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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?

An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Kathy Russell

Maybe it’s pure chance that I’m not in the missing 32%, because there have been times that I would have gladly walked away from architecture. I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with my field. The region I live in is still recovering from the recession, so the stress of the slow periods is still present. In 2011, after having returned the previous year from maternity leave with my second child, I was one of many to be laid off from a mid-size firm. The thought of being a stay-at-home mom was more than appealing, but my husband was starting a new career and we had two young children to support. I considered changing careers, but I’d been practicing architecture for 18 years and it is all I really knew how to do. It’s how I think. It’s how my brain is wired. Every time I go in a new building, I wonder what is in all the layers of materials, what do the people inside do, what was the history of the building and I think about other solutions. You can’t just turn off that portion of your brain, so I keep giving architecture a chance.

During my first 18 years, I’d been in firms that 45-50 hours a week was average.  40 hours was practically considered part-time. I’ve worked in firms that required a fair amount of overnight travel. My first night away from my 10-month old son was supposed to be one night while I was in Nashville meeting with a client, but ended up being two nights as we got stuck in Minneapolis in a snowstorm. I didn’t sleep a wink because I was sure he was traumatized, but of course it was the first night he slept entirely through the night. My first few years of being a mother and an architect were difficult to juggle and full of self-inflicted guilt.

Currently, I am very lucky to be in a firm that values their employee’s lives and families. Overtime is not encouraged except when absolutely unavoidable, which is so refreshing given that I pride myself in being efficient and accurate. It’s also refreshing to work with women and men that actually spend time with their families and kids. As our city is family-oriented, our firm knows the value of soccer-game-sidelines network marketing.

As far as the future, there is too much fluctuation happening in architecture to know if it will remain permanent in my life. However, nothing is permanent and you sometimes just have to wing it.

Secret sauce that I rely on to juggle all that I do every day:

  • Maintain my sense of humor. Humor keeps things in proportion and puts people at ease.
  • Keep breathing.  I use the old yoga technique to keep grounded.
  • Lists are my friend.  Post-it, yellow tablets, on my phone, written on my hand.
  • Ask for help. It takes a village…
  • Pace myself.  Work and raising kids is like a marathon. It takes time and planning.

My everyday moments of truths that I’ve discovered:

1.     Quality daycare has been good for my kids. You will hear a lot of people saying how bad it is to not spend every moment of your day with your kids. I am amazed how well my son has done in adjusting to elementary school having learned social skills and had an early education. The daycare teachers were much better teachers for his developing brain than I could’ve been. I’m not a professional teacher and I’m not afraid to admit it.

2.     Accepted saying No in my personal life. If you’re working outside the home, full-time, with younger kids, you probably won’t be able to do PTO, after-school activities, church, community groups or maybe even AIA. I love volunteering and being involved, but it can’t be at the expense of my family or work. I’ve worried my kids are missing out on the cool week day activities, but I know they are getting compensation from quality child care that has good programs and the evenings and weekends to spend with their parents.

3.     Finding a support network. As there have been so few other working mothers at the firms I’ve worked, I’ve found support in women’s business organizations outside of architecture. Currently, I attend monthly lunches and wine tastings with a loosely organized network of professional working moms consisting of attorneys, CPAs, bankers, architects and engineers. Sharing survival tips and their comradery has been invaluable.

4.     Learned to ask lots of questions. Architects manage the big picture, so we’re not supposed to know every miniscule detail. Our consultant’s jobs are to convey their expertise, so make them earn their fee and ask them lots of questions. Bosses can get busy and forget you don’t know everything you need to know – I make sure to keep asking questions until I have the information to complete the job. It helps to just talk it through with them.

5.     Most freak-outs are overreaction. This applies to the children and to the adults. Get to the truth of what is causing the freak-out before deciding if it is freak-out worthy.  This comes in especially handy during construction and at bedtime.

6.     There is always a solution. If a situation is freak-out worthy, I remind myself there is almost always a sensible solution.  As architects, we are problem-solvers and consulting other problem-solvers helps find a collaborative solution.

7.     Sit at the table. This is the best lesson from the Lean In by Sherry Sandberg. Own your authority, take advantage of opportunities as they arise, speak your mind, set aside unnecessary humility and accept credit for your work.  I believed it before reading it, was taught it by my own mom, but it was really nice to have it reinforced by Sandberg.

8.     Teach as I go along. As I’m working with interns or doing chores with my kids, I try to mentor and teach. The day is full of learning opportunities that I try not to miss.

