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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?

What I learned from the AIA WLS Phoenix 2013

Taking risks is part of the value that we provide to clients”
— Julie Snow, FAIA @ AIA WLS PHX

I went to Phoenix this past weekend with an open mind, my brain a ready sponge to absorb all the intelligence, wisdom and collective experiences of AIA Women in leadership roles from across the country.  What I came back with was something more profound and transforming than words can adequately describe.  In the course of 48 hours, the lines between speakers and attendees, strangers and old friends, seasoned leaders and emerging architects became blurred by indigenously warm, open dialogue about matters close to our hearts.

 AIA WLS PHX 2013 Participant Photo, courtesy of AIA WLS Facebook. 

AIA WLS PHX 2013 Participant Photo, courtesy of AIA WLS Facebook. 

The sold out event of 200 participants was the third in a series of summits started by the Boston Women Principals Group in Chicago 2009 and followed by Kansas City in 2011; the 2013 AIA WLS Summit in Phoenix was envisioned as a gathering of various Architects in leadership roles, including: Principals, Educators, Owners, Designers, Environmentalists and Innovators.

There was so much to learn, so much to be inspired by, so many connections to make, and yet the time was too short; not enough time in the "Maxed Out" lives we mutually lead to allow more discussion on the issues that matter the most. What amazed me the most is that with all the challenges that women in architecture continue to face, the majority of the summit conversations was not of complaints or opportunities lost, but exemplary presentations of resilience, perseverance, and sheer brilliance in design leadership. Topics ranged from "How to Win Work" to "Why losing can be transformative"; from the idea that "All-Nighters" fail to improve a project's outcome" to discussions of how Paid Family Leave and Flexible hours could help in talent retention. The most poignant dialogue of the event focused on answering the question: "How do we continue to produce good work while negotiating fair fees that go beyond surviving?

Resonating to many was the imperative to transform Architectural practice by raising the value of the profession with the proposition that good design can improve the quality of life. In the collaborative spirit of the WLS, you can look forward to a series of notes from key panel discussions in weeks to come.


by Rosa T. Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C