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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?

EQxD Get Real: The Mom Bias vs. The Mom Privilege

by Meghana Joshi, Associate AIA

Last night, at the AIA Orange County office, I was browsing through the reading material in their library, and "Women's Architectural League" caught my eye. It is a red leather bound scrapbook with pictures of women in the Architectural League, and newspaper clippings from early 1960’s Mad Men era. Women in beautiful clothes, and women in beautiful hair-dos meeting for luncheons to celebrate local architecture by organizing "home tours" and "helping their husbands" in their chosen field. It was essentially an unofficial AIA club for Architects’ and Associates’ wives. It was the time and era of transition of women from, "work if you need money" to being a, "professional." There were women in high places, but for an average woman, it was a tradeoff between work and family. You were not expected to do both successfully.

This picture in particular caught my interest:

"Little Jeffrey Bell, 3-year-old son of Mrs. Stanley Bell of Costa Mesa hangs on to Mrs. Bell's apron string as he tries to convince his mother that she should stay home with him instead of attending the annual meeting of the California Council of the Women's Architectural League." Mrs. Bell was a delegate to the event. There is another picture of Jeffrey Bell along with Annette Bell and Lisa Woodman tied up in a big ribbon and shown as "precious charges" to the babysitter as their mothers leave for the parley in Coronado. I don't know these women, but with the network they formed, and the events that they hosted, I can safely tell that their mission was to educate the public about architecture - they were playing a supporting role to their husbands’ careers mostly because of the societal bias against privileged women going back to work after having children more than anything else.

Fifty years later, the world has changed.

Women are underrepresented, but they are present in almost every profession of the world unless it is gender prohibitive. NCARB numbers for women in architecture are reassuring - more women are entering the profession, and more women are making efforts to stay in the career, get licensed and be mentors. The percentage of women completing AREs has doubled since 2000. We are still at a measly 35%, but I have trust and faith in the next generation for not being the "Missing 32 Percent".

What still hasn't changed? - The mom bias.

The pinch points for women in architecture are still "licensure", "caregiving" and the "glass ceiling" - all tied up mostly to parenting duties. Speaking about my personal experiences - my privilege is my bias and my bias is my privilege. That's the hardest truth of my life. As an entrepreneur, I work hard - but then there are times when my decision to be an entrepreneur is pegged to motherhood making it a "convenient way to balance work and life". It's not so. It's not so for any entrepreneur, male or female - parent or not. We are in the business because we are passionate about the business and creative sides of architecture- we take risks. Not because we want to be able to pick up the children from school, and save daycare dollars. I don't know how many men in business hear that, but if I had a dime for every time I heard that, I would be a ....

Then there is the mom guilt.

Have you stayed at work past six? Have you shown up to work before sunrise? Let's assume your employer is all for work-life balance, but also lets you call the shots on your project schedule. Let’s assume you are doing something you are so passionate about, you refuse to leave your desk simply based on the clock. Let’s assume your co-parent / your parenting support system and you have it under control. I don't know why I am adding "assumptions" since it should be nobody's business. But still, for argument’s sake, how many times have you heard "I could have never done that - Timmy needs me." or "Wow, you are lucky, my husband would never do that".

A simple suggestion to all working mothers: don't call the other woman lucky if she has a good support system. Like everything else, it needs hard work too; to have and to maintain a support system. Don't ever tell a working woman when she needs to go home, or who needs her at home. Architecture being what it is, sometimes cannot be an eight hour job with a fixed schedule. If someone volunteers, if someone involves themselves more into the profession than treating it as a job to pay bills, be supportive. Reword your "wow, you are lucky" to "I am glad you can make time for things you are passionate about". No one is lucky- even lottery winners bought several tickets before they won.

The mom privilege.

The mom privilege is actually bias in disguise. Finally after working for fifteen years, and two children, the time is right for me to pursue licensure. As I take care of my projects and parenting along with studying for ARE exams, I do hear things like "At least you have a reason for not doing it". No, children aren't and shouldn't be a reason for anyone to stop in their tracks. I didn't work on my licensure so far because I didn't have the drive to. Of all the women that changed the world, many didn't wait for their child to grow up and be in high school and not need them anymore - it doesn't work like that. But that's a "privilege" that I deal with as I continue my journey;, my migration from the “Missing 32 percent”, currently as the Test Taking 38%* and one day adding to the number of licensed women architects.

In a nutshell, while I do what I want to do in my life, at my own pace and at my own timing and methods, please don't guilt me - or have bias against me - or treat my parent tag as a privilege. My gender, my reproductive accomplishments, and my age - they should all be background noise. Same goes for other women - or men.  Architects have the privilege of changing the world with their careful planning and execution of community components. Let’s use that privilege to end bias - not end each other's career with bias against people of color and/or gender.

No one should go "missing" in a profession because they were not accepted by the tribe.

* (Based on NCARB By the Numbers 2015)

EQxD Get Real: When Insomnia Speaks

When Insomnia Speaks: Transitioning from Motherhood, Scorn and Advocacy

by Alicia Liebel-Berg, Associate AIA

It is Midnight. The blue hue glows from the baby monitor as I watch my son sleep. Exhaustion pounds on my forehead. Stress invades my thoughts. My alarm is set for 4:30 a.m., I need to sleep. I wish I could sleep. What happened to me this year is difficult and needs to be shared with other emerging professional women who are considering having children. The problem is; how will it really be shared? Who will read it? Perhaps that is what privilege really is, the freedom to share the truth without fear of judgment and consequences. 

Alicia Liebel-Berg, Associate AIA

Alicia Liebel-Berg, Associate AIA

Some would say that the ability to birth a child is a privilege; others would say it is a burden. Why? Arguments could be made that mothers are distracted and lack the ability to have the scheduling flexibility that the architecture profession demands. Extend that from the transitional gate of woman in practice to a mother and the battle to prove equivalence in billable hour production. Anxiety rises to dread and suddenly a mother discovers that her confidence has been shattered. She struggles to ascertain if she is held as a valuable asset or the woman who is just going to quit her job anyway. Unexpectedly she finds herself questioning her resolve to be the parent and career woman. She starts to have doubts and wonders, “Is this constant mental anguish of trying to keep up with appearances and professional abilities worth the time away from her child?” Is that paycheck big enough to compensate for this new bias? How did she go from never having a sleepless night to having weeks on end consumed by slow moving hours clogged with confusing thoughts?

