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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?

INSPIRE% TALKS - Relaunch: Be Tough, Brave and Go for It!

by Lucy Irwin, AIA

Equity by Design asked me to share my story of relaunching my architectural career at the 2016 EQxDM3 Symposium Friday Night INSPIRE% TALKS - given in a Pecha Kucha style format: 20 slides, 20 seconds each. The Symposium was designed to be an opportunity for architects of all ages and levels of experience to come together to learn from one another by sharing research, experiences, wisdom, dreams, insights and strategies. This is the story I shared.  Some of the resources I used in my journey are at the end of the post.



We are about to take a risky journey together. So climb into the boat with me. You can be in the bikini or the one piece, but hold on tight, because there are rapids ahead, big rocks to crash into, and it’s all going to pass by in a flash.

At 26, I was probably like many young architects, ambitious, hard working, directed.  I’d graduated from Dartmouth College and Yale School of Architecture, worked for several architects on the East Coast, Chicago and San Francisco.  I was on the fast track, and I was going to do it all.

I imagined myself as the next Frank Lloyd Wright, or Zaha Hadid, while also being a wife and a mother. If I worked hard, I could have a successful career and achieve my personal goals.  But life is risky, and in fact takes twists and turns we can’t imagine at 26. See those rocks and rapids ahead?  I took a big risk, got married, and moved to North Carolina.

I got a great job working for Phil Freelon, the architect of the San Francisco Museum of the African Diaspora. I got my internship years done, designing airports, banks, research facilities. At this point, I was right on track with my male peers, gaining experience, skills and confidence. I took the licensing exams, which at that time lasted several days, while I was 7 months pregnant.  I passed them all, moved to San Francisco with my husband and weeks later our first child was born.

After getting our new little family settled, and surviving the Loma Prieta Earthquake, I found a job working part time doing high-end residential work.  It didn’t feel quite like I was on the Frank Lloyd Wright fast track anymore, but I kept at it. I took the additional oral exam required to get my California license, this time pregnant with my second child. After maternity leave I returned to my part time job, until our third child was born. Juggling two careers and child care for three children was tough. It became clear the best solution for the time being was for me to take care of the home front.

I never stopped thinking like an architect, or seeing the world through the lens of a designer. I paid my licensing dues year after year, but I could not read the magazines or watch who was getting prizes.  It was too painful to be on the outside of something I loved passionately. Between recessions, and being fully occupied with children and community service, years went by.  While I did not practice architecture, I did continue to work on solving complex problems creatively and developed many skills that make me a more valuable architect now.

I did lots of risky things during that time, following my passion for building stronger communities for families and fighting for a more equitable society.

  • I coordinated the first reunion of the Black Student Union at St. Ignatius High School.  We produced a video telling the 40 year history of the club, which was an amazing education in the history of San Francisco.

  • I sat for 6 weeks on a jury for murder case.

  • Worked on political campaigns.

  • Taught sewing to middle school students.

  • Built volunteer organizations at public, private and parochial schools.

  • Sat on boards, learned how to balance  budgets and developed strategic plans.

  • Did workdays with Habitat for Humanity and Rebuilding Together.

But the risk I really want to tell you about is when I decided to return to the practice of architecture.  I decided to take a Revit class, to update my skills.  That first class was terrifying, and I came out of it bug-eyed. I stuck with it and soon realized my knowledge of how buildings go together gave me a leg up.  It was really scary telling people I wanted to return to architecture. Would it be possible?  How it would work out?  

I started doing informational interviews, and through that process I found Equity by Design.  I joined the AIA, a mentorship group, and the Organization of Women Architects.

At my first meeting of Equity by Design, I met Pamela Tang, another mother who had taken 20 years off to raise her four children.  That gave me so much courage and hope.  Rosa Sheng and Lilian Asperin supported, encouraged and challenged me to develop new skills.  I attended the AIA Convention in Atlanta in 2015, and participated in my first EQxD Hackathon Workshop.

I did over 20 informational interviews, asking architects what changes they had seen in the profession, what continuing education they had found most helpful, what resources they would recommend, what skills they look for when making new hires.  I was humbled by what these individuals had accomplished, and their generosity.

Through this process, I learned so much about the current practice of architecture, where I might fit in, and what skills I needed to strengthen.  The more practice I had talking to architects about the volunteer work I had done, and how it fit into my current ambition of returning to practice, the more comfortable and confident I felt.

