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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: Graphing the Work-Life Equation

With a few short 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. Patricia Hansen, Associate AIA shares her insights on working with the Thought Leaders to shape this Career Dynamics session.

Graphing the Work-Life Equation: Different Approaches to Success


From balance to flexibility to integration, there are many ways of conceptualizing the relationship between work and our personal lives. How do we develop successful, personalized strategies for making it work? Session leaders will share how they’ve set goals for balance, flexibility, or integration, and the strategies they’ve adopted as a result. Then participants will have an opportunity to reflect on their own approach to the work/life equation and discuss how it has (or has not) worked for them. Working together, participants will map these approaches to work/life, highlighting connections between individual goals, personal and professional context, and long-term success.

Thought Leaders and Facilitator:

Patricia Hansen, Associate AIA — Facilitator

Patricia Hansen, Associate AIA — Facilitator

Why were you interested in being a facilitator? 

I am very supportive of the effort to create more equity in the workplace and see it as a crusade that I want to help drive. I had just joined EQxD prior to becoming a facilitator and it seemed like an excellent way to jump into the movement with both feet. Additionally, I am new to the profession and saw it as a great opportunity to network with amazing individuals who care about some of the same issues.  


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

Our session is all about the difficulty of integrating personal and professional life. This relationship is dramatically affected by crucial pinch points throughout one’s career and is definitely a major issue for most workers. Whether it is getting married, starting a family, caring for parents, volunteering, or any other personal interest our session recognizes the importance of allowing time for these activities in order for employees to lead an engaged, happy life. Not allowing for this flexibility causes burnout and encourages individuals to leave the industry.

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

One of the concepts that we arrived at early on in our discussions was that there is no such thing as Work/Life BALANCE. The interchange between professional and personal life is messy, unpredictable, and overlapping. It certainly is not some kind of perfectly balanced teeter-totter with work on one side and the rest of life on the other. Living a multifaceted life necessitates a constant give and take between work and everything else that is going on. In the end, it becomes much more about flexibility and integration of the different parts of life rather than a balance. This subtle distinction between work/life balance and work/life integration really surprised me initially because people so often use the terms interchangeably. The slight differences really affect one’s perception on the issue.

Check out all the #EQxDM3 Break-Out Sessions Here

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

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.

#Architalks 10: Give me a Break!

By Rosa Sheng, AIA

#Architalks is back! And No. 10 happens to be themed on the topic of Summer Break (no irony should be lost that I have written this post during my summer break and it was due just a day after the 4th of July holiday weekend) thanks to Bob Borson of Life of an Architect. 

Since childhood, summer breaks have been special and distinct. As the weather heats up for 3 months, time seems to slow down. And yet, the memories from these "breaks" are more vivid now than the blurred rush from rest of the 9 months of years past.  Fireworks, fireflies, family day trips to the Jersey shore with sun, sand, and salty Atlantic Ocean mixed with smells of fried funnel cake, cotton candy and lemonade. As I got older, summer break trips expanded to a few special visits to China to visit my grandparents and see amazing architectural wonders like the Great Wall, Forbidden City, and the Hu-Tong (densely packed neighborhood fabric of the city). And during Architecture school, my last summer break as a student was spent immersed in the city of Taipei, Taiwan for my thesis project: mixing summer fun with historical research for a theoretical building site. 

Now, as an Architect living on the west coast for more than 15 years with seasons that are muddled, I look forward to my “summer breaks” more than ever. I enjoy reliving the nostalgic memories and creating new ones with my family in our annual July vacation to the east coast. It has become an important time to recharge the batteries, reconnect with personal passions, as well as catching up with our relatives and friends. While we still make a point to unplug with a visit to the beach, my vacations would not be complete without some exploration of urban and architectural treasures. The list includes an annual visit to The Metropolitan Museum (aka., The MET), a baseball game at the new stadiums, a leisure stroll on the High Line, a ferry ride to Governor's Island, the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and The Glass House in Connecticut. 