Can bias be proved against someone who simply took the ten weeks of time she was offered and came back to find that perceptions of her abilities as a professional had changed - even if they were in the most subtle yet gut alarming ways? What is a mother to do? How does one begin to defend and argue assertively against that? There isn't a handbook on the gender bias of fighting for a privilege that may have never existed. What is this privilege that never existed? It is the ability to return to your workplace, as a new mother, without the derogatory perceptions that you have become a delicate emotional mess and a liability.

As the architecture profession scratches their heads trying to find the elusive answer of, "Why are women leaving the profession?” someone needs to own the result. It is because you pushed them out the door due to your lack of understanding. This mother, no doubt, knew that there had been a paradigm shift in everything she once knew to be comfortable and routine. This woman once felt that she had a position of achieved distinction, but now she can't shake the feeling that she has been unexpectedly and unconsciously demoted. When she raised the dialogue to her senior management to process the conundrum at hand, the powers with privilege misinterpreted it for weakness instead of a chance to collaborate on an evolution of assigned roles and responsibilities. 

Predictably the new mother will move onward, despite it all, she has to. She doesn't have the privilege or have the tools to combat the corral that society has placed her in. If you want a career and a family, this is your new reality. You wanted it all, new mother, now deal with it...

Several weeks ago I wrote this ode to the new mother by the light of the baby monitor. The next day, while hot on my soap box, my husband said to me, “You have been scorned and you are making people pay." I did not appreciate or understand his subtle nudge then. I do now.

Professional practice is defined by transformative moments. These are little blips in the career seismic chart which resulted in a shift in perception. The frustrations described above conceded the conclusion that Advocacy is birthed from scorn

Career experiences crusted with turmoil yields privilege. When we are given the seeds of privilege we are tasked, in turn, to sow them and cultivate them. It is our responsibility to survey the path ahead. Scorn is the road we navigate; perseverance is the new surface we lay so that those who come after us know the way. I must never forget the mothers who came before me and continued to practice through every moment that lacked understanding, empathy or decency.

With reflection, I have support as a mother in the socially acceptable ways, but not in the ways that are obvious or tangible. My current firm advanced and supported my abilities as a woman, but produced a stressful environment as a mother. I was ignoring the warning signs until the big confrontation occurred. I failed to accept and clarify to my senior staff that my capabilities had changed but my professional desires had not. I was oblivious to the impact that my parenthood was having on my job performance.

Much of the impetus that created the conflict of perception occurred because I was in a work environment that was not conducive to the new life I had. My work hours shifted and my daily drive went from a 40 minute cruise to a nearly 90 minute gridlock. The commute was harboring unnecessary stress as two hours of my day were consumed in transit. The firm's business model is formulated on extreme deadlines. As such, I no longer have the ability to support that model. My capacities changed and now I no longer fit into their fast-paced, rapid deadline, work production culture. There's nothing personal about that, just a simple fact.

Ultimately I have learned that when difficulty arrives, (and it will, it always does) it is important to feel the consequence of scorn - but then, put down the pitch fork and open up a dialogue. Nothing is as powerful as telling your story to help the next new mother avoid a similar anxious state. I am getting real and summoning the courage to make my next big career change. It is difficult to lay aside seniority and familiarity in order to adapt to an evolving lifestyle and career.

I am going back on the job hunt. Predictably this new mother is moving onward, despite it all, I have to. I have the privilege and the skills to polish my portfolio and lay aside what is professionally familiar. I desire a career and a family, this is my new reality. I wanted it all; I am a new mother, now I am dealing with it, on my own terms.

EQxD Get Real: Check your bias blind spot

By Sharon George, AIA

It starts at the very beginning – girls vs. boys

The societal problem became crystal clear to me when I had my first child.  All the pink toys, princess dolls, and kitchen sets screamed - GENDER BIAS.  At first, it was just an interesting observation, harmless really, compared to some other egregious offenses.  But it's not so benign, is it?

A year after my epiphany, Sheryl Sandberg gave her popular TED talk about women leaders.  A few years later, I discovered Equity By Design [EQxD].  I am glad there is open dialogue about the challenges facing professional women.  If there was such conversation and solidarity when I joined the workforce, I was not aware of it, and perhaps, I would have had better tools to deal with bias in the workplace.  As it was, I had a very lonely journey.

Growing up with bias and privilege

Sharon R. George, AIA

Sharon R. George, AIA

As a female raised in India, gender bias is not a strange concept to me.  It is widely prevalent and deeply rooted in the patriarchal society.  On the bright side, I grew up in a large city, my parents are well educated, forward thinking, and middle class.  My biggest privilege was access to education and freedom to pursue my career goals.  (Millions in India, especially girls, do not have such opportunities.)  Moreover, I had the means to accomplish my dreams of higher education in the United States.

Bias in America        

I thought I would be escaping old-fashioned ideas of gender norms when I moved to America.  After all, isn’t America a progressive melting pot, where social reform took place over a century ago, and women walk with their head held high?

So, when I hear comments or see behavior that exhibit patronizing attitudes towards my age, race, skin color, gender, or intelligence, I am taken aback.

I have been making excuses for people who treat me with prejudice - that it was an isolated incident, or the one person’s attitude, or their social ineptitude, or their insensitivity.  Things got better as I got older, but looking back on 15 years of excuses reveals a sad and fundamental truth: Sexism is alive and well in American.

Bias in the professional world

When I was a young college student, I had the courage to snuff out prejudice.  But when I entered the professional world, I was at a loss.  I was a foreigner in the early stages of culture shock, with family 10,000 miles away and friends that I could count on one hand, searching for my place in a not-very inclusive community of professional cliques.