In September of 2015, I attended the AIA Women’s Leadership Forum in Seattle.  To be in a room full of 300 women architects, and hear their stories of how they built their careers, and families, was deeply reassuring and inspiring.  I feared how other women would feel about me re-entering the profession, but the support and encouragement has been amazing.  My biggest challenge is getting out of my own way, knowing I have the skills, wisdom and ability to get back in the game.

Every one of these steps was terrifying, but each time I put myself out there, I built more confidence in my ability to relaunch my career.  So by the time I had a job interview, I was able to tell my story with confidence, ask pertinent questions about the position, and help the interviewer imagine how they might fit an unconventional applicant like me into their organization.

Because of taking the negotiating workshop with EQxD, I was able to negotiate a fair wage.  My first job was in a large very competitive firm, and I learned so much in four months, it was like boot camp. But it may have not been the best fit.  Equity by Design gives me the courage to dust myself off, get back on the horse, and fight for my spot in this tough profession.

I’d love to tell you I’m well on my way to being the next Zaha Hadid now, but that would not be true.  I am just another step along my path, still figuring things out, taking on new risks and challenges. I am so thankful to have Equity by Design on my side, fighting for the profession I love, running programs that help me develop skills to be a better architect.

I encourage each of you to join Equity by Design, and the movement to make architecture a more relevant, equitable profession.

If you are returning to architecture after a break to care for family, I’d love to hear about your relaunch in the comments below or on twitter.  I’m @Lucile_Irwin. Take some risks.  Be tough, brave, and go for it!


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: 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

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 

Would you like to see more Archimom Stories? See who else has dropped in to share.

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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A (future) Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Alicia Liebel Berg

In the months, weeks and days leading up to my first born I have found myself in a confusing course in my career. I am about to become a mother and I lack any perception of how that will alter the day-to-day schedule that I call habitual. What has my pregnancy taught me? The prospect of becoming a mother has given the notion of 'change' an entirely new definition to ponder.

Before I became pregnant I had a conversation with my boss about the company's policy on maternity leave. I was surprised to learn that since I work in a firm with less than 50 employees, the FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) policies enjoyed by others in the architectural profession were neither applicable nor enforceable in my current work setting. I was told that I was to have six weeks and that all of my vacation time would have to be expunged in the process. I suddenly found myself with a minimal amount of leave and absolutely no time remaining for the obvious sick days that would occur since my new little bundle of joy would be in a germ-infested day care center, a necessary evil. My boss simply explained that he had too many former female employees who went out on maternity leave only to return on their first day back and immediately resign. He had been burned one too many times and I was left to fend for myself in the rubble.

I first attempted to lament to my mother about my scenario and shockingly found out that she was a human phenomenon. Over the course of 9 years she had six children; all by cesarean, fed by breast milk and wrapped in cloth diapers. The duration of her maternity leave? One week of time off before returning to her typical working routine. Unable to unhinge my jaw off of the floor, she simply explained that it had to be done and so she did it. Some of my siblings were even born at a time when she would have a 90 mile round trip commute and work as an ER Nurse or in the Kidney Dialysis unit. Needless to say I received no sympathy, but instead gained an extreme amount of empathy and awe as to how she ever made it work.

One afternoon my project manager made note that the firm principal was expressing concern about my ambiguous return after giving birth. I took that cue as a sign to be more proactive. I was at my seven month mark and figured that it was time to start talking about transition planning. A new employee was about to be brought on to assume my work load and I was starting to find myself fearful of being phased out of my current responsibilities. Almost ten months had passed since my first conversation with my boss and my firm now had a director of business operations, a woman who had 1 year old twins. I went in and had my conversation about how much time I would be taking, expressed my concerns about transition and asked what their plans were for reacclimatizing me to my daily routine. After this conversation, the business director called me back into her office and said that she had re-negotiated my leave to be eight weeks, with all of my vacation days intact. I never knew I needed such an advocate.  And there is not enough gratitude can be expressed for her knowing that more needed to be done. Having a new mother in this kind of leadership role is a rare gift I am sure.

Throughout the last eight months I have encountered resistance from other female architects who have labeled the attempt of work-life-baby balance as 'career suicide'. In their view, if you are unable to put in the necessary hours of intense work as the colleagues around you then you are, in extension relinquishing your consideration for career advancement. Sadly this view stems from the fact that they are from a large firm in the metropolitan area who are known for putting in extra hours over the standard full-time of forty. Fortunately my current firm does not have this type of culture, but I am still trepidatious of maintaining the dependability that my project manager and co-workers have come to observe as status quo. How will I manage having to be in and out of the office for doctor visits, illness and all of my current advocacy work while maintaining fast-paced deadlines? 

