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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?

When Working Hard Hardly Works

by Morgan Maiolie

I killed it in college. I worked hard and late and I loved every moment of my six-year master’s program. When I walked through the door to my first job I was energized. I thought I’d excel.

I was wrong.

It took time to see it, in part because I’d been warned about the life of an intern. I was ready to work humbly over many years to prove myself and transition without complaint from engaging academic work with a flexible schedule to less creative work that demanded inhabitation of a single chair for 8 contiguous hours, often many more. I willingly sacrificed personal goals and health for my job. During these first years, I didn’t let many things divide my focus, least among them a discussion of women in architecture. I was confident in my ability to overcome any lingering sexist barriers simply by being good at my job and working well with my peers. I would be awesome. People would like me.

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     Morgan studying daylight design in college, analyzing famous buildings, learning construction skills, and working late into the night.

Morgan studying daylight design in college, analyzing famous buildings, learning construction skills, and working late into the night.

The author studying daylight design in college, analyzing famous buildings, learning construction skills, and working late into the night.

I began to reassess my worldview when I noticed the few older women around me occasionally excluded and too often the victims of veiled disrespect. Closer in career development to me, I saw young mothers ceding their part-time schedules, fired, or exhausted by overwork. I began to realize that, to keep my career on track while raising a family, I would need exactly what these women were denied.

It looked like every office operated this way, so I started to float a few questions, “are there other firms with more flexible schedules? more female leadership? less overtime?”

Resoundingly, the answer was No.

There was a bit of shame in my asking as well; why would I think of my needs when I should focus on the design of sustainable, resilient buildings that improve my community? My answer is that, as I write this, young women like me are training very hard to become architects. We deserve a work culture that supports us in achieving our sustainable, resilient, community-minded goals, not the culture of today where only 17% of our female peers hold an architecture license. I don’t believe our profession can afford to lose us.

I was interested in the Equity by Design mission enough that I wrote a scholarship essay and spent another 8 contiguous hours in a single seat (this one in my car) to travel to Atlanta. There, I found what I was looking for. Gathered in conference room B304 were a group of men and women committed to a new model of work, supportive of female architects and unafraid to speak frankly about the specific issues they face. Our organizers employed a hackathon structure where participants created solutions in a fast-moving, stream-of-thought design process; an activity for which we were well-trained and enthusiastic. Our work product showed the structure’s success; each team’s hack added more to the understanding and rehabilitation of architectural culture than many years of single conversations in quiet offices could have.

Breaking the 9am-5pm cycle.

Our team, Phil Bernstein, Melissa Daniel, Ashley L. Dunn, Shawna Hammon and I, addressed the flexible work week. Our goal was to make it possible for any architect to work non-contiguous hours or part-time while remaining a valuable part of their team. We identified barriers and designed “hacks” that we organized into the pillars Culture, Infrastructure, and Process. We crafted our design pitch as a kit of parts. Our intent was that an architecture firm would combine specific hacks from our kit to customize a plan for their unique work style. The Kit of Parts is divided into three categories, each with specific hacks.

Phil Bernstein, Melissa Daniel, Ashley L. Dunn, Morgan Maiolie and Shawna Hammon present to the EQxD  Hackathon judges

Phil Bernstein, Melissa Daniel, Ashley L. Dunn, Morgan Maiolie and Shawna Hammon present to the EQxD  Hackathon judges

Our team defined the current architecture system as one that prioritizes long days and the ability to work fluidly, communicating with team members the moment a need arises. To change it, we introduced hacks like core meeting hours, hourly pay to incentivize strategic project planning, and the use of technology to ensure that communication remains fluid when a team member is not physically in the office. We repurposed a technique prevalent in the technology design industry called Agile Development, which allows for independent work followed by quick, strategic critique sessions. Finally, we identified systems for employees to share project responsibilities; increasing communication, flexibility, and trust amongst project teams.

We did it from 1-5pm.

A key strength of the Equity by Design Hackathon was that we focused on these issues with people of equal passion -  our tribe. Working with the Equity by Design group for one day gave me the tools to talk about equity for a year. I don’t float questions anymore. I make statements. I hack.

Read more of Morgan's captivating experiences  from excerpts of her EQxD Hackathon scholarship essay below. Her strong and articulate words encompass frustrations and ambitions many feel about the inequity in the architecture field today.  

In both of my first design positions I experienced institutional practices that negatively and and disproportionally affected women. It was a hard thing for me to talk about in each case because I was just learning the ropes of each job, because I had a lot of respect for my superiors who seemed oblivious to or unconcerned with the negative impact of these practices, and, finally, because architects, myself included, hold a worldview that puts helping our communities above all else. It seemed selfish to talk about my own needs when everyone around me was working so hard for so important a goal.
— Morgan Maiolie
It’s hard for me to believe I could train so hard and end up in and antiquated system that’s as ready to push me out as it is to demand my health and future family in exchange for the ability to improve my community. The way we structure work hasn’t changed since men worked and women stayed home, but it should.
— Morgan Maiolie

What's next for EQxD?

Join us in San Francisco at AIASF on June 11th for our next EQxD "U" Workshop "What's Flex got to do with Success?" (Win Win Strategies for Work/Life Flexibility) Meet the panelists, and participate in small group break-outs to "hack" what works for flexibility in the modern workplace. This event is relevant to all AEC professionals! 6pm-8:30pm.