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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?

Conscious Inclusion: #BUILDYOUrtribe

by Neelanjana Sen 

When I became aware that architecture is the profession I would like to pursue, names of architects and the buildings they were designing got picked up by my mind radar more frequently. The names I learnt about were mostly men, amazing architects - and I started dreaming of being an “amazing architect” myself. Growing up in India I had noticed girls being brought up slightly differently from the boys, but I never faced that in my family. I was never told I was any different - so when it came to wanting to be an architect it didn't even register to me that all my idols were men and I didn't have a woman role model to look up to. I didn't think about this until much later in life - almost well into my first job in architecture.

As I stepped into the practice of this profession I felt it was hard to find women role models who had a positive attitude towards the profession, were amazing architects, and had family and children as well. I felt you cannot have both - a woman had to choose either architecture or family & children. But I wanted to have both, find  a work-life balance, be a positive contributor to the profession and be the best architect I could be. I have met some awesome women architects but never engaged in a conversation which would help me understand Why it seemed difficult to do both. Last October when I attended the Missing 32% symposium the survey results gave me hard facts and helped me fill in some answers to the “Why.” For me the pinch points and glass ceiling in the profession as brought forward by the survey opened questions regarding socio cultural perceptions. The image we build of an architect gets circulated and ultimately feed the understanding of masses on who can do a certain kind of work. It’s a loop.

Sen noticed her young son's favorite books about construction had no female characters. 

Sen noticed her young son's favorite books about construction had no female characters. 

On the point of perception I would like to share a story that made me realize that each one of us is responsible to build biases, stereotypes and construct an image of what society or a profession is. My 4 year old son loves everything to do with construction. He loves the book “Goodnight, Goodnight Construction site.”  One day as I came back home from my construction site and mentioned to him where I was - he got really upset. He said in his own way that I could not be a girl and also go to the construction site. Puzzled I asked him why he thought that way. He referred back to his book where all the trucks who worked hard in the construction site were boys! I quickly realized the need to change some of the “he’s” to “she’s” when I read the book to him next.

I have wondered how else are we unknowingly constructing an image where women are absent from a certain scenario? We need to consciously make people aware of the diverse talent pool of this profession and the fact that gender is not criteria for exclusion.

The hackathon was the next step forward to engage in the conversation of how to disrupt the loop of traditional thinking patterns that have built biases. It was also a challenge to myself to think differently--break my personal inbuilt bias of working in a certain way. During the hackathon I realized I have to drop my guard and be open to information. Think about it hacking in a way was what we architects and designers were trained to do. Problem solving, designing an out of the box unique solution is something we have all done during our architecture education and in our professional practice. Tony Fadell the originator of the iPod talked about  the fact that “As human beings, we get used to "the way things are" really fast. But for designers, the way things are is an opportunity …”  Acknowledging the way things are in the profession should be considered an opportunity to hack. During the hackathon I also realized that dropping my guard is contagious. This contagious spirit can build a community of positivity where everyone is willing to take the risk to come up with a unique solution. I also discovered that hacking for a solution involves identifying the root problem that is often hidden under layers of information. These are the concepts I would like to practice everyday. I would like to bring it back to my workplace and communities I interact with to engage in conversations about equity and bias.

As we continue to build the tribe of women and men acknowledging the root issues in our profession, I hope we will identify many more women architects who can be role models to the next architect in making. I thank the hosts and the sponsors of the EQxD hackathon for encouraging the spread of conscious inclusive thinking and dialogue which I could be a part of.

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.