The importance of getting a break from work or any major project that we are trying to accomplish seems like an obvious no brainer to maintain optimal focus and productivity. A 2008 Families & Work Institute study found that not only do workers with paid vacation time have higher job satisfaction and are less likely to leave their job than those without paid vacation time, but also that the amount of time away matters. Both workers’ satisfaction and likelihood to stay in their job rose significantly when their vacation lasted 13 days or more.

While most established Architecture firms may offer a minimum number of paid vacation days and sick days (usually 10 of each) to salaried full-time employees, the reality is that the majority of staff never take the full time allotted to them given the demands of project schedules and pressures of the “long hours” work culture originating from Architectural School design studio. Since we conducted the Equity in Architecture Survey in 2014, the discussion of work/life flexibility and more specifically the topic of employer support for taking an extended break is something that the Architecture profession needs to discuss and improve upon as a strong link to talent retention. 

Outside of the profession, there are bigger questions of how we compare with other countries and their support of paid breaks. The U.S. is the only advanced nation in the world that doesn’t guarantee workers paid time off according to a report titled "No-Vacation Nation - Revisited" by the Center of Economic and Policy Research, a liberal policy group.

And beyond taking leaves for medical reasons (including childbirth or caregiving of others) the least addressed or discussed type of extended break or leave is one for exploration to learn a new skill or a mental respite traditionally know as a sabbatical in academic circles. Is there a way to hack the illusive "break"? 

What if companies offered scholarships for those seeking to expand their professional and leadership development that also benefitted the sponsoring employer? What if professional sabbaticals were structured in a way as a benefit for reaching milestones of project goals, licensure, or tenure to reward productivity, project success and also improve talent retention? From restorative summer breaks as a youth/student, we could seek inspiration for transforming that experience into a healthy lifestyle practice throughout our careers. So don't be afraid to ask and find creative ways to negotiate for it - "Give me a break?"

For different takes on the theme #Architalks 10 "Summer Break", read from the following contributors to this worthy topic.

"Bob Borson - Life of An Architect @bobborson Architectural Bucket List"
"Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture @FiELD9arch SummerBreak?"
"Marica McKeel - Studio MM @ArchitectMM Summer Break = Extreme Architecture"
"Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet @Jeff_Echols Summer Break and Aunt Loretta"
"Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect @LeeCalisti summer break"
"Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC @L2DesignLLC Vacationing with an Architect"
"Mark R. LePage - Entrepreneur Architect @EntreArchitect 2 Simple Systems That Will Transform Your Studio"
"Cormac Phalen - Cormac Phalen @archy_type MILES AND MILES OF ROAD "
"Jes Stafford - Modus Operandi Design @modarchitect Summer Getaway"
"Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect @mghottel #Architalks 10 - "summer break""
"Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC @MeghanaIRA Architalks: There, but not there"
"Amy Kalar - ArchiMom @AmyKalar Summer Break"
"Tara Imani - Tara Imani Designs, LLC @Parthenon1 A Brilliant Summer Break"
"Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect @bpaletz Summer Vacation"
"Eric Wittman - intern[life] @rico_w summer break [or] summer school"
"Sharon George - Architecture By George @sharonraigeorge Summer Break #ArchiTalks"
"Brinn Miracle - Architangent @simplybrinn Summer Break"
"Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL @sramos_BAC Architect: Gift or Curse?"
"brady ernst - Soapbox Architect @bradyernstAIA The Education of an Architect"
"Michael Riscica - Young Architect @YoungArchitxPDX The Architecture Students Summer Break"

INSPIRE% Firm Culture: Inside View of Ehrlich Architects

An Interview by Susan Kolber (Part 2 of 2)

As EQxD continues to investigate how the profession can foster more equitable, innovative and sustainable practices, the voices of our top firms provide unique input on firm success and how these firms value their staff and work culture. On Monday EQxD shared 2015 AIA National Firm Award recipients Ehrlich Architects’ (EA) principal and staff perspectives on their daily routines and team dynamics. These interviews revealed EA's unique firm culture that seeks to create a family-like team with trust, respect, and collaboration at the forefront. This blog series has interviews by Principal Patricia Rhee (PR) and staff members with varying levels of experience: EJ Fernandez (EF), Will Korchek (WK), Amanda Snelson (AS), and Lyannie Tran (LT). The interviews featured below shed deeper insight into the staff’s development at EA and how they envision the future of architecture.