9.     Embrace change. Architecture has changed so much during the recession. As baby boomers approaching retirement, we’re headed to more change. Then there is always the unpredictable change. Our families change and kids change daily. Adapting and flexibility is required.

10.  Embrace the moments. You may remember the roller coaster scene in the Mary Steenburgen and Steve Martin movie, Parenthood. Life gets crazy and stressful but the moments are fleeting. I look back at the photos from the summer I was laid off in 2011. My kids were so small and beautiful. Those moments were so stressful and unappreciated. And now they’re gone.  It doesn’t matter what is happening at a particular moment, good or bad, because each moment is a gift.

Kathy Russell     

Kathy’s a project architect at ALSC Architects in Spokane, WA 

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An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Kristen Padavic

My Archiparent Journey

The Archimom stories I have been reading on the Equity by Design site and other social media sites regarding women in architecture over the past few months have been inspiring and remind me of the trials and successes I have experienced on my journey. I don't know how I feel about being an #Archimom if my husband doesn't require the title #Archidad, so for now, I'll just call myself an #Archiparent or perhaps more fitting, general life ninja.

I am a 38-year-old mother of identical twin daughters and an architect. In the same year that the economy bottomed out in a city that had already over built the exact building type my husband and I  were designing, I was blessed with the surprise of twins who were born ten weeks premature. The first several years of juggling work and parenting were a nightmare.  The laundry list of things that had happened to us was long and daunting. Besides the pay-cuts and our tiny 800 square foot home losing half of its value, our children had multiple health issues requiring therapy and lots of hospital visits. I have vivid memories of trudging through the snow with soaked pant legs after walking a mile to my office in Chicago, starting another twelve-hour day away from my family only to get a call that my child was having an asthma attack and needed to get to the ER. And I won't even touch on how my employer felt about my "situation."

Simply put, our life was not sustainable or enjoyable.  I was a very angry and tired person who no longer wanted to be an architect. Having always been a vivacious, happy woman, very direct and called a "tough cookie" by many, the male dominated aspects of the profession had never bothered me. My first employer was a trusted mentor, advocate and friend, who showed me how compassionate and human a boss could be. He shared with me the entire world of architecture that is never taught at school and gave me opportunities most young architects never see. I had once adored my career. However, having children with health issues and finding little compassion in my new employer, my value system had been completely turned on its head. Without really understanding what I was doing, I quit my job and we decided that we were throwing all of our negative energy away. We deliberately reframed our lives and sent out that positive energy to the universe. No more blaming the world for making this all so hard, and we called ourselves to action. Let the mortgage and the hospital bills go, we pronounced! We had no plan but we had each other.

Some say it was divine intervention or just old-fashioned luck; my husband’s friend saw my "Screw the World!" post on Facebook and gave us a call. He explained that his little home building company down in Texas was looking to bring a design team in-house, and asked if we would be willing to visit Austin and take a look. We felt the universe radiating positive energy towards us, towards our decision to let it all go, and moved to Texas two months later, joining the PSW team as partners.  Our company has grown from just a handful of us in a little run down house to over fifty of us building well-designed, sustainable, urban infill homes all over Texas.  And most importantly for our family, my husband and I have been able to craft a very sustainable set of careers and family life. Our company philosophy is founded on this principle as well, so we are trying to help our employees do the same. We have hired six architects and designers, of which over half are women and several are parents. Our families always take priority and that is non-negotiable.

This journey has provided so many lessons, none the least has been gratitude. Gratitude is the gift that keeps me loving what I do, even when I put in late nights. We both work hard, but have a joint purpose and immense gratitude in this opportunity. The list I have going in my mind is no longer about what is happening TO ME but what I am making happen and what I am ok with letting go. If I were to catalogue the ways in which I am able to successfully work and parent, here's a stab at a top five:

1. Having a life partner who takes on exactly half of the load that life throws at you. My husband and I have different styles and preferences, but we both do laundry and pick-up the girls. We go to the girls' pulmonologist together and trade off gymnastics. We have a system of tasks and we over-communicate about it.

2. Pouting is not allowed. One of the most important lessons we learned from our parenting coach to help us with our very behaviorally intense kids is to accept a challenge, deal with it and move on. Life can be very hard at times, especially when balancing work and kids, but negative energy sucks the life out of you.

3. You can always change your situation. Reframe it, scramble it up, and move to Alaska if you want. You won't die if walk away from a house, even. Own your situation - you get one chance at this!