How do you build relationships in the proverbial boy’s club, when only the male employees are invited to lunch, golf, and conferences?  How do you ask for equity when only the male architects are given the high-revenue, complex, prestigious projects?  I had no answers and no support, and had lost all courage, confidence, and verve.

‘To a certain extent, all architects struggle to survive in a profession where the educational preparation is long, the registration process is rigorous, the hours grueling, and the pay is incredibly low.  Yet, many underrepresented architects face additional hardships, such as isolation, marginalization, stereotyping, and discrimination.’

Designing for Diversity, Kathryn H. Anthony

Overt Vs. Implicit Bias

I came across the Implicit Association Test a few years ago when I read Ask For It.  Most people are not sexist or racist or discriminatory.  But everyone has subconscious bias.  And that is the silent killer of equity in professional settings.

I did say most people – I have personally experienced blatant sexism and racism.  I’ve had an employer ask me in an interview when I plan to get pregnant; if, as a mother, I can focus on work and be productive; I’ve had a colleague ignore me for 3 years; etc.

But more often, I am a target of implicit bias.  It is so subtle that I feel awkward about raising a flag – maybe’s it’s just in my head, right?  The male intern who sits in my project-team-meeting is treated to more eye-to-eye contact and a respectful handshake.  The white project manager at my construction-site-tour is assumed to be my superior and gets all the questions.  I am invisible!

The core issue - intelligence bias

My husband and I talk about these issues often.  We compare our cultures, professions, and the 'bias baggage' we carry.  He is an American, a computer engineer and a self-proclaimed geek.  One day, he showed me this xkcd comic and said, there is this notion in America that girls are bad at math.  As someone who excelled in math and science, I was fuming.  Despite all the gender bias that is prevalent in India, I had never before heard that sentiment.

But that is how it works, isn’t it?  

The unwritten memo says: 

Women are incompetent, until proven otherwise

Men are competent, until proven otherwise


Competence and Knowledge:

I think the ridiculous notion that ‘women are not as smart as men’ speaks volumes.  And it strikes at the heart of the issue facing women professionals in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Architecture, Mathematics) fields.

People are very comfortable with women in an Interior Designer role. Furthermore, people are comfortable with me as an Architect talking design related issues.  No offense to designers, but somehow, seeing a woman as the Project/Principal Architect is a big leap?

Is it because conversations about architecture typically include technical and practical discussions about construction, specifications, energy analyses, structural engineering, that I cannot worry my pretty little head with?  Is that why I have to ‘prove myself’ over and over again, every time I meet a new builder/ structural engineer/ lighting consultant/ energy rater?

A young designer on my team recently asked me, what she can do to make her colleagues take her seriously.  As her manager, my immediate answer was ‘be really good at what you do’.  I was simply repeating what I told myself when I was starting out - work hard, dig deep, and earn respect.  Nothing wrong with that except….do young men have this problem?  I would like to have a better answer.

It seems like the conversation about equity in the workplace is coming to a head.  Recognizing what discrimination looks like and knowing that it’s not just happening to me, but to many like me, is powerful knowledge that tips the balance towards action.

Active Action is speaking up, spreading awareness, sharing stories, opening dialogue, checking your own biases, etc.  There are numerous organizations, all over the world, demanding women’s rights through active action.  I have listed a few of my favorites below.

Some people are more comfortable with passive action. They listen, take their talents elsewhere, look for alternate careers, or set up their own workplace and their own rules.  But no one is an island - sooner or later you have to collaborate with others.  

I constantly check my attitudes and revisit my beliefs.  Not just for my own sake, but for my son and daughter.  I am sure that I have unconscious biases too.  I better get unpacking*.



This post is also published on Sharon's Blog site 


Taking Active Action:

Resources for Unconscious Bias

*Unpacking our Biases: Conscious and Unconscious


EQxD Get Real: Control Less, Celebrate More, Shall We?

By Katie E. Ray, Assoc. AIA |  Arlington, VA   

Several encounters come to mind when considering uncomfortable situations I’ve experienced as a female architect, particularly since becoming a mother last August. My first week back after my 8 week maternity leave, I had to tell my boss that I couldn't drive with him to a site meeting because I needed to pump in the car. There was also the conversation I had with my project team, in which I said we can no longer have impromptu ‘stand-at-my-desk-chatting’ meetings at 4:55pm, because if I don’t pick up my baby by 6pm, I have to pay my provider extra. I’ve also learned a lot these first 6 months about the ‘work-life-balance’ of being a mom architect. These lessons included discovering that my baby hates when I check work email while I nurse him in the evening (read: I no longer check work email after 8pm), and that studying for the ARE while attempting to sleep-train an infant is no small feat (read: impossible.) However, the biggest hurdle I've experienced is something that has been occurring long before I ever became a mom, and it has to do with my female colleagues.

I’ll use this seemingly insignificant story to illustrate: I recently discovered a new tool available in Revit 2015 which would greatly benefit the work-flow our team utilizes for Lighting Schedules. We have one Hospitality client (whom we have done multiple renovations for and have many more projects on the horizon) that requests for us to show a photo or cut sheet image for all decorative lighting fixtures specified on the sheet next to the RCP. In the past, to achieve this we've created an Excel document then placed it on the sheet as a raster image.  Being able to place an image into the cell of the Revit Schedule would eliminate this tediousness step (and let’s be honest, the process is a huge vulnerability for mis-coordination.) I saw this new schedule as a game changer for our team. Anything that first reduces confusion and opportunity for mistakes and, second, saves time will achieve two of my major work/life goals: better projects and more time to spend with my family.

With great elation, I sent the new process on to the team, copying the “Revit Captains.” I’m a Project Manager, and our team works very closely with our Interior Design team. The folks familiar with Revit, and familiar with the frustrating workflow we go through for schedules, were immediately on board. But a certain member of the team, a fellow woman colleague who heads Interior Design, proceeded to claim that this must be vetted and agreed upon “by all” as acceptable.

