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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?

Promoting equity practices in architecture, The A-Team

By Patricia Canevari, AIA

Going into the Equity by Design Hackathon workshop in Atlanta, I thought I pretty much knew what to expect. After all, my recent focus has been promoting equity practices in architecture through the re- launch of the AIA WIA Tampa Bay. Through this learning and discovery phase, I had come across many articles on the subject by industry publications, the Equity by Design website, and many others. But I couldn’t ever imagine the profound impact that this initiative is having on our architectural world. It has been long overdue and I was pleasantly surprised to see this awareness buzzing all over in the AIA ATL 2015.

Being this is my first Hackathon, I was intrigued by the idea of hack, but I didn’t want to speculate so I just waited. When the workshop’s day finally arrived, there was a great energy in the room. People were eager to meet other people, conversations started almost effortlessly. It seemed that we all had a reason to be there. The key introductory points from the organizers provided the much-needed background information to understand the desire to see our profession thrive with a commitment to action and the pursuit of equitable practice.

Our Hack-The A-Team

Corrie Messinger, Peter Ruggiero, Janis Brackett, Patricia Canevari members of the A-Team Hack worked to define the baseline for makes a great A-Team

Corrie Messinger, Peter Ruggiero, Janis Brackett, Patricia Canevari members of the A-Team Hack worked to define the baseline for makes a great A-Team

One of the Missing 32% Project: 2014 Equity in Architecture Survey findings noted that   “working with a talented, collaborative A-team was listed as one of the key elements of success.” One can easily see this point. Success of companies and projects go hand-in-hand with having the right people doing the right thing at the right time, led by the right individuals. Architects by nature work in teams. I would even go so far as to say it is in our DNA.

Some teams vary in size and complexity depending on the projects, but ultimately, our goal in this society is to build environments, and we do it collectively. There are no lone heroes in this profession.  Being part of the right team, the A-Team, is of utmost importance in having a meaningful architectural professional career.

Our focus team looked at the large number of women leaving the profession by licensure. To us, there is a direct correlation between the lack of A-teams and job retention.  At the same time, our team felt that this is not just a gender issue, but rather an issue for the architecture community in general. So then, defining the term “A-team” was our first must-do task.  Since we had just met and came from different types of firms and backgrounds, we needed to create a baseline of understanding before as to where we can begin to understand our topic and hack in ways that we could make meaningful contributions.

After a varied discussion, it was agreed that an A-team was very similar to an orchestra. As in an orchestra, the leader of the team might be the essential conductor, but the players are the ones who make the music. And there is a perfect balance among all the players to produce a perfect pitch and a superb performance.  

The A-team could be as big as the whole firm, or be just one team within it, but all members share the same culture and have a common purpose. As in an orchestra, all the players are in complete harmony with one another. They all understand that they are part of a greater project. For us in the architectural profession, the perfect A-team makes each individual feel part of the project: each has responsibilities but feels empowered and encouraged to be a problem solver. A-team individuals can make some decisions for the better of the team and the projects, but they all deliver together as one with great satisfaction, and they have fun in the process.

In an orchestra, every player has an instrument to master and specific notes to play in order to produce a magnificent piece of music. In architecture, teamwork is the life force that sustains the tangible goal of designing a building. In order to create such a powerful experience, the team must execute with excellence in mind. Each individual must be committed to becoming an expert in his or her field and make useful contributions to the team. It is not about “time spent in the office” commitment, but respecting, trusting and granting flexibility to each individual on the team to flourish in what they do best.

Of course, the A-team is not possible without the right leadership.  It takes a great leader to build a great team.  He or she, like the conductor, knows how well each of the players performs, understands their strengths and weaknesses, and guides them through their performance. The architectural A-team leader has to understand the process and final outcome of designing buildings; they must also think about his team members and create the right environment for them to perform to the best of their abilities. They are great communicators and understand the human side of his/her team too, because ultimately, a happy, talented team creates great projects.

Every firm wants to have or be an A-Team.  We all know that an A-Team leads to better performance and professional satisfaction.  In order to achieve progress towards more equitable and sustainable practices, our community must re-evaluate how we create and sustain these teams. With a staggering number of female architects abandoning the profession by licensure, I can only imagine what kind of talent are we leaving on the dust.

If a soccer team was missing 32 percent of its players, how could anyone expect them to win the game? Everyone deserves to work in an environment that fosters growth and development, and we must find our A-Team. If it is not there, I encourage you to take a proactive approach and create it. In the process of creating, become a leader. Leaders are not just great at leading the design but also understand the team’s needs and can create a happier and higher performing A-Team.  In the end, this will be a win-win for all parties involved.

Let’s keep on hacking.

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.