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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?

#EQxDM3 Behind the Scenes: Culture with Intent

With a couple weeks until AIASF's 4th Symposium — Equity by Design: Metrics, Meaning & Matrices, EQxD Blog will be featuring "behind the scenes" interviews with the facilitators of the Symposium Break Out Sessions for Career Dynamics and Pinch Points. Nancy Alexander shares her insights on working with the Thought Leaders to shape this Career Dynamics session.

Culture with Intent: Recognizing and Shaping your Office Culture


It is said that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.”.  Office culture matters – in producing quality work, in defining and expressing a brand, in employee retention. Knowingly or not, we live, breathe, and feel our office’s culture every day. Each office has its own values, traditions, ways of communicating and leading. Understanding your culture helps you gauge fit and manage performance. Through panelists’ examples, guided exercises and break-out groups, you will identify the hallmarks of your office culture, evaluate it through the lens of your personal values, address any incongruity, and develop strategies to effect change if needed.

Thought Leaders and Facilitator:

Nancy Alexander — Facilitator

Nancy Alexander — Facilitator

Why were you interested in being a facilitator?

Facilitation is all about drawing out the group wisdom, finding the common threads, and seeing a co-created product emerge. It’s one of the most fun things I get to do! And as possibly the only non-architect in the crew, despite decades of learning about architecture, architects, and practice, I combine an outsider’s perspective with huge appreciation for what you all do and the impact your work has on the world.  

How have the Equity pinch points and/or dynamics informed your session?

I was surprised that the survey so vividly captured elements of firm culture that matter, in particular: alignment between firm values and personal values; the work relationships that develop as a result of that alignment; and individual control, autonomy, and involvement in decision-making. Understanding these points, I think, affirmed the direction our team was intuitively going in, and it is giving us something of a framework and starting point for the facilitated workshop.

Are there any a-ha’s that emerged from the process of working with your team?

This is not a new a-ha, but a renewed one: you architects work a lot! Also you are super-smart and very skilled at processing the big picture and the details simultaneously. It’s always a privilege to work with architects (and dare I say, especially women architects). This team, like many teams of women architects that I’ve observed, is driven by the client (i.e. the audience) and the project goals and not egos.

AIASF Equity by Design Symposium Sponsors

Special thanks to our amazing sponsors for their dedication and support. We look forward to seeing you there!

Work Life Fit: A New Focus for Blurred Lines

By Rosa Sheng, AIA


Happy Labor Day! #Architalks is back and no. 12 happens to be themed on “Work/Life” in honor of the American labor movement and the contributions that workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country. No irony should be lost that I have written this post on Labor Day as it was due on Tuesday... with much thanks to Bob Borson of Life of an Architect!

The topic of Work/Life is no stranger to our Equity by Design forum, so we welcome this month’s conversation. Just beware that the secret confession of this Archimom holds firm that Work/Life “balance” does NOT exist – at least not in the meaning that implies maintaining equilibrium. Now, if you are talking about tightrope walking, then you may be closer to my world. (You may also envision juggling flaming knives, drinking from a firehose, or my favorite - the episode of I Love Lucy when they are working at the Chocolate Factory and can't keep up with the assembly line, so they start eating and hiding the chocolates. ) 

And since the proverbial Work/Life balance bubble has burst, there have been several new models hoping to be crowned the new "it" term for career and personal success; Work/Life Integration, Work/Life Flexibility, and now Work/Life Fit. I like the idea of Work/Life Fit. It implies a tailored approach to one's own journey for finding success in career and life. Regardless of the terms and rapidly evolving models of work AND life, we need to address the deeply rooted assumptions that prevent many from realizing the "dream". So, this post will provide awareness of the Implicit gender bias related to work/life flexibility and its impact on advancement to provide some quantifiable new focus for the often blurred lines related to this pinch point.