Can you expand on how you promote a healthy community and support "having fun” in your architecture practice?
(PR) It's a balance--at the end of the day, we are a part of EA because we believe in creating beautiful spaces that best serve our clients and communities. People don't choose to be an architect because it's an easy career path--we recognize the long hours, hard work, patience and endurance it takes to build buildings, particularly when you care deeply about the design. Design doesn't always follow a linear path or fit neatly into a tight schedule. So the reality is that we do inevitably need to work late hours to meet a deadline. So we try to make the working environment as comfortable and efficient for our employees as possible.

What is your average employee tenure? What benefits/incentives do you have to retain talent?
(PR) The principals and associates have all been at EA for 14-20 years. The junior staff ranges from 2-8 years.

Ehrlich Architects' studio located in Culver City, CA  photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

Ehrlich Architects' studio located in Culver City, CA
photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

Can you tell us a little bit about yourselves and your role at Ehrlich?
(EJ) I grew up in Chicago where I spent most of my time studying architecture before moving out to LA to get my masters at the University of Southern California.  While at USC, I was fortunate to have both Steven Ehrlich and Takashi Yanai as  studio professors which eventually lead to my current position here at Ehrlich Architects.  My role as a designer at EA is to provide project solutions through design strategies that function appropriately with the environment and client’s needs in mind.  I collaborate with my team to produce a functional project that promotes architectural honesty and community development.  I also help develop our office drawing standards and setting up our community outreach events.
(WK) I am a designer at the firm, managing projects that range from master plan studies to schematic design for an office building. Smaller roles include managing office IT and coordinating lunch and learns. I graduated with a BA in Architecture from UPenn in 2013.
(LT) I am a designer at the firm working in the residential team.  I have 5 years experience and am going to start my licensing soon.  I am a project manager for two houses which are soon to be under construction.
(AS) I’ve been at EA for 2.5 years, just after moving to the area from the Ozarks in southwest Missouri.

I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to take on considerable responsibility at my job. With limited experience, I’m often learning by doing. This can be challenging, but has provided incredible learning opportunities. The firm places a lot of trust in its employees, who take on a lot of work and are able to gain great experience.
— Will Korchek

Is getting licensed valued in the firm? If so, What are ways you encourage that and reward it? Do you have (have) formal or informal mentorship practices in place?
(PR) Yes, it is valued. As part of our office policy, we pay for study materials, the exams and licensure fees. It is one of the requirements for associateship. We have a long-standing internship program that is open to students or recent graduates that is approximately 6 months long. It's a good way for recent grads to gain exposure to an architecture practice with a wide-ranging portfolio and to pick up valuable skills like learning Revit. Mentorship occurs on an informal basis throughout the office--we are all still learning from each other constantly--at least I am!

