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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?

#BUILDYOUrtribe - EQXD Hackathon 2015 Winners

Meaning and Influence: Entrepreneurship

We were told to get ready to eat the whale, to grab our forks and come hungry for action.  We walked into 2015 AIA Convention WE310 - Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action Hackathon energized and ready to “hack”.  But what that meant, we weren’t entirely sure at first.  

After the rundown and summary of the key findings from the 2014 Equity in Architecture Survey, wonderfully presented by our personal twitter heroes: Rosa Sheng (@RosaSheng), Lilian Asperin Clyman (@liaspcly), Emily Grandstaff-Rice (@egraia), Virginia Marquardt (@branngin) and Nicole Graycar (@ngraycar), we were told to gravitate towards a topic of interest.  There were 6 topics written up on boards and spread throughout the room.  Immediately our group surrounded the meaning and influence board with the topic of entrepreneurship.   

We were supposed to limit the groups to 5 or 6 people but 7 of us sat down instantly. When asked if any of us wanted to switch groups, we all leaned in--committed to our team and topic of interest.  To quote from The Missing 32% Project blog post Anatomy of the EQxD Hackathon,  

“I have always believed that those who are meant to meet, find each other in due time. Hackers find themselves gravitating towards other folks who share a passion…”  

The EQxD leaders thankfully let us stick together and break the rules.  We quickly discovered we were fortunate to have a variety of experience in our group that consisted of: a recent architecture graduate, a designer on her path to licensure, a newly licensed architect working in a large firm, an entrepreneur turned employee, an employee turned entrepreneur, a private practice employee turned public architect and a non-profit leader advocating for women in leadership.

Step 1: “Deliberate and Discard: Define the problem

Why don’t architects think more entrepreneurially? How do we break the mold and move away from the traditional career path, whether employed in a large firm or going out on our own?  Many issues came up from architects not knowing the business side of the industry to asking how do architects obtain and retain clients to asking, “am I a service provider or an artist?  Time and work-life balance also came up in our discussion, we talked about architecture schools teaching a culture of ‘all-nighters’, and clients not understanding how much time our work takes or the value added by the architectural team.  We asked why profitability is a dirty word in our industry?  As the EQxD leaders had warned us, time flew by and we had to distinctly define our problem; this is what we came up with:

In order to retain talent, increase job satisfaction, and avoid pinch points, we need to think more entrepreneurially – which is actually more true to our authentic selves as creative problem solvers.  By thinking like an entrepreneur, an architect will easily articulate their own value to their colleagues within a firm, or as a sole proprietor, and will likely then be more valued, remain in the profession and achieve more job satisfaction. So why aren’t architects articulating their value, to themselves and to their colleagues and peers? We answered that question as having a lack of knowledge, resources and confidence.

Step 2: “Develop and Clarify”: Diverge, Deliberate, Converge

What are the root challenges? Lack of Knowledge, Resources, and Confidence.  
What can we do to overcome our lack of or perceived lack of knowledge, resources and confidence?  We started navigating towards 6 ‘C’ words – creativity, collaboration, communication, confidence, community and connection.  We need to surround ourselves with other creatives, collaborate and communicate with confidence and engage and connect with our community - both the design community and non-design community.

We kept circling around the fact that we really don’t do it all on our own, we partner with others whether it be our client, the city and/or the community.  We utilize an interdisciplinary approach, peer mentors, and shared resources to get the job done.  How do we make this process of knowledge building, resource sharing and confidence boosting more accessible?  First, BUILD YOU.  We realized you have to know what you are good at.  What are your skills and passions?  This isn’t always easy to figure out.  We must however build ourselves first.  Second, BUILD YOUR TRIBE. We need to find others that have different skills and passions, who challenge us,who help us develop and further our design visions.  We called this building our tribe.  

Step 3: “The Pitch”: Get ready to “sell” it

As the clock ticked by at what seemed like a rapid pace, we realized we needed this to engage the public in order to make a larger impact.  So we came up with #Buildyourtribe, we liked it because it contained #Buildyou, the notion of finding your own skills and passions first and then building your tribe.  

Next, we decided we could go further than just a social media campaign and came up with the idea of an app which would be focused on connecting the AEC community locally, regionally and maybe even globally to participate in events like the hackathon, to meet up, connect and make lasting relationships;  a sort of industry-specific mash-up between LinkedIn and MeetUp.

It was interesting that by the end of this brainstorming session, our concept of building our tribe was coming to fruition through our own group’s camaraderie. We had come from different backgrounds not knowing what truly to expect but had found a common thread to work on and were putting our entrepreneurial self to the forefront.  As a new group of “hackers” we are looking forward to developing the app!

Amanda Gann @amanda_gann
Jamie Molina @jamiemolina419
Neelanjana Sen @NeelanjanaSen
Marilyn Moedinger @mwmoedinger
Karen Bala @karencbala
Kelly Hayes McAlonie @KellyHayesM
Rebecca Johnson @rebeccainphilly

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. 

EQxD Get Real: Search until you find your Yes!

by LaShae Ferguson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  7. Go to local networking events.

  8. Ask lots of questions.

  9. Save your money.

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

  11. Become a board member.

  12. Build your tribe.

  13. Be curious, vocal and persistent.

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

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

About LaShae Ferguson @lashae_f

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




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

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


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