Survey finding of Work/Life Flex Challenges

As part of the Missing 32% Project: Equity in Architecture survey, our goal was to identify factors or “pinch points” from graduation to retirement that cause Architects to leave the profession. The five major pinch points are: Hiring, Paying your Dues, Licensure, Caregiving, and the Glass Ceiling. A few of the key survey findings addressed the challenges of work/life as it relates to caregiving as a major pinch point for talent retention. Work/Life challenges reported higher by women than men include turning down a promotion, a project opportunity, or project related travel. The 2nd highest response indicated that they left a position in a firm due to the lack of work/life flexibility. When asked what employers could provide that would be most supportive, respondents reported that flexible start and end times, comp time for overtime hours and technology to enable telecommuting from home when needed. 

A recent study by Flex+Strategy Group/Work+Life Fit Inc. had some interesting findings about Work/Life Flexibility perceptions and a few surprises as well. The access to Work life flexibility was very common among the survey respondents with almost all saying they had some form of flexibility in 2013 (97%), with no significant difference between the levels reported by men and women. The ability to be flexible in how, when and where you work and to allocate time and energy between your work and personal life has increased. The number of full-time U.S. workers who said their level of flexibility increased was higher in 2013 (23%) than in 2011 (17%).

However, among those who said they have work life flexibility, the majority of flexibility in 2013 was informal and occasional (55%) such as occasional changes in schedule or your work location other than your employer’s office, while the remainder (42%) had a formally agreed upon arrangement with their employer. The study also found that 31% of full time workers opt to telecommute at least part of the time. And most surprising was that of the 31%, nearly 3 out of 4 were men working from home of no particular generational category, while some have children and some don't; there was no clear pattern that would suggest men wanted to work from home because of family concerns. These findings are quite different to the perception that women are benefitting the most from flexibility arrangements.

In addition to the informal vs. formal nature of Work/Life Flex, there are the impacts associated with which path you choose. A NY Times article "How Some Men Fake an 80-Hour Workweek, and Why It Matters" by Neil Irwin discussed the disparity in a study completed by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University's Questrom School of Business. One of Ms. Reid's key findings was that people (the majority of which were men) who were "passing" as workaholics, received performance reviews that were as strong as their truly ambitious colleagues. For the people who succeeded at "faking it" there were no consequences of their lighter workloads. Conversely, a second key finding indicated that women, particularly those with young children, were much more likely to request greater flexibility through more formal means, such as returning from maternity leave with an explicitly reduced schedule. Men who requested a paternity leave seemed to be punished come review time, and so may have felt more need to take time to spend with their families through those unofficial methods. The result of this is telling: Those specifically requesting a lighter workload, who were disproportionately women, suffered in their performance reviews; those who took a lighter workload more discreetly didn’t suffer. 

A greater challenge to work/life flexibility as it relates to caregiving is the deeply rooted cultural bias that society still views mothers as the primary caregivers. Cultural assumptions aside, here is the reality: 71 percent of mothers with children at home do work, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and women are the sole or primary breadwinner in 40 percent of households with children, according to data from the Pew Research Center. In the NY times Article The Motherhood Penalty vs. the Fatherhood Bonus by Claire Cain Miller, employers credit fathers as being more committed and stable to their work while the opposite of women in parenthood is perceived; that they are less dependable and more easily distracted in a flexible work schedule.

With all these challenges, it's no wonder that we are faced with the uphill climb to increase the dismal numbers of women who are licensed architects and leaders in firms (which hopefully will include more archimoms in the future.) Can we get to a workplace that not only recognizes work/life, but also respects and encourages workers to exercise their "fit" without judgement of performance solely based on their schedules? And can we get away from the ultra competitive "Culture of Busy" that rewards the perception of long work hours vs. actual efficiency in hours saved in a results focused model? 

The fundamental challenge we have as a profession and society is the need to rethink current workplace models and find new solutions that will positively support those that need work/life flexibility the most. The strongest motivation for this new value proposition is talent retention within our profession. Otherwise we are no better than Lucy and Ethel with a mouth full of chocolates, (and as Lucy pointed out, constantly on the verge of losing the battle).

For different takes on the #Architalks 12 theme "Work/Life", read from the following architecture "blogerati" contributors to this worthy topic.

