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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?

Dear Udo, You were the original Hacker.

(Reflections on Studio and the 2016 Equity by Design Hackathon at AIA Convention)

by Lilian Asperin Clyman

Back then, we used to call it ED 11B. It was commonly referred to as one of the two foundational classes of Cal’s Environmental Design curriculum.  Looking back, ED 11A taught us how to draw and ED 11B required us to learn how to communicate an authentic point of view.  My professor was Udo Greinacher, and his class had three projects: the Garden, the Personal Space, and the Earthquake Fence.  But it was what Udo shared that created in our studio the space to think, to be ourselves, to think fast and to trust in our intuition.  Our studio was an environment for us to experiment – we were the hackers and our studio was the original Hackathon.

The projects got progressively reliant on our own ideas - shaped by that influential force he made sure we paid attention to.  For the Garden project, it was the symbiotic nature between the natural and built.  He had us go out, document, reflect and express meaning through drawing. For the Personal Space project, it was understanding intimacy. Each of us interviewed a subject and designed a space for them. I always had a little bit of a hard time understanding Udo’s German accent. So when I asked him what he was passionate about, I could have sworn I heard him say “his mistress”. But in my mind, that did not stand out too much as he was also the same person who during crits would encourage us “to know the rules so that you can break them”. I proceeded to do an entire project about sensuality, light,  shadow, allure, and passion only to realize later that what he had said was that he loved “mysteries”.

Perhaps it was the third project when I felt the most vulnerable - leaning on self-reliance the most.  For the Earthquake Fence project, Udo wanted us to focus on the ultimate influential force, the present. We had all just survived the Loma Prieta Earthquake of 1989. There was no precedent we could “google” and learn about. You had to dig in, gain understanding, build your confidence and get going – all on your own. There still is no such thing as an Earthquake Fence, but all of us designed one.  We had no stated deliverables, other than to describing our process for arriving at the solution. Mine was a cardboard model with sawdust from the model shop floor, a triangular structure of welded brass tubes, and a slice of crimped aluminum metal used to “mark” the fault when dormant, and react to it dynamically when active.  The fence was one way and then completely different when affected by the force of nature – experienced in many scales, from what you can touch to what you can see from the sky. In some ways, it was a three dimensional seismograph. By far, this is my favorite project of all time.

But it was his insistence on three things that made him the original hacker: relying on your intuition, having relentless commitment, and being relevant and responsive to the world we live in. He didn’t care what we designed as long as it was evident that those three hallmarks were guiding us. For two decades after studio, I had been somewhat astounded about the infrequency of this spirit in our profession, and the compromising outcomes that result when we all stop hacking and just follow.  So during the recent AIA Convention in Philadelphia, the Equity by Design Hackathon became another modern environment for experimentation - this time exploring innovation in a team setting and focusing on how to create better experiences in our beloved profession of Architecture.

What are the parallels between Udo’s studio and the Equity by Design Hackathon experience? Here are a handful, which I hope we all pledge to adopt as habits in our everyday work:

  • Change makers are magnets.
  • Find each other. Many folks just “showed up” not knowing too much about what to expect but trusting they were at the right place to make something good.
  • Engage with your authentic self.  
  • In a setting with limited time, we don’t have time to work out of our natural strengths.  You are a better contributor when you come from the depths of your heart and mind. And we can all edit more effectively than we trust ourselves to.
  • Ask better questions.
  • Truly understand the “why”?And make it a habit to also ask “why not?”, “what if?”, and “who with?”. The more diverse your team is, the better.
  • Practice inclusivity.
  • Ironically, many teams are assembled based on availability and experience. Welcome others and when you do, give everyone the same amount of airtime.
  • Just laugh.

We are certainly still buzzing from the second Equity by Design Hackathon at the AIA Convention in Philadelphia. In the coming days, we will share with you the reflections, proposals and take-aways from all the teams. Each embraced their vulnerability and let their point of view guide them as they collaborated on envisioning more authentic, day to day experiences as Architects and new ways to shape the future of the profession.  Enjoy!

Thanks to our EQxD Hackathon Sponsors!



Promotion and Advancement: How to champion the Pull.

by Mike Davis, FAIA

Japanese gardeners use a small hand saw called a nokogiri. Cool thing about this tool? Instead of pushing on the blade, it cuts when you pull it.