4. Exercise often and take stock in you. Date nights are mandatory.

5. If you are an employer, give your employees the ability to have the life you would want to have. Treat them like adults. Not everyone will get to be an employer someday, so it comes with an immense amount of responsibility to help them shape lives that are meaningful and manageable.

architect, lead project designer  


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An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Meghana Joshi

A Fine Imbalance

From working in someone's home office to working at the top architecture firms of the country, I have done it all, while being an ArchiMom. Fourteen years ago, when I went back to work leaving my seven week old daughter under my mother's care, there were worries, there were doubts, and then there was a huge learning curve of adjusting to the work culture in a new country. With the help of flexible schedules, I started work early in the mornings, and my husband left home after taking care of our daughter's morning needs. At the stroke of four, the only thing on my mind was that beautiful smile that lit up my daughter's face when she spotted me.

Fast-forward fourteen years; the smile is still the same when she spots my car in the curbside pickup. I have two girls; eight and fourteen, and both go to different schools. One of them is in a public school close to home, but the other one goes to a STEM magnet school twenty miles away. Both of them have seen me go from working to an elite corporation to being temporarily unemployed to starting my own consulting firm. I lean in only because they, along with ArchiDad help me lean in. They know when to get into the car quietly while I finish my call, and they know when to borrow the Staedlers, the Sharpies and the Prismacolor and never bother about returning them.

My everyday moments of truth:

  • Since I am a consultant, I have the luxury of flexible hours. But since I am a consultant, I am also the solely responsible for the deadlines. Depending on the amount of work to be done, and the school/ extracurricular schedule, I start working early, or stay up late night. If I am working on a set of construction documents, I start early in the morning and continue throughout the day, but if it's design, I start in the evening and reliving the glory days of architecture school, staying up late at night. Some weekends end up being working weekends if the fine balance of the scheduled items is disturbed. But, before I burn out, I take a break.
  • My children have seen me paint a masonry block for a color board while I helped my husband get through the morning rush of making breakfast and lunch boxes. They tell me which gray goes better while buttering their toasts. The older daughter helps me type up responses to the RFIs, and sets up excel sheets for unit-mix calculations when I do storage projects. The younger one has spent time verifying the parking numbers from as-built drawings and double-checking my calculations. They are very involved in my life, not just limiting themselves to wearing my hard hat and pretending to be mommy.
  • Not every day will be a well-planned and well-executed success story. There are days when I come home stressed from work, after spending considerable amount of time in the traffic, and all that greets me is a sink full of dirty dishes. Some days, my children pick up their clothes directly from the dryer because not all weekends have enough time to get organized for the week ahead. I like to prepare double batches of meals and freeze them, and I use my slow cooker a lot, but still there are days when Chipotle seems to be the only quick and easy option. On days like those, I go with the flow. I take care of what's on top of the priority list, and what bothers me the most, and let the rest go.
  • Always keep some snacks and a hardhat, and construction boots in your car. I learned this valuable lesson the hard way. One day after working on a set of drawings overnight, I took them to office hoping to drop them off and come home for a quick nap before I picked up the children. But, one thing led to another, and I ended up driving straight to pickup. I realized that I didn't have my purse when I pulled over in the parking lot of a restaurant. Hungry, tired and frustrated, I learned a valuable lesson. I carry enough water and snacks to outlast a famine in my car.
  • I try to do a little something everyday that's not related to my projects, my business, my children, my marriage, or my IDP and ARE exams. I like to read, write, cook, sketch, workout, or just catch up with an episode of “How I met your mother” with a glass of wine. You need more "you time" than you imagine. Some time alone, everyday if possible, without multitasking. A stack of magazines and fifteen minutes in the bathroom were my sanity savers when the children were young, and I had to work from home during their vacation days. I blog also, documenting life as is, mostly my worries, and frustrations.  
  • One day I want to start attending AIA events, and network with other architects. But life where it is now rarely allows for any such commitment in the real world. I try to catch up with architecture related articles, and blogs, and read architecture magazines. I am using social media to connect to others in the industry. One day I want to be more involved with the causes I attach myself to, volunteer my time and efforts to.
  • ArchiDad, who is actually a TechiDad is my rock. When I moved to California to be his wife, I was on a Dependent Visa. During the "Y2K" days, it was easy for anyone with any educational background to take a quick course in coding and get employed in technology sector. I don't tell him this, but ArchiDad is the reason why I stayed ArchiMom. When he helps me with parenting responsibilities, it's mostly because they are our children, and this is our home and our household. But he is truly my rock when he encouraged me to volunteer and learn until I got my citizenship to get legal employment, or get a distance learning degree during my pregnancy, and promptly adds me to his health insurance plan when I am unemployed.