Enoch Sears - Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)
Work Life

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
Work | Life - Different Letters, Same Word

Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
Work / Life : Life / Work

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Work/Life...What an Architect Does

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
The One Secret to Work - Life Balance

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
work | life :: dance

Mark R. LePage - Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect)
Living an Integrated Life as a Small Firm Architect

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
#ArchiTalks: Work/life...attempts

Collier Ward - Thousand Story Studio (@collier1960)

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
what makes you giggle? #architalks

Jes Stafford - Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect)
Turning It Off

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Work/Life -- A Merger

Rosa Sheng - Equity by Design / The Missing 32% Project (@miss32percent)
Work Life Fit: A New Focus for Blurred Lines

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
Work Life

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks: Imbalanced and uninterrupted

Amy Kalar - ArchiMom (@AmyKalar)
ArchiTalks #12: Balance is a Verb.

Michael Riscica - Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
I Just Can’t Do This Anymore

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
An Architect's House

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Brady Ernst - Family Man Since 08/01/2015

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Father, Husband, Architect - typically in that order

Tara Imani - Tara Imani Designs, LLC (@Parthenon1)
On Work: Life Balance – Cattywampus is as Good as it Gets

Eric Wittman - intern[life] (@rico_w)
midnight in the garden of [life] and [work]

Sharon George - Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
Work = 1/3 Life

Daniel Beck - The Architect's Checklist (@archchecklist)
Work Life Balance: Architecture and Babies - 5 Hints for Expecting Parents

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept)
Work is Life

Anthony Richardson - That Architecture Student (@thatarchstudent)
studio / life

Lindsey Rhoden - SPARC Design (@sparcdesignpc)
Work Life Balance: A Photo Essay

Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Work / Life

Jonathan Brown - Proto-Architecture (@mondo_tiki_man)
Architecture: Work to Live

Licensure -Just Do It!

by Sharon Portnoy

Sharon Portnoy is a licensed architect in California and New York and is currently a Principal Consultant at Breuer Consulting Group, which specializes in executive search for the built environment.

To be honest, I never paid much attention to the “debate” about licensure in Architecture. It’s been in the air since, well, forever, and I never gave it much thought for several reasons. For me, licensure seemed the logical next step after years of rigorous training in school and “paying my dues” as an intern. Perhaps because I was an English major in college before going on to get my M.Arch., I craved the validation of being an Architect with a capital “A”. But beyond my personal experience, we are a profession that has, first and foremost, an obligation to ensure public comfort and safety. No matter how visionary and innovative our buildings are, people need to get out of them safely if there’s a fire. Sophisticated design and the poetic use of materials mean nothing if the building is not universally accessible. And as compelling as that transparent façade looks in the rendering, if heat gain and shear strength aren’t figured into the equation, a hot summer day or earthquake could make the spaces beyond it uncomfortable at best, dangerous at worst.

Architects complain a lot about how little recognition and respect we get from the public. In my mind, what licensure says to the world is that we don’t just draw pretty pictures. We are well-versed and competent in the business of making buildings that are safe, accessible and efficient. I would not go to a doctor who hasn’t passed her medical boards; why would a client choose an architect who hasn’t displayed at least basic competence in areas of life safety, accessibility, and professional practice?

Objections? Sure. These are the ones I hear often

1. The exam says nothing about your skill as a designer.
True. But it tests your fluency with the codes and standards that you need to internalize to become a good designer. Just as a grammar test can’t predict whether you’ll be the next William Faulkner or Toni Morrison, you really should know how to construct a sentence before you sit down to write a novel.

2. It’s hard! 
Yes. Yes it is. And it should be. Maybe the public doesn’t understand or appreciate the rigors of our profession, but we must. We need a basic understanding of structural and mechanical engineering, acoustics, resilience, ergonomics, accessibility, environmental impacts, economic outcomes, etc. so that we can collaborate with contractors and consultants and be effective leaders on project teams. We are the ultimate generalists and connecting all the dots is one of our greatest strengths. But doing so requires basic knowledge in a variety of areas, and our competence should be assessed and recognized. So yes, it’s hard, but we work in a challenging profession and assume a lot of responsibility. In my mind, licensure is a badge of honor that says an architect respects, values and is equal to the challenges and responsibilities that come with the title “Architect.”