She sent a flurry of emails, voice-mails to my personal cell phone that evening, followed by conversations the next morning, all because I stated I would begin employing a new tool. It was a mind-boggling, knee-jerk reaction. I racked my brain. Why the opposition? I've come to realize it was based on nothing more than feeling a loss of control. The way I handled her tailspin was to agree that, yes, all should be on board. But I also affirmed that I am the PM and in the end reserve the right to execute the drawings as I see fit. I never want to fuel the fire, however I think it’s critical to reiterate that I am competent and capable to make these decisions for my team.

This story, which likely sounds like plain and simple “office drama” at its worst, is meant to illustrate that women design professionals have got to lift each other up a bit more. Can’t we celebrate new ideas without immediately seeing them as an attack on our own ability to manage? I can’t imagine the hurdles that this particular woman has had to overcome, being in the position that she holds.  Quite often she is the only woman in a room full of men. But, at times, the politics of asserting your opinion can actually be damaging to the morale of others. With this story, I worry that this particular woman has confused the advice of ‘find your voice’ to mean, ‘be louder,’ but I think we have a duty to each other to bolster and celebrate ideas and accomplishments when they arise.  Some may think this is an issue of clashing personalities, but as I said in the beginning, this is not the first office I've experienced a challenging situation with fellow female colleagues. I think the delicate balance of asserting yourself versus coming off as a roadblock to your colleagues is a balance worth finding, because the only way to advance ourselves is by supporting each other when steps forward are taken.

About Katie Ray @bigklittleatie

Katie E. Ray, Assoc. AIA currently lives in Arlington, VA and is a PM for a firm just outside of Washington DC. Her projects currently range from restaurants, bars, spas, and country clubs. She is a mother and yogi; on the weekend she loves spending time building lighting and furniture from salvaged materials.



EQxD Get Real - To read more about challenges and resilience from diverse viewpoints, go here.

In a similar spirit of spontaneity of the Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth blog series, we are excited to bring you EQxD Get Real: True stories of Challenges and Resilience from diverse perspectives of architects and designers. Each day we will feature the stories of each person's challenges in the profession and what they learned from those experiences to inspire action for equitable practice in architecture. 


In Equitable PracticearchitalksINSPIRE%Tags, EQxDGetReal

EQxD Get Real: Search until you find your Yes!

by LaShae Ferguson

What happens when you graduate and you think you'll be designing buildings but you're not? What happens when you see all the cool kids doing amazing things on all the new technologies and you feel like a dinosaur? When you get the rare privilege of helping out on an amazing presentation but for the most part you do a lot of shop drawing reviews? Or being told you might not be ready to be on a team? The main challenge I faced was wanting to learn more, but being told that I should be happy where I am. Well, I wasn’t. I decided to work for small firms, mid-sized and large firms, and I was able to expand my network, find mentors and work on amazing projects. But this didn’t happen overnight - it took over 15 years. (Enjoy the journey right?) The first few years I was enrolled in college, taking classes at night and weekends and working during the day.

It was insane and a process of saving money, learning new skills, searching for my tribe and looking under every nook and cranny for opportunities that provided the space for growth. I sought out the person who helped me to get a scholarship and took her to lunch, sent congratulatory notes to firms whose work I admired and read the employment section of the newspaper every week. The opportunity for growth was a huge driving force but what exactly did I want to do?

For starters, I wanted to see how drawings translated in the field, meet with clients, learn how to conduct sales calls, and see a project from start to finish. I searched until I found a company that allowed me to do just that. And when a project came through the door that I wanted in on, I made it known, 'hey that looks like an awesome project, I want in on it!’ But it wasn’t a cake walk at all. Real talk: I had colleagues rail on me and toss drawings at me. But every single time I stood up for myself, unapologetically. When I felt that some personalities were too extreme, I actively searched out those who were more action oriented versus ego oriented. Take it how you will.

I chose to advance myself further by being an owner, because of my desire to be creative, make a living and have a life. It was scary, like jumping off a cliff without a parachute, but I saw no other way. I knew I wanted to be married and have children and from what I saw, unless you knew the right people and all the right things, returning to work after maternity leave might be questionable. So I decided that instead of working for firms,  I would partner with them. I cold called local small companies, kept in touch with people I worked with and partnered with other designers and contractors. I learned as much as I could in the field and a lot about how to deal with personalities, problem solving and business. I read a lot of amazing biographies and business books that extend beyond my profession.

And I understand, entrepreneurship is not for everyone, it can be scary, but here are a few general takeaways:

  1. Ask yourself, what is it I’m trying to do? Small projects, big projects? Am I good with presentations, production, details, technology, people?

  2. Do I see myself as a principal, vice president, owner?

  3. What are my strong points and areas thatwhere I need work on?

  4. Seek out those whose opinions you value and who will be 100% real with you.

  5. Reach out to someone that you admire and ask them out for coffee, make the connection and keep in touch.

  6. Build your network on social platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn and write sincere recommendations for those you know.  

  7. Go to local networking events.

  8. Ask lots of questions.

  9. Save your money.

  10. Become passionate about a cause and when and if you are able - volunteer.

  11. Become a board member.

  12. Build your tribe.

  13. Be curious, vocal and persistent.

  14. Understand that your path may be different from others, advancement (nor life) is not linear.

If you've gotten this far, to finish school, to work for a firm, you put in 80% right if someone tells you no, you can't, you're not ready, you pick yourself up and search until you find your yes.

About LaShae Ferguson @lashae_f

LaShae A. Ferguson, Assoc. AIA, Owner of L.A. Design Collective, LLC, An Architectural Design & Drawing Co., and graduate of the University of the District of Columbia. LaShae has co-managed design-construction projects worth over $8 million total. When not working, she enjoys spending time with her family, cooking and traveling.




EQxD Get Real - To read more about challenges and resilience from diverse viewpoints, go here.

In a similar spirit of spontaneity of the Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth blog series, we are excited to bring you EQxD Get Real: True stories of Challenges and Resilience from diverse perspectives of architects and designers. Each day we will feature the stories of each person's challenges in the profession and what they learned from those experiences to inspire action for equitable practice in architecture. 


