Four tips to pursue equity in your firm

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Risk taking and mutual support in the workplace evens the playing field

Women leaders in architecture share their best advice for achieving career fulfillment and how to contribute to a more equitable and inclusive profession.

Take risks and pursue your passion

Hilda Espinal, AIA, chief technology officer at CannonDesign, realized that without technology, architecture could not evolve; that mere thought fueled her to develop a career in technology supporting architectural projects. Finding the right path can seem impossible when trying to complete goals at work. Espinal thinks it’s critical to take risks and not discount your own accomplishments when trying to find your place. “Take pride in your achievements and never let others get you down, she states. She believes that that speaking up is equally important in achieving pay equity as it is in obtaining new opportunities. “Ask for what you want," Espinal says. “Go for that raise and know your value.”

Speak for your work and be yourself

Julie Hiromoto, AIA, vice president at HKS, believes that not being afraid to share your story is a key component to getting where you want to be professionally. At the start of her career, she was excited by her work, but she wasn’t confident that her voice would be recognized as credible. She prepared speaking proposals and presentation materials for her supervisors and office leaders, most of whom were men. Frustrated that the session proposals were often not accepted, she began listing herself as a speaker and chose to present her own ideas. This choice led to her presenting at numerous large conferences. Understanding your unique perspective and what you can bring to a team will help you reach your goals and positively contribute to the architecture community at large. “Being ourselves enriches the profession,” Hiromoto says, adding that embracing herself and her heritage makes her a better architect every day.

Find your niche

Young practitioners can feel like there is an unspoken set of rules to achieving success in their careers. One way to accomplish your goals is to focus your passion acutely, finding an area where you can excel and stand out. According to Leigh Stringer, a workplace strategy expert, researcher, and author of two bestselling books, there are no such rules. As Stringer was developing her career in sustainability, she reached a point where she was overwhelmed and disenchanted. She decided to refocus her energy within the industry in a niche that she identified during her early years. She now makes a living by creating healthy workplaces and teaching business leaders to invest in their people.

Share your story and sponsor others

When Zena Howard, AIA, principal and managing director at Perkins+Will, looks back at her career, she realizes the importance of sharing her story of overcoming adversity and finding the practice areas most meaningful to her. She feels that helping rising professionals to build a community and culture of support is one of the most important things she can do as an architect. Howard developed an acronym, “HAVE,” which she thinks should be part of every woman’s arsenal. “HAVE is about Helping others, Associating with great people, Valuing work, and Engaging in the moment,” she says. According to Kimberly Lewis, senior vice president at US Green Building Council, it is important for current women leaders to sponsor young women. “Mentorship is not enough,” she says. “Sponsorship is needed. When you take on the responsibility of failure, then you lead.”

Sponsorship, mentorship, and community building have guided the careers of some of the most prominent architects working today. Cheryl McAfee, FAIA, CEO and principal of McAfee3 Architects, has fostered many young architects, believing it to be her duty following on the work of the supporters she had early in her career. “We stand on the shoulders of those that came before us,” she says, “and that motivates me to fight for others after us.”

McAfee also encourages others to be kind and compassionate when supporting others. “Be a mentor,” she adds, “not a tormentor.”

The authors would like to acknowledge Women Inspiring Emerging Leaders in Design (WIELD), an HKS, Inc. and AIA|DC program, which inspired them to write this piece. The women quoted here spoke at the event, sharing their stories and providing advice for how architects can achieve equity in the profession.

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