3. It's time consuming!
Yup. And it doesn’t get any less time consuming the longer you wait. In fact, studying becomes more time-consuming, as the load calculations and force diagrams you learned in your Structures class in school fade further into the recesses of your memory. What’s more, life itself has a habit of becoming more time consuming as the years pass, so if you are relatively young and unencumbered by family responsibilities in your first few years out of school, get it over with! And if, by chance, you are considering licensure later in your career and are mired in mid-life responsibilities, take comfort in the fact that the exam can be taken section by section these days, and therefore broken into manageable bites.

4. It’s expensive.
Again, I can’t argue with this. Although the research suggests that licensed architects do have a financial advantage over unlicensed architects, one that grows over time, this is by no means a guarantee. But I can offer a few words of encouragement on this front. First, ask your employer to help. Many firms offer incentives for licensure, whether it’s paid time off for study time, help defraying exam costs, or a financial bonus upon achieving licensure. Make sure you know what your employer offers and take advantage of it! If your employer doesn’t have a program in place, ask them to start one. There are a host of arguments supporting the benefits to firms that have a high percentage of licensed professionals. Do some research and make your case. If that doesn’t work, get creative. Start an Indie-Go-Go campaign, or when your relatives ask what you want for Christmas, tell them you’re saving up to get your credentials and want a check --- preferably blank .

So now, 20 years after I first sat for the exam, I have finally given the “debate” some thought. Yes, the exam is imperfect and so is the profession. The process is onerous and the rewards seem thin. But I can say without reservation that I have never questioned or regretted my choice to get licensed. It has served me well in the way potential clients and employers see me, but perhaps more importantly in the way I see myself. Starting as a young woman in this profession in the early 1990s, I struggled with presenting myself as a credible, authoritative professional. There was a sense among some older architects and contractors that female architects, even those with professional degrees, were somehow not to be trusted with the serious business of building. Having the title “Architect” bolstered me against these assumptions and gave me the confidence to reject them. And as hard as it is to believe that female architects still contend with implicit bias in 2015, I feel that licensure is powerful tool for countering that bias. And one final note: after 20 years of professional practice, I have transitioned to a consulting practice, which focuses on executive search for the built environment. In my new role, I talk to a lot of firm leaders and look at a slew of resumes and LinkedIn profiles. I can say that while not all employers demand licensure, without exception they prefer it. So if you want your resume to float to the top of the pile ---JUST DO IT!




INSPIRE% Best Practice: AIA National Firm Award winner Ehrlich Architects

An Interview by Susan Kolber (Part 1 of 2)

The Equity in Architecture 2014 Survey Report revealed respondents identified three key elements to success in their careers, “Working with the A-Team, Significance of Meaningful Work, and Work/Life Flexibility.”  With these three themes in mind, Equity by Design wanted to continue the energy of  INSPIRE% Best Practice blog post in January, an initiative that features Architecture firms that support equitable practice. We wanted to learn how Ehrlich Architects (EA) winner of the 2015 AIA National Firm Award fosters equity in their practice and firm culture. Known for their design approach deeply rooted in the needs of inhabitants, the surrounding culture and site context that has been coined as “multicultural modernism,” EA believes their firm culture should be equally focused on participatory and healthy community. How many firms do you know use words likehigh level of trustand “family” to describe their firm culture? We explore EA’s firm life with interviews from Principal Patricia Rhee (PR) and staff members: EJ Fernandez (EF), Will Korchek (WK), Amanda Snelson (AS), and Lyannie Tran (LT).

You practice multiculturalism in your work, how does this translate to your firm culture?
(PR)  Our firm is its own unique blend of People and Place. Our Place--the building itself--is a living breathing creature with a life of its own, that we interact with every day. Its size, compactness, its blend of casual, homey spots and intense coming-together spots--is an inspiration to work in. Our People, the greatest resource of EA, are what make our firm culture. The varied personalities, backgrounds, histories, knowledge and experience are ever-changing yet we maintain constant threads of openness, humor, familialism and of course, a love of food!    