Meghana Joshi @meghanaira

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An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Yen Ha, RA

Having been a practicing architect and business owner since the late 90s and a mom to a two elementary school kids, I have been following with avid interest all the attention to what it means to be a woman in the workforce and particularly the #archimom conversations. Everyone has a different story though we share many of the same struggles, whether architect or CEO. No one is doing it all; that’s a myth perpetuated by images of stylish moms and their glamorous lifestyles on glossy websites. I promise that under every put-together photo, there is a mom wondering if she remembered to pack the kids’ lunch that day.

We know it’s a challenging life that wouldn’t be possible without a passion for our work and that supportive framework of partners and caregivers. For me, those are the essential ingredients in any secret sauce to this life of motherhood and work.

But the everyday truths are the ones that get us through everyday filled with design conversations, packing lunches for the kids, doctor’s appointments, site meetings and construction details.

These are mine:

1) Have a calm morning. Mornings set the tone for the rest of the day so I wake up in peace as much as I can. A couple times a week, I try to go for a run before everyone wakes up. Otherwise I have an easy breakfast with the kids and then walk (not rush) to school. I still check my emails (but in read only mode). I don’t respond to anything before I’ve had my coffee and some fresh air. Some mornings I might even take time to have a quick breakfast with a mom friend at school before heading up to work. It reinforces the morning as time I’m taking to approach the world on my terms.

2) Set weekly and daily goals. I am always making lists. It gives me a visual sense of how much I need to accomplish. Every morning, when I get to the office, I identify two to three things that I absolutely plan on finishing that day. The short term visualization of goals helps tremendously in prioritizing my daily workflow and at the end of the day, even if I have done nothing that feels productive, at least I have finished those one or two things.

3) Block time. Mornings are for answering emails, catching up with news, and any home chores that need to be completed. Right before lunch I start on a task. So when I get back from lunch, I can dive right back into it. In the late afternoon I usually start on the second or third task to give me enough time to finish it that day. When I’m working on a specific thing, I try to ignore the emails and save responding for later. Designing doesn’t always work that way, nor does architecture, but I find that trying to tackle things in “blocks” helps with the efficiency of the day and of my mind.

4) Don’t waste time, yours or anyone else’s. When you say you will do it, do it. When you say you will be there, be there. Don’t spend your time on tasks that someone else can handle. Relatedly don’t waste your time on work that you don’t find fulfilling. It’s all about prioritizing your time and finding, for yourself, the most efficient way of using time.

5) Do it right away. If you can, reply immediately. That makes it one less thing you have to do because it never goes on your to-do list, it’s already done. I don’t care how uncool it makes you to be the first to respond to a proposal, this frees up your brain space because it doesn’t even exist in your brain space, you’ve already taken care of it. On a job site don’t wait to get back to your desk to figure out the detail, pick up a pencil and work it out right there. Consider this, one less thing to have on your to-do list.

6) Eat lunch away from your desk. This is so important that my work partner, Michi and I, have a lunch blog and manifesto about having lunch out. It’s critical to have recharge time; those pauses of what I like to think of as, moments of calm. Lunch away from our desks allows us both to breathe and free up some of the mind space caught up in the list making and email replying. Some of our most creative moments are over a good lunch. And if you can’t have lunch out, try and take a walk for a small moment of calm. Walk slowly, breathe deeply, and enjoy those couple of blocks before you have to go back to the office.

7) Invest in post-it notes. Don’t try and remember everything, that’s what post-its are for. My mind would probably explode if I didn’t have post-it notes. I use them for immediate tasks that need to be accomplished that day. Those I stick on my phone so every time I go to look at my phone, I am reminded. At home I use a journal for longer term planning and a whiteboard for our weekly menus and schedules. At work I keep a journal right in front of my keyboard so I constantly check and update my lists. Writing everything down frees my brain up from trying to remember what I need to do and instead lets me focus on what needs to be done.