Team meeting at Ehrlich Architects   photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

Team meeting at Ehrlich Architects 
photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

What is the greatest challenge/difficulty that you have had to overcome in your professional career? How has Ehrlich helped you grow as an architect?
(EJ) The greatest challenge I have encountered was on my first project that involved finishing a CD set within a short amount of time.  Thankfully our project manager, Whitney Wyatt, and her experience, along with management's help to delegate two more workers on board, we were able to produce the set and get the project finished.  Ehrlich Architects has helped me grow immensely as an architectural designer.  This is also due to the fact that our experienced veterans take the time to teach the young staff rather than just assigning tasks.  I have learned everything I know up to this point in architecture because of the leaders we have here at Ehrlich Architects.
(WK) I am very fortunate to have the opportunity to take on considerable responsibility at my job. With limited experience, I’m often learning by doing. This can be challenging, but has provided incredible learning opportunities. The firm places a lot of trust in its employees, who take on a lot of work and are able to gain great experience.
(AS) Obtaining my architect license – of which EA had helped support through providing study materials, funding a lunch series for those studying, and reimbursing test fees once passed. A salary adjustment is also given once California licensure is obtained.
(LT) The first year is always the hardest, knowing the trade.  Then when you first learn to manage a project.  I still don’t know if that is something that has been overcome yet. [EA] has  given me the opportunity to manage a project and to also connect to other people beyond architecture.

(AS) I have not experienced any hesitations on the job due to my gender – the partners portray a level playing field when it comes to expectations (definitely equal opportunity from my experience). They are also very approachable if there is ever an issue, either with working remotely due to health or family issues, needed time off for family, working with flexible schedules, to keeping an open mind about each of our capabilities.
It’s really refreshing to have multiple female leaders at EA with families to look up to – it is possible (albeit challenging) to be a successful woman architect with kids!
— Amanda Snelson

Do you have work life flexibility policy? If you do not, how do you navigate everyone's life challenges?
(PR) During the summer, we offer employees the ability to take every other Friday as a half day, assuming they make up the hours within the two week time period. As for flexibility to work at home, it's on a case-by case basis. The nature of our medium-sized office is that it benefits most from people coming together, rubbing elbows, talking to each other, observing the goings-on around them. When people have life challenges--we listen and try to work together to find the best solution for everyone.

What inspires you on a daily basis?
(EF) Being able to create architecture, space and community as a living is what inspires me on a daily basis.  From listening to clients’ needs, figuring out spatial strategies and detailing the smallest crevice in order to produce a sound and holistic project is enough motivation.
(AS) The view out my window – either at home, at my desk, or from my car.
(LT) It is hard to constantly be inspired but on a daily basis, seeing other people’s work whether in the office or in the architectural field itself is inspiring.  This is accomplished through discussions in the office, daily newsletters from architectural organizations and books.

What do you believe has been one of your greatest accomplishments to date? Why?
(AS) Obtaining my license is my most important accomplishment professionally, to date, including all the efforts that lead up to licensure: university, internships, learning on the job under an architect, etc.  It’s a long road, and though most outside of the profession do not grasp the difficulty, it is a huge personal accomplishment – not only “jumping through hoops” but a necessary path in this demanding profession. If only we could be compensated to reflect these efforts.
(LT) To date, my greatest accomplishment is learning how to use the work that I do to achieve what I want to do in life.  I am able to pursue other hobbies and travel with my eyes wide open because of what I learn at work daily.

What is the best advice that you ever received and how does that apply today?
(AS) Surround yourself with people that inspire you, which you aspire to be like, and that believe in your potential. (This reinforces the great aspects of EA – the people you interact with on a daily basis are everything, and EAers are some of the best I’ve ever met.)
Timing is everything. Perfect is impossible. Don’t worry about things you cannot control. Everything always ends up working out. (These mantras help put things into perspective, when work becomes overwhelming or out of our control.)
(LT) “Have patience, it will benefit you” from my first fortune cookie.  I’ve learned that time is relative and we all seem to be in a hurry to go somewhere, compressing what little time we already have.  However, in time, all will work out.