Ehrlich Architects winners of the 2015 AIA Firm Award  photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett 

Ehrlich Architects winners of the 2015 AIA Firm Award
photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett 

Ehrlich Architects is a family. We have strong leadership and young staff that collaborate together and learn from one another, which is one of the many strong qualities we have at our office. There is a sense of community and genuine appreciation for one another that resonates within our projects and the clients we work with.
— EJ Fernandez

Can you walk us through a week at the studio? Do you have daily/ weekly meetings that everyone participates in? What firm wide activities foster community? (PR) A week at the studio? Sorry, that would take too long! We do have a bi-monthly office-wide meeting to review project/staff status, where every single person shares with the group what they've been working on since the last office meeting. Because our project teams vary in size and type, there is not a standard way of running all project meetings--and each principal has their way of managing their projects.
We have been using an intra-office website--a virtual "water cooler"--for posting events, inspirational/fun images or blurbs, recent construction photos, and soliciting responses for questions on a variety of issues: code, Revit, the next softball game. It's a great way to be inclusive and crowdsource contributions from our people--the most invaluable resource of our office.
As for firm-wide activities, once or twice a year we will rent a bus for a field trip day and visit local projects recently completed or under construction. We have a tradition of summer multi-culti barbecues, hosted (sometimes lavishly!) by the current interns. We also have themed pecha kucha nights on the patio, which have been a great way for staff to share something about themselves. A growing number of action committees have also sprung up, with staff eager to delve deeper into arenas of interest and to make things happen in tandem with their project work. It's this balance of project work and non-project work (that sounds so dry!) that makes our office special--the amazing community of people working together, accessible to each other with a wealth of experience and knowledge that allows us all to learn from each other every day. It never gets boring.
(EF) Our studio is a very active space in which there are constant meetings happening either within the project team or with clients.  We have quarterly office meetings that allow every person in the office to speak about their current project.  If there is one firm that loves to have a good time and knows how to foster community within our office and those affiliated with us, it is Ehrlich Architects.  We engage as a family in countless office events and gatherings that are catered by different individuals in the office which allows for everyone to participate in creating community.
(AS) There is usually one event at least every other week, either a lunch and learn to hear the latest product or technology or sustainability update, or office-hosted BBQ, or softball game, or movie night, or a Friday happy hour at a nearby bar. EA differs from other firms because we all play hard – frequently together!
(WK) We relish times during the week that we are able to come together as a staff and enjoy a birthday celebration, an office announcement, or other quick gathering. We don’t have formal meetings very often, but are working to start meeting office-wide every other month. As we grow, it is becoming more important that we meet as a full office to hear what everyone is working on and build camaraderie. After-hours events like summer barbecues and movie nights are essential to fostering community.

What is the team structure of a normal project? Is it highly collaborative? Do junior staff have opportunity for design input or other opportunities/roles besides production? How do you promote team building and collaborative design?
(PR) The team structure varies depending on project type and size, but essentially, there is a principal in charge, project manager and project architect (sometimes one person) and supporting design staff. Junior staff have always been a very important part of the practice--typically coming out of our internship program or former students of ours--and depending on their unique skill set, will contribute to the design process and productivity of the overall firm. It always amazes me what the junior staff will come up whether it's design solutions, a new or better way of using software or a different approach to social media--because they are engaged with these elements and see things in a way that the older generation may not--and that makes our group all the more educated and enlightened. We encourage everyone, regardless of experience level, to speak their mind and contribute (and trust me, they have!) on their projects and to also have the freedom to reach out to the rest of the office for advice and support.

photo courtesy of Ehrlich Architects

photo courtesy of Ehrlich Architects

The open environment and density of the office also lends itself to collaboration. We've learned this through co-location with client and consultants in our design-build projects as well--the closer in proximity you are to your fellow teammates, the more in-tune you are with the issues of the team and equipped to help. Building 3d models to study design, physically and virtually, is integral to the way we work--and is also a great way for junior staff to contribute their design ideas from the beginning of a project.