In Equitable PracticearchitalksINSPIRE%TagsEQxDGetReal

An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Kathy Russell

Maybe it’s pure chance that I’m not in the missing 32%, because there have been times that I would have gladly walked away from architecture. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with my field. The region I live in is still recovering from the recession, so the stress of the slow periods is still present. In 2011, after having returned the previous year from maternity leave with my second child, I was one of many to be laid off from a mid-size firm. The thought of being a stay-at-home mom was more than appealing, but my husband was starting a new career and we had two young children to support. I considered changing careers, but I’d been practicing architecture for 18 years and it is all I really knew how to do. It’s how I think. It’s how my brain is wired. Every time I go in a new building, I wonder what is in all the layers of materials, what do the people inside do, what was the history of the building and I think about other solutions. You can’t just turn off that portion of your brain, so I keep giving architecture a chance.

During my first 18 years, I’d been in firms that 45-50 hours a week was average.  40 hours was practically considered part-time. I’ve worked in firms that required a fair amount of overnight travel. My first night away from my 10-month old son was supposed to be one night while I was in Nashville meeting with a client, but ended up being two nights as we got stuck in Minneapolis in a snowstorm. I didn’t sleep a wink because I was sure he was traumatized, but of course it was the first night he slept entirely through the night. My first few years of being a mother and an architect were difficult to juggle and full of self-inflicted guilt.

Currently, I am very lucky to be in a firm that values their employee’s lives and families. Overtime is not encouraged except when absolutely unavoidable, which is so refreshing given that I pride myself in being efficient and accurate. It’s also refreshing to work with women and men that actually spend time with their families and kids. As our city is family-oriented, our firm knows the value of soccer-game-sidelines network marketing.

As far as the future, there is too much fluctuation happening in architecture to know if it will remain permanent in my life. However, nothing is permanent and you sometimes just have to wing it.

Secret sauce that I rely on to juggle all that I do every day:

  • Maintain my sense of humor. Humor keeps things in proportion and puts people at ease.
  • Keep breathing.  I use the old yoga technique to keep grounded.
  • Lists are my friend.  Post-it, yellow tablets, on my phone, written on my hand.
  • Ask for help. It takes a village…
  • Pace myself.  Work and raising kids is like a marathon. It takes time and planning.

My everyday moments of truths that I’ve discovered:

1.     Quality daycare has been good for my kids. You will hear a lot of people saying how bad it is to not spend every moment of your day with your kids. I am amazed how well my son has done in adjusting to elementary school having learned social skills and had an early education. The daycare teachers were much better teachers for his developing brain than I could’ve been. I’m not a professional teacher and I’m not afraid to admit it.

2.     Accepted saying No in my personal life. If you’re working outside the home, full-time, with younger kids, you probably won’t be able to do PTO, after-school activities, church, community groups or maybe even AIA. I love volunteering and being involved, but it can’t be at the expense of my family or work. I’ve worried my kids are missing out on the cool week day activities, but I know they are getting compensation from quality child care that has good programs and the evenings and weekends to spend with their parents.

3.     Finding a support network. As there have been so few other working mothers at the firms I’ve worked, I’ve found support in women’s business organizations outside of architecture. Currently, I attend monthly lunches and wine tastings with a loosely organized network of professional working moms consisting of attorneys, CPAs, bankers, architects and engineers. Sharing survival tips and their comradery has been invaluable.

4.     Learned to ask lots of questions. Architects manage the big picture, so we’re not supposed to know every miniscule detail. Our consultant’s jobs are to convey their expertise, so make them earn their fee and ask them lots of questions. Bosses can get busy and forget you don’t know everything you need to know – I make sure to keep asking questions until I have the information to complete the job. It helps to just talk it through with them.

5.     Most freak-outs are overreaction. This applies to the children and to the adults. Get to the truth of what is causing the freak-out before deciding if it is freak-out worthy.  This comes in especially handy during construction and at bedtime.

6.     There is always a solution. If a situation is freak-out worthy, I remind myself there is almost always a sensible solution.  As architects, we are problem-solvers and consulting other problem-solvers helps find a collaborative solution.

7.     Sit at the table. This is the best lesson from the Lean In by Sherry Sandberg. Own your authority, take advantage of opportunities as they arise, speak your mind, set aside unnecessary humility and accept credit for your work.  I believed it before reading it, was taught it by my own mom, but it was really nice to have it reinforced by Sandberg.

8.     Teach as I go along. As I’m working with interns or doing chores with my kids, I try to mentor and teach. The day is full of learning opportunities that I try not to miss.

9.     Embrace change. Architecture has changed so much during the recession. As baby boomers approaching retirement, we’re headed to more change. Then there is always the unpredictable change. Our families change and kids change daily. Adapting and flexibility is required.

10.  Embrace the moments. You may remember the roller coaster scene in the Mary Steenburgen and Steve Martin movie, Parenthood. Life gets crazy and stressful but the moments are fleeting. I look back at the photos from the summer I was laid off in 2011. My kids were so small and beautiful. Those moments were so stressful and unappreciated. And now they’re gone.  It doesn’t matter what is happening at a particular moment, good or bad, because each moment is a gift.

Kathy Russell     

Kathy’s a project architect at ALSC Architects in Spokane, WA 

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An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Kristen Padavic

My Archiparent Journey

The Archimom stories I have been reading on the Equity by Design site and other social media sites regarding women in architecture over the past few months have been inspiring and remind me of the trials and successes I have experienced on my journey. I don't know how I feel about being an #Archimom if my husband doesn't require the title #Archidad, so for now, I'll just call myself an #Archiparent or perhaps more fitting, general life ninja.