Thanks to the Missing 32% Project: 2014 Equity in Architecture Survey findings, we know that very few women become principals or owners in US architectural firms. With this deficit front-of-mind, putting pressure on all architects to recognize and act on gender inequity is right. Creating pathways to leadership for women in architecture is critical. But that pressure – the equity push – may not in itself solve the problem in time to keep more women from giving up on the profession.

To make change happen urgently, we also need a complementary force. Call it … the pull.  

Defining the challenges with promotion and advancement in Architecture. 

Defining the challenges with promotion and advancement in Architecture. 

When your breakout topic for the Equity by Design “Hackathon” at the 2015 AIA National Convention is “Promotion and Advancement”, it becomes a question of how. How do we create the pull for promotion and advancement? What would convince the people – mostly men – running US architecture firms that having more women in senior leadership positions is vitally important?

We can make the business case for equity. 1) Studies prove the correlation between inclusivity on a corporate board and organizational profitability. 2) We have market research showing how much global spending is now being controlled by women. 3) And how about that Harvard Business Review report that says teams with more women on them are just smarter? We can argue the intrinsic value of diversity. We can opine that social intelligence – the sine qua non of 21st century enterprise – is stronger in women. Plenty of compelling evidence.

But in order for gender equity to happen any time soon, the men in charge of our firms need to change their behavior. Men-in-charge are the leverage point in the system as it currently exists. So to “hack” the system, men must be made part of the solution.

Speaking as a male Principal in an architectural firm, I’ve been in the conference room when candidates for promotion and advancement are being considered. Qualifications, talent, dedication, leadership, professionalism? Sure. All those factors are considered. But the thing that ultimately makes a bunch of architects decide to promote someone else to Principal? Trust.

Trust ultimately creates the pull for promotion. Not rational argument, not compelling evidence, not market studies. It’s not an intellectual decision. It’s an emotional one.

We know that there are men out there who want to see women succeed in architecture. And we know trust is contagious. So the Equity by Design Promotion and Advancement “hack” is: the formation of strategic intra-firm partnerships.

A strategic partnership would begin like this: Women, find advocates among your firm’s current Principals or senior leadership. Asking someone for advice is powerfully motivating. Engage them in candid conversation about mutual goal-setting, professional objectives, career paths. Be sure you frame your aspirations in terms of how the firm can also benefit. This is the basis for interpersonal trust in a corporate setting.

And if you can’t find those advocates at your current firm, get your resume in circulation.

Team members including Jessie Turnbull, Mike Davis, Meg Brown and Frances Choun pitch The Pull for Promotion and Advancement. 

Team members including Jessie Turnbull, Mike Davis, Meg Brown and Frances Choun pitch The Pull for Promotion and Advancement. 

The next step: understanding that a firm’s corporate values and behaviors derive from the values and behaviors exhibited by its Principals, the advocating Principals need to demonstrate their trust in the candidates to the rest of the firm. This could take the form of delegating authority for certain corporate activities or functions and then visibly supporting the candidates’ decisions.

In systems-thinking terms, the advocating Principals would be creating a reinforcing feedback loop. As more firm leaders witnessed this support, more would be inclined to extend their trust as well. The pull would be present. Promotion and advancement would follow.

Rather than relying on the interpersonal ju-jitsu of office politics, something more like mentoring is what creates lasting and mutually-beneficial trust. Eventually, this kind of exchange would also create a support network and a culture of open dialogue about professional development in the organization. And then, not only would gender equity and ownership transition be served, but a firm’s capacity to respond and adapt to unforeseen future challenges would also be strengthened.   

Japanese gardeners use a small hand saw called a nokogiri. Cool thing about this tool? Instead of pushing on the blade, it cuts when you pull it.

Japanese gardeners use a small hand saw called a nokogiri. Cool thing about this tool? Instead of pushing on the blade, it cuts when you pull it.

Strategic partnerships can build trust. And trust can create the pull for promotion and advancement. Like the nokogiri, pull works. 






Team Members:

  • Mike Davis, FAIA Bermeyer
  • Frances Choun, VP of McCarthy Building Companies
  • Meg Brown Principal, Perkins + Will
  • Jessie Turnbull, RA Associate, Robert AM Stern
  • Randy Seitz, Principal, AIA Blue Ridge Architects

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. 