Our People, the greatest resource of EA, are what make our firm culture. The varied personalities, backgrounds, histories, knowledge and experience are ever-changing yet we maintain constant threads of openness, humor, familialism and of course, a love of food!
— Patricia Rhee

What characteristics does Ehrlich Architects encourage in their employees?
(PR) I encourage the staff I work with to be self-motivated, confident, responsible designers who are not just focused on the project tasks at hand but also understand the bigger picture of the work they are doing--the economics, the politics, how it affects our clients and our communities. These are the invaluable lessons that are best learned on the job.
(EF) Honesty and hard work.  Ehrlich Architects encourages everyone to be true to their work and honest in their architecture.  Working with different teams you develop trust with everyone you work with and every employee is encouraged to participate and support each other.
(WK) Self-reliance, determination, and hard work. Compassion, understanding, and sympathy.
(AS) Positivity, Rigor, Curiosity, Confidence, Friendliness
(LT) To be current, to be able to relate to stakeholders and to be a communicator.

How is Ehrlich's firm culture different from other firms you have worked at?
(EF) Ehrlich Architects is a family.   We have strong leadership and young staff that collaborate together and learn from one another, which is one of the many strong qualities we have at our office.  There is a sense of community and genuine appreciation for one another that resonates within our projects and the clients we work with.  We are different because our firm culture extends beyond the walls we work in and is cultivated through activities outside of architecture.  This develops trust and builds team character even before we begin working on projects together which is what some firms do not offer.  We like to keep things light yet take our work very seriously.
(AS) I’ve never partied as hard with my boss before working at EA!  At work, we are given many responsibilities, which forces one to learn a lot quickly. It all stems from a high level of trust between everyone.
(LT) The culture here is more interactive in the sense that it is important for employees to not only get along but to build friendships.  There is a work hard play hard mentality here but it seems that the firm also supports the play hard factor as well.


Read Part 2 of 2 INSPIRE% FIRM CULTURE: Inside View of Ehrlich Architects

When Working Hard Hardly Works

by Morgan Maiolie

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

I was wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Resoundingly, the answer was No.

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

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

Breaking the 9am-5pm cycle.

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

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

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

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

We did it from 1-5pm.

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

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

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

What's next for EQxD?

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

(WE310) Equity by Design Hackathon @AIA National Convention Atlanta!

Equity in Architecture is a call to action for both women and men to realize the goal of equitable practice in order to attract and retain talent, advance and sustain the profession, and communicate the value of architectural design to society. This event is open to everyone and has relevant learning objectives for all Architects.

Join us on 5/13 1pm-5pm for the most energizing half-day workshop inspired by the sold-out 2014 symposium, Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action! We will begin the day by reviewing a full report of key findings from the 2014 Equity in Architecture Survey topics: Hiring and Retention, Growth and Development, Meaning and Influence, followed by interactive conversations about the pinch points that affect talent retention in Architecture. 


Hackathon! The second part of the afternoon will feature the first AIA Convention "mini-Hackathon". What is a Hackathon? Very similar in format to a design charrette, using this rapid prototyping format will leverage your Design Thinking skills to propose actionable initiatives and best practices for talent recruitment, career advancement, and building the business case for equity. This video by Daylight via Vimeo demonstrates the process.

Finally, you and your group will present a 5 minute "pitch" of your proposed equity initiative to a panel of judges. Pitches will be rated with final equity initiatives being featured in blog posts and social media. Sign up for WE310 Equity by Design as pre-convention during Convention Registration. Ask your firm or local AIA Chapter to sponsor your attendance and bring back this valuable knowledge to affect change! 


Following the workshop, Hackathon workshop participants will be invited to a complimentary Happy Hour 5:30pm-7:30pm at Studio No. 7 for Jury deliberations and Awards. If you can't make the WE310 Workshop, we will have registration to attend Happy Hour event so that you can catch up on the highlights of the Hackathon! Proceeds beyond costs of the event go to funding the 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey.

Studio No. 7 - 393 Marietta Street N.W. Atlanta, GA 30313

Happy Hour (only) registration includes networking, a recap of the EQxD Hackathon, Jury results and award announcements accompanied by an assortment of wines and appetizers inspired by Latin American and Asian cuisine that is seasonal and prepared with craft and care. If you register with AIA for the WE310 5/13 workshop, then Happy Hour is included.