I am a 38-year-old mother of identical twin daughters and an architect. In the same year that the economy bottomed out in a city that had already over built the exact building type my husband and I  were designing, I was blessed with the surprise of twins who were born ten weeks premature. The first several years of juggling work and parenting were a nightmare.  The laundry list of things that had happened to us was long and daunting. Besides the pay-cuts and our tiny 800 square foot home losing half of its value, our children had multiple health issues requiring therapy and lots of hospital visits. I have vivid memories of trudging through the snow with soaked pant legs after walking a mile to my office in Chicago, starting another twelve-hour day away from my family only to get a call that my child was having an asthma attack and needed to get to the ER. And I won't even touch on how my employer felt about my "situation."

Simply put, our life was not sustainable or enjoyable.  I was a very angry and tired person who no longer wanted to be an architect. Having always been a vivacious, happy woman, very direct and called a "tough cookie" by many, the male dominated aspects of the profession had never bothered me. My first employer was a trusted mentor, advocate and friend, who showed me how compassionate and human a boss could be. He shared with me the entire world of architecture that is never taught at school and gave me opportunities most young architects never see. I had once adored my career. However, having children with health issues and finding little compassion in my new employer, my value system had been completely turned on its head. Without really understanding what I was doing, I quit my job and we decided that we were throwing all of our negative energy away. We deliberately reframed our lives and sent out that positive energy to the universe. No more blaming the world for making this all so hard, and we called ourselves to action. Let the mortgage and the hospital bills go, we pronounced! We had no plan but we had each other.

Some say it was divine intervention or just old-fashioned luck; my husband’s friend saw my "Screw the World!" post on Facebook and gave us a call. He explained that his little home building company down in Texas was looking to bring a design team in-house, and asked if we would be willing to visit Austin and take a look. We felt the universe radiating positive energy towards us, towards our decision to let it all go, and moved to Texas two months later, joining the PSW team as partners.  Our company has grown from just a handful of us in a little run down house to over fifty of us building well-designed, sustainable, urban infill homes all over Texas.  And most importantly for our family, my husband and I have been able to craft a very sustainable set of careers and family life. Our company philosophy is founded on this principle as well, so we are trying to help our employees do the same. We have hired six architects and designers, of which over half are women and several are parents. Our families always take priority and that is non-negotiable.

This journey has provided so many lessons, none the least has been gratitude. Gratitude is the gift that keeps me loving what I do, even when I put in late nights. We both work hard, but have a joint purpose and immense gratitude in this opportunity. The list I have going in my mind is no longer about what is happening TO ME but what I am making happen and what I am ok with letting go. If I were to catalogue the ways in which I am able to successfully work and parent, here's a stab at a top five:

1. Having a life partner who takes on exactly half of the load that life throws at you. My husband and I have different styles and preferences, but we both do laundry and pick-up the girls. We go to the girls' pulmonologist together and trade off gymnastics. We have a system of tasks and we over-communicate about it.

2. Pouting is not allowed. One of the most important lessons we learned from our parenting coach to help us with our very behaviorally intense kids is to accept a challenge, deal with it and move on. Life can be very hard at times, especially when balancing work and kids, but negative energy sucks the life out of you.

3. You can always change your situation. Reframe it, scramble it up, and move to Alaska if you want. You won't die if walk away from a house, even. Own your situation - you get one chance at this!

4. Exercise often and take stock in you. Date nights are mandatory.

5. If you are an employer, give your employees the ability to have the life you would want to have. Treat them like adults. Not everyone will get to be an employer someday, so it comes with an immense amount of responsibility to help them shape lives that are meaningful and manageable.

architect, lead project designer  


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An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Meghana Joshi

A Fine Imbalance

From working in someone's home office to working at the top architecture firms of the country, I have done it all, while being an ArchiMom. Fourteen years ago, when I went back to work leaving my seven week old daughter under my mother's care, there were worries, there were doubts, and then there was a huge learning curve of adjusting to the work culture in a new country. With the help of flexible schedules, I started work early in the mornings, and my husband left home after taking care of our daughter's morning needs. At the stroke of four, the only thing on my mind was that beautiful smile that lit up my daughter's face when she spotted me.

Fast-forward fourteen years; the smile is still the same when she spots my car in the curbside pickup. I have two girls; eight and fourteen, and both go to different schools. One of them is in a public school close to home, but the other one goes to a STEM magnet school twenty miles away. Both of them have seen me go from working to an elite corporation to being temporarily unemployed to starting my own consulting firm. I lean in only because they, along with ArchiDad help me lean in. They know when to get into the car quietly while I finish my call, and they know when to borrow the Staedlers, the Sharpies and the Prismacolor and never bother about returning them.

My everyday moments of truth:

  • Since I am a consultant, I have the luxury of flexible hours. But since I am a consultant, I am also the solely responsible for the deadlines. Depending on the amount of work to be done, and the school/ extracurricular schedule, I start working early, or stay up late night. If I am working on a set of construction documents, I start early in the morning and continue throughout the day, but if it's design, I start in the evening and reliving the glory days of architecture school, staying up late at night. Some weekends end up being working weekends if the fine balance of the scheduled items is disturbed. But, before I burn out, I take a break.
  • My children have seen me paint a masonry block for a color board while I helped my husband get through the morning rush of making breakfast and lunch boxes. They tell me which gray goes better while buttering their toasts. The older daughter helps me type up responses to the RFIs, and sets up excel sheets for unit-mix calculations when I do storage projects. The younger one has spent time verifying the parking numbers from as-built drawings and double-checking my calculations. They are very involved in my life, not just limiting themselves to wearing my hard hat and pretending to be mommy.
  • Not every day will be a well-planned and well-executed success story. There are days when I come home stressed from work, after spending considerable amount of time in the traffic, and all that greets me is a sink full of dirty dishes. Some days, my children pick up their clothes directly from the dryer because not all weekends have enough time to get organized for the week ahead. I like to prepare double batches of meals and freeze them, and I use my slow cooker a lot, but still there are days when Chipotle seems to be the only quick and easy option. On days like those, I go with the flow. I take care of what's on top of the priority list, and what bothers me the most, and let the rest go.
  • Always keep some snacks and a hardhat, and construction boots in your car. I learned this valuable lesson the hard way. One day after working on a set of drawings overnight, I took them to office hoping to drop them off and come home for a quick nap before I picked up the children. But, one thing led to another, and I ended up driving straight to pickup. I realized that I didn't have my purse when I pulled over in the parking lot of a restaurant. Hungry, tired and frustrated, I learned a valuable lesson. I carry enough water and snacks to outlast a famine in my car.
  • I try to do a little something everyday that's not related to my projects, my business, my children, my marriage, or my IDP and ARE exams. I like to read, write, cook, sketch, workout, or just catch up with an episode of “How I met your mother” with a glass of wine. You need more "you time" than you imagine. Some time alone, everyday if possible, without multitasking. A stack of magazines and fifteen minutes in the bathroom were my sanity savers when the children were young, and I had to work from home during their vacation days. I blog also, documenting life as is, mostly my worries, and frustrations.  
  • One day I want to start attending AIA events, and network with other architects. But life where it is now rarely allows for any such commitment in the real world. I try to catch up with architecture related articles, and blogs, and read architecture magazines. I am using social media to connect to others in the industry. One day I want to be more involved with the causes I attach myself to, volunteer my time and efforts to.
  • ArchiDad, who is actually a TechiDad is my rock. When I moved to California to be his wife, I was on a Dependent Visa. During the "Y2K" days, it was easy for anyone with any educational background to take a quick course in coding and get employed in technology sector. I don't tell him this, but ArchiDad is the reason why I stayed ArchiMom. When he helps me with parenting responsibilities, it's mostly because they are our children, and this is our home and our household. But he is truly my rock when he encouraged me to volunteer and learn until I got my citizenship to get legal employment, or get a distance learning degree during my pregnancy, and promptly adds me to his health insurance plan when I am unemployed.