How to Advance Women in Architecture? A Chat with Rosa Sheng at BAR Architects

BAR Architects recently formed a discussion and support group amongst women architects and emerging professionals with the goal of empowering each other towards advancement and leadership opportunities within the profession. We share tools and methods with each other for how to get there, bring up relevant personal experiences, discuss articles and books, make internal presentations to the rest of the group for our passion areas, and overall strive to prepare a more fertile ground for women’s advancement both within our office and outside of it in the larger community. This collective knowledge about barriers, histories, opportunities, strengths and weaknesses are helping us cultivate the change we want to see.
We recently invited Rosa Sheng to our office for one of these discussions.  Rosa and I met about a year ago before The Missing 32% Project was launched and quickly became friends. She is a Senior Associate at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, a Board of Director at AIA San Francisco and the chairperson for The Missing 32% Project Committee. She has an unmatched passion and drive for this cause.

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"Being Engaged" is the new "Being Balanced".

An audience of over 50 people convened at the AIA Center for Architecture on the the evening of Wednesday, November 6th, to listen in on a panel discussion titled, "Careers in the Balance".  This conversation is the first in a series of events and discussions focusing on life/work balance put on by the AIA's ForWARD Committee, a Forum for Women Architects and Related Disciplines. The panelists included architects in large firms, husband/wife partnerships, those in sole proprietorships and the president of an engineering firm. The influence of Sheryl Sandberg, author of the ubiquitous "Lean In", was evident from the start as the evening's moderator began with a thought provoking quote about nobody having it all, or at least no one admitting to having successfully figured it all out. Indicating perhaps, that even this word "life/work balance" is an unrealistic ambition, which I believe was unwittingly revealed through the evening's discourse; but this being a very subjective topic,  I will let you decide…..

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Notes from Nola: Design Forward Conference 2013

The Design Forward Conference held in New Orleans on October 18, 2013 was a huge success for bringing into light so many of the common themes that The Missing 32% project also seeks to explore.

There was an interesting (and I thought appropriate) balance of students and professionals.  The conference was held at the Tulane School of Architecture, giving terrific access to the current student body.  There was also a balance of men and women from the industry, who participated, both as attendees and as panelists. This was intentional and varies from tendency for women dominant participation at similar events including the past Missing 32% Symposiums and the recent AIA Women's Leadership Summit in Phoenix.

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Mentorship, informally.

For the past three years I have been mentoring two young architects. We have ended this relationship as informally as it began, when one found a new position in a great firm and the other won a design competition abroad.

I didn't work with either architect at their respective firms, but such is the close-knit architectural community here in San Francisco that I found myself informally mentoring them when they started their careers during the recession.  As with many of these mentorships which I take on from time to time, this happened easily and naturally. We got to know each other during social and professional settings; quickly a relationship formed. I wanted to help and guide.  They wanted someone (who was not their supervisor or co-worker) to talk to. While mentoring takes time and commitment, the time together can be quite easily productive, even when it is informal. Over coffee or after-work drinks we talked about work schedules and commutes, dealing with unprofessional colleagues, pay disparity, the latest projects in the pipeline, and the etiquette in approaching principals who moved to new firms.


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Sponsors for Success

The first time I really started thinking about the phrase 'sponsor' is when I read Sheryl Sandberg's book ‘Lean In’. She explains it quite well and it made so much sense to me. There is a fundamental difference between a mentor and a sponsor, and Rosa touched on this in the last post. A sponsor is somebody preferably within your organization who is there, physically and emotionally, who will bat for you. A mentor is a person invested in your growth, but more from the sidelines as opposed to being in the middle of the day-to-day operations. That's how I understand it at least.

While thinking about this, I remembered seeing 'The Hunger Games', a perfect example of how sponsorship works. You might think "What does the movie have anything to do with what we're talking about?", but hear me out...

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To get promoted, think Sponsors, not Mentors.

An interesting discussion with an architect colleague a few nights ago followed by the timely discovery of this article the next day on Quartz called "To get promoted, Women need Champions, Not Mentors" brings us to an interesting point for discussion. Providing a resounding affirmation within the title, the article references Sylvia Ann Hewlett's book "(forget a mentor) Find a Sponsor" , which makes a compelling case for why Sponsorship is more powerful than mentorship in terms of career advancement.

Who’s pulling for you? Who’s defending your position? Who’s suggesting you for the lead role in the next project? Odds are this person is not a mentor but a sponsor. Mentors can build your self-esteem and provide a sounding board - but they are likely not the ones who will help advance your promotions or career.

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