How do you see Architecture changing in the next 10 years? What would your role be in the future?
(WK) Architects should get out in the community, support public events, host public events, and invite the community in for studio visits. The more people who know an architect, the more people are comfortable with architecture.
(AS) We will be given shorter time to develop design and construct buildings; Higher demand for building performance (energy efficiency, indoor environment, water conservation, etc.); More partnerships in the private sector with Developers, Contractors and Architects with shared risk/reward.
My role will be to respond to the changing industry demands by exploring alternate deliverables, honing project and time management skills, observing projects post-occupancy, and embracing the latest technologies.
(LT) I think there will be more linkages between cutting edge technology and a recycling of styles of the past, whether that be modernism or something else.  As always vernacular will be on the fringes.  I’m not sure what my role is in the future, but I hope that it will be more meaningful to the community.  

Ehrlich Architects  photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

Ehrlich Architects
photo courtesy of Miranda Brackett

How does Ehrlich support equity in their firm culture, personal, and work?
(WK) At its very foundation, the firm is built on equity. We all work together; designers sit among partners sit among interns. Partners want to hear what designers are thinking and see how their personal creative background can inform a firm project.
(AS) I have not experienced any hesitations on the job due to my gender – the partners portray a level playing field when it comes to expectations (definitely equal opportunity from my experience). They are also very approachable if there is ever an issue, either with working remotely due to health or family issues, needed time off for family, working with flexible schedules, to keeping an open mind about each of our capabilities.
It’s really refreshing to have multiple female leaders at EA with families to look up to – it is possible (albeit challenging) to be a successful woman architect with kids!

Where do you see Ehrlich in 10 years?
(EF) As we continue to expand our portfolio and go beyond our boundaries I can see Ehrlich Architect growing in number and complex projects.  One thing we are not afraid of is adapting new technology and ideas, applying it to our projects and seeing how we can expand our architecture while sticking to our foundations in design.    
(AS) I would like to see EA challenging the industry’s status-quo by exploring alternate project management, project deliverables, and partnerships with developers and contractors for more productive project team dynamics.


EQxD Workshop #2 - What's Flex Got to do with Success? RECAP



On June 11th,  marking the 2 year anniversary of our group, Equity by Design took "Discussion and Action" a step further and another whale bite with the second EQxD "U" Program: What's Flex got to do with Success? about Work Life Flexibility challenges in the profession. 

Work life flexibility emerged as a major theme of last year's Equity in Architecture survey. Flexibility was one of the most important ways that our survey respondents defined success in their careers. The survey also shows that inflexible schedules and long hours are a real burden on our field - a significant portion of respondents had turned down opportunities or promotions due to issues of flexibility, people are leaving the field due to long hours and low pay, and taxing work schedules are a major obstacle to licensure. 

The workshop was hosted by AIA San Francisco with Amber Evans and Lilian Asperin-Clyman of the Equity by Design Committee. 4 guest panelists from a range of experience in Architecture and Engineering. Kirstin Weeks is a senior Energy and Building Ecology Specialist at Arup. Jeffrey Till has is an architect and Design Principal at Perkins & Will. Annette Jannotta is an interior architect with Flad Architects San Francisco. Douglas Speckhard is an architect and an Associate at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.

The Storify recap of live tweets from the event with #EQxDFlexWorks is part of our initiative to leverage technology as a way to capture and document valuable ideas and lessons learned for continuing the dialogue and inspiring action in your firms, local AIA Chapters or in our larger AEC community.


Hungry for more Knowledge, Discussion and Action? Join us for EQxD "U" Workshop #3 on Thursday, August 13th at 6-8:30pm for "Collaboratie Negotiation is your Power Tool". Are you an avoider, accommodator, compromiser, collaborator or competitor when in comes to Negotiations? Talk with negotiation experts, Take the Thomas-Kilmann Analysis of your default negotiation style and then Practice your skills w/ our customized Negotiation Role Play in the Break-Out. This will be a popular session and likely sold-out, so sign up early! As with all our sessions, this workshop is beneficial to men and women and AEC professionals.




Flexibility Works.

by Emily Grandstaff‐Rice AIA

How does the architecture profession break away from our robotic daily work routine into modern work/life integration?

How does the architecture profession break away from our robotic daily work routine into modern work/life integration?

