Boss”.  I have grown from just me as a sole proprietor to owning a multidisciplinary firm of 11.  We have 4 men and 7 women.  Go figure!?  I appreciate all of them.  I am now the mentor and the boss and it is my turn to not only set standards and expectations, but to pay it forward.

My ‘Secret Sauce’ Recipe Ingredients:

  • A strong woman architect mentor.  (Thanks Dell)
  • A supportive family and/or spouse.
  • Great child care (Thanks Dee)
  • A flexible schedule and attitude.
  • Passion for what you do.
  • And the last, my super secret, all-powerful ingredient: Living, working and having my kids go to school in one zip code.

My everyday moments of truth:

  • My professional life is rewarding.  The rewards come from the design work, the finished projects, the sketching, the watercolors, the interactions with my clients and colleagues.
  • It is also challenging and frustrating and exhausting and sometimes NO FUN. Especially when I find myself spending as much time-or more running the business end. Proposals, financials, insurance, hiring, firing (ugh!) and MBE/WBE certifications.
  • I find time to do something for myself every day.  Swim, run, paint, play music. There IS time. For me it is an early swim or run, before work.  Luckily my husband and I switched off early/late schedules when the boys were young.  I think that we only forgot to pick up our sons at swim practice once…
  • Understand how to “Declare it done”---not finished, just done. It will save your sanity.
  • Always “Follow Up Beyond Belief.”  It will save your reputation.
  • Do not work a lot of overtime. Ever. Get your work done and go home.
  • It is not going to be perfect.  In either the child raising or working categories.  Give yourself a break.  And this coming from a type A++person is really hard to do. I still sometimes beat myself up. Just throw in a child’s major illness or special needs into the mix and then you will truly find out what you are made of.
  • Don’t throw anyone under the bus. If you accidentally do, apologize.
  • Thank, thank, and thank again those that help you. It does take a village.
  • My two grown sons have become wonderful men in their own right with their own careers. They have seen their mom’s work and they have always been proud of me, even when I think I have let them down with unnecessary impatience or expectations.  I, of course, see thousands of things that I could have done better.  But that’s OK, my family and my firm are still here and getting stronger.
  • Show young professional women that they can do it.  Don’t give up.  #ArchiMom

Laura Melville Thomas, AIA, LEED AP @LauraMTARX 

President, Melville Thomas Architects, Inc., Baltimore, MD

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