Conversely I also heard the best advice that I have received as a female architect, to date. This no nonsense attitude came out of the AIA Minnesota Gold Medal Winner, a woman architect, who boldly announced that women have already figured out how to have babies. In her mind, far too many women in the architecture profession use their children as an excuse or a crutch instead of taking ownership of the successful career that they are fully capable of having. She, like my mother, did what needed to be done and spent no time complaining about it. They charged forward with necessity and attitude as their motivation. 

As my due date approaches I mentally struggle with my reservations and fears. I find myself knowing yet doubting that I have the ambition to excel in the architecture profession. I have to remind myself that I will propel myself through any adaptation that will occur with the life changing moment of having my first child. Despite everything I know that deep down I will find a way to finish my path to licensure and in extension continue to demonstrate my abilities as a valuable asset to my firm.

Change is about to come and what a ride it will be.

Alicia Liebel Berg, Wilkus Architects @AliciaLiebel

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An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Nina Briggs

As one of the 18% of the missing 32%, and short on time, I'm honored to imperfectly navigate my #Archimom life. I'm a sole practitioner of 25 years, and an adjunct professor of 16 years. I designed this life to embody my personal definition of mother; to be conscious, available and engaged in my daughter's evolving childhood. She's 16 now, and despite her lack of interest in anything architectural (despite, or thanks to both her architect parents) she's knows how to navigate a construction site, is intimately familiar with every building department in our county, is a museum know-it-all, and has been an honorary student on every college campus I've taught. What pleases me the most about her, is her independent and creative ability to solve her own problems, and her patient tolerance of our crazy life. If not for the privilege of raising her while trying to contribute to the built environment, who knows how one-dimensional we'd be. 

There is no 'typical' day, there are no secrets, and there's no judgment about how individual families navigate their live/work lives. My Secret Sauce Ingredients and Everyday Moments of Truth have less to do with architecture, and more to do with what works (sometimes) for us, and what we are constantly learning as we bumble through.

My Secret Sauce Ingredients:
1. Accept that you cannot do everything all at once, and build a village of like-minded peers, mentors, and friends. Ask for help.
2. Don’t hesitate to pay other professionals their worth to help you be the professional you need to be.
3. Accept that everything changes, nothing stays the same. Be adaptable.
4. Give up perfectionism and have a sense of humor about your own imperfections.
5. Cultivate the art of saying no to what you cannot or don’t want to do.
6. Eliminate feelings of guilt; they’re a waste of your precious energy.
7. Give yourself quiet time and space (even if in small intervals) to recharge, replenish, day dream , rest, or meditate.
8. #Archimoms wear many hats, and change those hats many times throughout each day. Build into your daily routine ‘transitions’, vestibules of pause when transitioning from one role to another. 
9. Delegate: Practice trust by sharing decision making, execution, authority and responsibility.
10. Express gratitude. Thank everyone, all the time.

My Everyday moments of Truth:
1. Designing takes time. Since becoming a parent, those long stretches of hours when I could work are no longer there. My days seem to be a collection of 2.5 hour intervals (including travel time). If I can’t get the task done in that interval, it doesn’t get done that day. Whether it’s attending/conducting a meeting, creating a design solution, procuring a permit, composing emails/contracts/proposals/syllabi/invoices/reports, etc., taxi-ing my daughter, hunting & gathering (domestic & professional), teaching a class, cooking/cleaning, being volleyball/basketball team-mom, or reading/research, I don’t have the luxury of a lot of time. So FOCUS is my priority; being in the moment, whatever that moment is.
2. I’m a morning person, who discovered that if I don’t get the bulk of my work done beforenoon, the day is lost. So, I begin my day before sunrise, working on the tasks that require the most concentration first. 
3. I love to cook, and try to prepare great meals for dinner, but Fridays and Saturdays, it’s eat out or take in, mom cooks nothing. Then Sundays, we cook a lot, building in leftovers for the week.
4. I’m in the ‘sandwich generation’, which is difficult, yet rewarding. So, involving my teenage daughter in some of the care for my octogenarian mother helps me, her, and bonds the three of us.
5. I’m a maker. My daily practice and teaching doesn’t give me that outlet. “Making” roots me in creativity and soothes me. So when I feel stressed, my evenings turn to craft: sewing, map-making, crocheting, sketching, all of which come in handy for #Archimoms who like to make costumes, gifts, and help with school projects.
6. I remain in the mentor/mentee sandwich. The women who encouraged me early in my career (1980’s) were the pioneers of architecture (Kate, Margot, Virginia, Norma, Wena, Lisa, Joanne, Ena). They amazingly and graciously maintained their femininity and sensitivity, while paving the way for us, fighting gender discrimination, and significantly contributing to the built environment. I still go to them for help, advice, and just to listen to what they have to say and pay it forward to my students.
7. My schedule and responsibilities don't allow for the time to attend all the conferences, lectures, exhibits, and parties I'd like, but nothing is as important as what I'm doing right now.