Through recent research, work‐life flexibility has emerged as a key element of defining success for men and women in large and small firms. Flexibility is likely the most important and easiest concrete measure firms can implement. As both a workflow practice and employee benefit, firms have seen positive impacts on culture, employee satisfaction, and talent retention. While work life flexibility practices have become more commonplace, stigmas still exist about those who take flexibility options. As a female architect who has used flexible work policies (who is also married to a male architect that has also used flexible work policies), I can attest to both the advantages and drawbacks of this workplace benefit. While it doesn’t make life ‘easier,’ it does relieve pressure around needing to address somewhat competing obligations in the personal and professional realms.

Below are some of my observations and experiences:

Successful work life flexibility measures need buy‐in from both supervisors and employees. Even with the best policies in place, without direct supervisors having adequate training on the value of supporting employees’ personal lives, employees can feel pinched. Sometimes an arrangement negotiated with higher level HR or leadership can be derailed by an employee’s peer group and direct supervisors. This is where the rubber hits the road. Employees and supervisors need to be clear in communication about their expectations. Personally, I found posting my hours and my cellphone number at my desk went a long way about being clear about when and how I can be reached if I wasn’t physically in the office.

On the other hand, flexible work arrangements must also prompt employees to reconsider when and where they work. Working from home does not always provide distraction‐free time or there may be significant expenses related to upgrading technology to enable telecommuting or remote access, especially as architects deal with large files. (Can I tell you how many times I’ve had issues with VPN?) Employees who chose flexible work arrangements need to be flexible about the nature of work especially in incorporating an appropriate ratio of face‐to‐face time with independent working time.

When does work‐life balance become work‐life blur? Enabling access to technology for remote and ‘off‐hours’ work has a tendency to lead to both work‐life balance and its next iteration: work‐life blur. I find it difficult to be able to turn the office ‘off’ when I’m not working and the constant beeping of my phone does not help. This is a difficult issue regardless of work‐life flexibility policies. Understanding the need to have time to devote to one’s personal life also means that there needs to be a shut off value for all of our sanity. My newest strategy includes switching my phone on silent and using the visual cues to know when I have an incoming call.

Four additional things to consider about workplace flexibility:

1. Rethink time, location and mode of work. Flexibility in the workplace is not about imposing a set way of working on individuals, but rather developing a respect and trust for them to decide to work in the way which fits best for them. This requires an element of mutual agreement. Collaborative working arrangements recognize the difference between ‘working for’ a supervisor rather than ‘working with’ a team.

2. Remember that flexible arrangements do not necessarily reduce a full‐time load. In the case of reduced time, if you work less than 40 hours per week be mindful of the actual hours worked because it may be difficult to scale back responsibilities based on previous performance and expectations. Additionally, supervisors need to acknowledge that when employees are not in the office, they are ‘working’ in the other realms of their life—not relaxing.

3. Be flexible about flexible conditions. Flexible working arrangements should be reviewed a couple times per year. Since flexibility is often a need to fulfill other aspects of employee’s lives, situation can change seasonally. Checking in often encourages dialogue amongst supervisors and employees and good communication is always key to strong relationships.

4. Try not to make hard and fast rules about flexibility. Policies are meant to provide employees equal opportunity and protect the nature of the business enterprise, but sometimes there will have to be exceptions to the policies. Think of every employee and situation as unique. Focus on the outcomes of the flexible work arrangement, not just the impact of the details. Something that works for one individual may not work for another.

Ultimately, flexibility is everyone’s issue—not exclusive to men or women; parents or children; individuals or families; or even architects and designers. Ensuring the well‐being of the people we work with is a goal that helps both the organization and the individual and ultimately leads to success for all in architecture.


Catalyst: Flex WorksParlour Guide to Equitable Practice: 04 FlexibilityThe Flexibility Stigma NY Times: The Unspoken Stigma of Workplace Flexibility

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. 


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.