Meghana Joshi @meghanaira

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An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Yen Ha, RA

Having been a practicing architect and business owner since the late 90s and a mom to a two elementary school kids, I have been following with avid interest all the attention to what it means to be a woman in the workforce and particularly the #archimom conversations. Everyone has a different story though we share many of the same struggles, whether architect or CEO. No one is doing it all; that’s a myth perpetuated by images of stylish moms and their glamorous lifestyles on glossy websites. I promise that under every put-together photo, there is a mom wondering if she remembered to pack the kids’ lunch that day.

We know it’s a challenging life that wouldn’t be possible without a passion for our work and that supportive framework of partners and caregivers. For me, those are the essential ingredients in any secret sauce to this life of motherhood and work.

But the everyday truths are the ones that get us through everyday filled with design conversations, packing lunches for the kids, doctor’s appointments, site meetings and construction details.

These are mine:

1) Have a calm morning. Mornings set the tone for the rest of the day so I wake up in peace as much as I can. A couple times a week, I try to go for a run before everyone wakes up. Otherwise I have an easy breakfast with the kids and then walk (not rush) to school. I still check my emails (but in read only mode). I don’t respond to anything before I’ve had my coffee and some fresh air. Some mornings I might even take time to have a quick breakfast with a mom friend at school before heading up to work. It reinforces the morning as time I’m taking to approach the world on my terms.

2) Set weekly and daily goals. I am always making lists. It gives me a visual sense of how much I need to accomplish. Every morning, when I get to the office, I identify two to three things that I absolutely plan on finishing that day. The short term visualization of goals helps tremendously in prioritizing my daily workflow and at the end of the day, even if I have done nothing that feels productive, at least I have finished those one or two things.

3) Block time. Mornings are for answering emails, catching up with news, and any home chores that need to be completed. Right before lunch I start on a task. So when I get back from lunch, I can dive right back into it. In the late afternoon I usually start on the second or third task to give me enough time to finish it that day. When I’m working on a specific thing, I try to ignore the emails and save responding for later. Designing doesn’t always work that way, nor does architecture, but I find that trying to tackle things in “blocks” helps with the efficiency of the day and of my mind.

4) Don’t waste time, yours or anyone else’s. When you say you will do it, do it. When you say you will be there, be there. Don’t spend your time on tasks that someone else can handle. Relatedly don’t waste your time on work that you don’t find fulfilling. It’s all about prioritizing your time and finding, for yourself, the most efficient way of using time.

5) Do it right away. If you can, reply immediately. That makes it one less thing you have to do because it never goes on your to-do list, it’s already done. I don’t care how uncool it makes you to be the first to respond to a proposal, this frees up your brain space because it doesn’t even exist in your brain space, you’ve already taken care of it. On a job site don’t wait to get back to your desk to figure out the detail, pick up a pencil and work it out right there. Consider this, one less thing to have on your to-do list.

6) Eat lunch away from your desk. This is so important that my work partner, Michi and I, have a lunch blog and manifesto about having lunch out. It’s critical to have recharge time; those pauses of what I like to think of as, moments of calm. Lunch away from our desks allows us both to breathe and free up some of the mind space caught up in the list making and email replying. Some of our most creative moments are over a good lunch. And if you can’t have lunch out, try and take a walk for a small moment of calm. Walk slowly, breathe deeply, and enjoy those couple of blocks before you have to go back to the office.

7) Invest in post-it notes. Don’t try and remember everything, that’s what post-its are for. My mind would probably explode if I didn’t have post-it notes. I use them for immediate tasks that need to be accomplished that day. Those I stick on my phone so every time I go to look at my phone, I am reminded. At home I use a journal for longer term planning and a whiteboard for our weekly menus and schedules. At work I keep a journal right in front of my keyboard so I constantly check and update my lists. Writing everything down frees my brain up from trying to remember what I need to do and instead lets me focus on what needs to be done.

8) Find your mentors and role models. I sit on the Board of Directors of the NewSchool for Architecture and Design where I have the incredible fortune to be surrounded by accomplished and amazing women. They have no problems navigating the lines between being complimented on a pair of shoes and addressing hard questions about budgets and academic excellence. I have worked for and with women throughout my career. I find that having someone to observe whom I respect and has some understanding of what it means to be a woman in architecture is incredibly empowering. It doesn’t have to be a formal relationship, but if there is a woman you admire, call her up and invite her to lunch or buy her a coffee one afternoon. Michi and I do this whenever we meet women we find amazing and that we want to learn from.