Nina Briggs, designer and educator @aninsggirb

An interview with designer Nina Briggs: The authentic home.

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An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Deepika Padam, AIA





I can comfortably say that I have seen all sides of the profession. I had worked with firms large and small before I started my sole-practice, while teaching design studio at an architecture school. Now I am in the Public sector working for a client group. Throughout my career, I have volunteered for groups I strongly believe in, AIA is one of them. I am an #archimom of only 8 months. I may not have many pointers from a mom’s perspective, but definitely a few from a female architect’s perspective.

Something I’m pretty sure I share with the other #Archimoms out there: Lack of time. So I’ll get right to it! My typical day right now starts with feeding, changing, and handing over my baby to the nanny before I rush to catch the train for my hour and a half commute. I like to read or catch up on social media before I get to work. Psst… Occasionally I knit on the train! I never take private calls during work hours unless it is an urgent matter. At the end of the day I rush home to feed, change, and get my baby to bed. I think the schedule will remain this way until my son is a few years old. After taxes and nanny income, I barely see much money from my salary. But I must work because the longer I don’t work, the harder it will be to get back to work. That’s the catch 22 of this profession.

My moments of truth:

  • Don’t doubt yourself. You can handle more than you imagine. The torturous years of architecture school followed by long hours at work are a great preparation for anything you might want to do in the future. If I hadn’t got licensed early in my career, I wouldn’t have had the freedom, ability, and confidence to open my business when I needed to. So get that license quickly and believe in yourself.
  • Volunteer. If I hadn’t been engaged in AIA as deeply as I have been, I wouldn’t have had the opportunities I’ve had over the years. I have got jobs through AIA connections, but more importantly, being a volunteer has built me into a confident speaker and presenter. It’s a great way of honing in on those soft skills that are essential for success in architecture. Volunteering in local communities takes you a step further into serving. It’s not all about what you can get out of something; it’s also about what you can give to others. Being President of a local AIA and USGBC chapters hasn’t proven to be as fulfilling to me as mentoring young professionals.
  • Celebrate your successes. But then aim higher. You always need to look forward to something. Don’t forget your dreams and keep working on them. Nobody is going to bring the fruits to you in a silver platter; you need to work hard for them. And when you do achieve your dreams, thank the people who helped you and help others in return.
  • If you are a woman, of color, and of a foreign nationality with an accent, you are not alone. When you fail at something, it’s probably not because of those reasons. So stop feeling like you are being discriminated against. Discrimination happens to people for a variety of reasons, with no exceptions. Better to have a positive outlook and move on. You deserve better.
  • If you decide to quit architecture, all the power to you. If you can handle this profession, you can handle anything. Life is unpredictable, and plans are just plans.
  • Working in an architecture firm is not the only way to practice. There are other avenues. Open your eyes to all possibilities. Negotiate your terms; never agree to the first offer. I’ve never accepted a job at the initially offered salary, negotiation is not difficult. But remember, it’s not all about salary. What are your priorities? Speak up.
  • Before you start your business, do your research. A lot goes into it. The first step is talk to someone who has succeeded or failed at it.
  • You can have a life outside of architecture. You just need to prioritize it. I refuse to work more than 40 hours a week. The entire profession needs to. The day will come when you will burn out. So take that lunch break, and go home at 5. Because work never ends, but your life will end someday. That’s guaranteed.
  • A woman can be an architect, and still manage to be a mother. Or whatever your other desires for a fulfilled life are. You CAN have it all. Make sure to have time for yourself. If you are serene inside, those who matter the most will cherish you more.
  • If you are not happy at work, don’t feel obligated to stay. Don’t settle for anything less than what you deserve. Fight your own battles and build a support network. Start looking and find another opportunity.
  • It is impossible for me to do it all by myself. I wouldn’t be able to be an #archimom without my husband being an #archidad! We take turns all the time in taking care of our infant baby. And we are both sleep deprived! Still trying to figure out the parenting secrets.

Deepika Padam, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, GGP


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