8) Find your mentors and role models. I sit on the Board of Directors of the NewSchool for Architecture and Design where I have the incredible fortune to be surrounded by accomplished and amazing women. They have no problems navigating the lines between being complimented on a pair of shoes and addressing hard questions about budgets and academic excellence. I have worked for and with women throughout my career. I find that having someone to observe whom I respect and has some understanding of what it means to be a woman in architecture is incredibly empowering. It doesn’t have to be a formal relationship, but if there is a woman you admire, call her up and invite her to lunch or buy her a coffee one afternoon. Michi and I do this whenever we meet women we find amazing and that we want to learn from.

9) Make time for creativity. For Michi and I, that time is lunch. We leave our phones off the table and instead talk about our weekends, all upcoming business and any design challenge that aren’t jelling. Now that my kids are older, I’ve started finding free bits of time and in those 5 or 10 minutes here and there I’ve started a series of daily drawings that I can pick up, draw, and put down again when the water is boiling for dinner. They are making up a collection that we’ve put on Front Studio’s Instagram. Michi likes to call them my mom art because they require very little set up and the time to make them can be taken in very small increments.

10) Keep your eye on the prize. As Emily Balcetis said in her recent TEDx talk, it is does make a difference if you focus on the finish line. It changes the nature of the exercise itself as well as making that finish line appear closer. Define what your goals are, and define them with your life partner and your work partner. I’ve always believed that if you have an idea of where you want to be in a month or 10 years then that idea will nestle in your brain and as you make your way through everyday life, it will influence where you are going.

Yen Ha is an architect, reader, mother and eater. She founded Front Studio Architects in 2001, where she is a principal, and blogs at Lunch Studio where she writes about the happiness of a good lunch. Her personal writings, drawings and makings are collected at hh1f.

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An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth: Blog series

Try to be present in each moment. Each moment is its own gift. You can remember them, but you cannot get them back once they are gone. Hope for the joy of new moments, with their own gifts.
— Joseph Bakter

Last Monday, a group of well respected, fellow architect-bloggers who periodically post to #Architalks (the Architect's "social media water cooler") on different topics featured "A typical day in the life of an Architect". Started by Bob Borson (Life of an Architect) #Architalks is a brilliant idea that produced a veritable collection of candid and meaningful stories of "What do Architects do all day?" benefitting the public at large and fellow architects. Many of them shared their perspectives as sole practitioners and noticeably only two were women. By no means exclusive, inadvertently this tweet and the #Architalks blog series lead to some quick self-reflection: Is there a typical day as an Architect through my lens of wife and mother? The short answer was "No. The typical day does not exist in "a day in the life" for me, (and many of my fellow Architect parents and even more so for Architect mothers). 

Enter #Archimom; a unique breed of architect, wife, mother, innovator and chronic overachiever. Archimoms make up part of the 18% of women in architecture who have survived the attrition based on pinch point factors brought out in the Equity by Architecture Survey. The term came from my fellow Syracuse University alumnae, Jung Lee Masters when she was spreading the word about the TM32PP and Equity in Architecture Survey, #Archimom embodies the amazingly talented Architect with the resilient powers of a modern day Marvel Superhero.

Archimom is an alter ego, a new state of mind. You don't need to literally be an "architect and mother" to identify with the mindset. Despite the challenges of time allocation, implicit bias, and constant guilt, we can learn many valuable lessons of finding satisfaction, meaningful work, prioritizing, and work/life flexibility from these Archimoms. Their "real life" truths are the beginning of storytelling as a means to inspire and motivate underrepresented talent to stay in the profession. And as witnessed most recently, an Archimom like Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, who took time off from the profession to raise 3 children can come back to architecture to lead a practice as CEO and become the 2015 President of AIA National. It is nothing short of awe inspiring.

As luck would have it, a conversation developed on Twitter about the great stories on #Architalks and it quickly became apparent that the #Archimom perspective needed and wanted to be shared as well.  So a few of the Archimoms on Twitter decided to join together for a feature week on some everyday moments of truth and secret sauce ingredients for success. We reached out on Twitter for posts by Friday and promised a launch on Sunday.  Emily Grandstaff-Rice was the first to respond and Laura Melville Thomas quickly followed with her personal #Archimom experience.  So what started as a casual conversation on Twitter about using our voices, quickly grew into an amazing series of 13 stories within the course of the week. 

While we are featuring Archimom stories, we welcome more people to share their own adventures for Architecting and Parenting. (Mr. Archimoms welcome too!) What are your Top 10 everyday moments of truth and secret sauce recipe?

LInks to An Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth Blogposts: (more fun than binge watching Netflix and possibly life changing in the process.)

Overview by Rosa T. Sheng, AIA 

NOTE: This page was last edited on Sunday, December 14, 2014