9) Make time for creativity. For Michi and I, that time is lunch. We leave our phones off the table and instead talk about our weekends, all upcoming business and any design challenge that aren’t jelling. Now that my kids are older, I’ve started finding free bits of time and in those 5 or 10 minutes here and there I’ve started a series of daily drawings that I can pick up, draw, and put down again when the water is boiling for dinner. They are making up a collection that we’ve put on Front Studio’s Instagram. Michi likes to call them my mom art because they require very little set up and the time to make them can be taken in very small increments.

10) Keep your eye on the prize. As Emily Balcetis said in her recent TEDx talk, it is does make a difference if you focus on the finish line. It changes the nature of the exercise itself as well as making that finish line appear closer. Define what your goals are, and define them with your life partner and your work partner. I’ve always believed that if you have an idea of where you want to be in a month or 10 years then that idea will nestle in your brain and as you make your way through everyday life, it will influence where you are going.

Yen Ha is an architect, reader, mother and eater. She founded Front Studio Architects in 2001, where she is a principal, and blogs at Lunch Studio where she writes about the happiness of a good lunch. Her personal writings, drawings and makings are collected at hh1f.

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An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Cherise Schacter, CSI

I was invited, along with others, by Rosa Sheng, Equity by Design (the to contribute a blog about a day in the life of #Archimoms ( –Stories and advice from women in architecture who are managing career and family.

In total, I have raised or partially raised 6 children over the last 30 years. A chunk of that time was spent as a single parent. All of that time was spent working full time in AEC and trying to find balance between work and family.

While I am not an architect, I started working at my first architecture firm when I was 20 years old. During the course of my 23 years with that firm, I went from receptionist to managing the firm at all levels. The only thing I did not do was actually draw. I now work for an MEP Engineering firm and just sent my youngest off to college in September.

I think it is fair to say that women have a unique set of circumstances when it comes to managing career and family. While this is changing with each passing year, traditionally women have been the primary caregivers of their children. If you are a single parent, you are the only caregiver for your child. For me, having done both, this has presented its challenges over the years.

During the course of my career, I have worked with some incredible, empowering mentors – almost all men – who have taught, inspired and guided me. I have also encountered discrimination and being treated like I was “less” because I was a woman or with the attitude that I was not fully invested in my career because I was a mom. I feel very fortunate that the latter was the exception and not the rule.

Now having an empty nest (which will someday be a blog of its own), I can’t really contribute what a day in the life of #Archimoms looks like anymore. What I can offer, after 30 years of navigating family and a career in AEC is some perspective and lessons learned. Mind you, I learned some of these lessons early and some of them the hard way but all have been valuable.


Lesson #1: Find a company that believes work/life balance is a priority and offers some flexibility.

This is crucial and they are out there. If you are not working for one now, leave. You really can’t give your job 100% if you have an issue at home that needs your attention and you have a less than understanding employer.

My former architecture firm was amazing. I am not sure I could have navigated the early years, the years as a single parent and then the years with four busy kids without their support. My current firm is the same way and for that I will be forever grateful.

Lesson #2: Work very, very hard.

The three Partners in my first firm were much older than me and pretty traditional in what was then an environment of “get me a coffee” if you were the only woman in the office, which I was for a majority of the 23 years with that firm.

I did not change those perceptions, rise in my firm or gain their respect by accident. I worked my tail off. When I was at work I was engaged, focused and giving it 150%. When I needed flexibility due to family, which was often over the years, they knew they could count on me to make sure the bases were covered. As a result, they stood behind me through those difficult times.

Lesson #3: Make time for yourself.

Honestly, this is a lesson that I have been learning only over the last couple of years and that has been a huge mistake. I have spent my entire adult life focused on my career and family, sometimes putting in 20 hour days to make sure everything got done and my kids had an active involved mom in their myriad of activities.

I have sometimes neglected my own heart, soul and well-being in the process. You do not have to volunteer for everything and it is OK to say no. I don’t care how you fit it in or what it is you need to keep your center but find it and make time for it. Everyone around you, work and family alike, will benefit and you will be recharged to take on the next day.

Lesson #4: Never stop learning.

It is easy to get into a rut at work when you are trying to juggle so many things. Sometimes, going to work can feel like a vacation when home life gets crazy. That can be a dangerous rut that results in slow forward movement in your career.

There are always ways to keep learning and growing as a professional as part of your regular day. You have to be proactive, ask for new opportunities and most importantly, look for the mentors. With my busy life, I didn’t have time to take classes or join industry organizations until just recently. My best and most valuable resource for learning and moving ahead were the mentors I found in my place of work. It is incredible the knowledge people will share if you just ask. I was never afraid to ask.

Lesson #5: Find good childcare.

This is a big one. You absolutely cannot be invested and focused in your work unless your children are in a consistent childcare environment in which you have complete confidence.

This can be difficult but well worth the time and effort to find just the right fit. I found all kinds of creative ways to get quality childcare that I could afford for four children which made it much easier to do the work I needed to do.

Final Lesson: Don’t sweat the small stuff.

This is another one that took me years to learn. I am just a tad bit Type A. This is not always a good thing. I spent incredible amounts of wasted time trying to be the perfect employee, the perfect wife and the perfect mother. The house had to be spotless, I thought I needed to run every activity my kids ever signed up for, throw the best parties and be the highest performing employee. This attitude took its toll in more ways than one.

In the end, it does not matter if those dirty dishes wait until tomorrow, whether or not you are team mom instead of just being a spectator or whether you volunteer to take on one extra project at work that you really don’t have to take on. Nobody really remembers that stuff.

What matters is that you have some sanity, focus and balance in your life so you can be the best that you are to your family, your employer and yourself.

While I could probably write a book on my experiences and lessons learned, these few are some of the more important ones for me. Every family is unique and has different needs. If this blog eases the path of even one #Archimom, then I have accomplished my goal for today.

Cherise Schacter, #CSIKraken

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