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 spouses to maintain their jobs while re-evaluating roles of primary caregiver. The lack of affordable childcare and the high cost of living only magnifies the challenges. How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? Just as challenging may be the time and resources needed to care for aging parents that many more will need to face. What can we do to improve the situation? In the recently released book "Maxed Out", Oakland author Katrina Alcorn points out in a May 2012 New York Times opinion piece,
"If 'the conflict' continues to be framed as one between women ... it will continue to distract us from what we should really be doing: working together — women and men together — to change the cultural, social and economic conditions within these crucial choices.
Flexible schedules, telecommuting, and job sharing policies can empower both women and men to make choices that may improve work/life quality. In Nancy Levinson's article Beyond the Pritzer: Women, Architecture and the Politics of Family Leave, she advocates for a Paid Family Leave policy as a starting point to equalize professional opportunities. As a drastic wake up call, she references The New York Times article earlier in 2013 "While the United States takes great pride in its family values, it is the only high-income country that does not offer a paid leave program." These conversations need to happen not only at the public policy level, but also within the professional organization and each company's workplace. Additionally, what happens after Family Leave is just as important. HR policy changes and support are critical for the successful transition back to work. The Australian website "Parlour: Women Equity Architecture" advocates the idea that the value of experienced, committed part-time architects cannot be overestimated. Inherently there is a mutual benefit to retaining the top talent tenured staff (thus limiting the it's financial loss in hiring and training new staff) and allowing flexibility for female and male architects to maintain professional development while starting a new family, or caring for elderly parents. In "Redefining Success: What's Flex got to do with it?" by Sylvia Ann Hewlett, confirms the fact that flex time can boost a business’s bottom line. CTI research finds that companies that actively endorse flex work are talent magnets.
On Tuesday, Oct. 1st, 2013, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously agreed to support the Family Friendly Workplace Ordinance, a law for employees who take care of children, parents or other family members that will have the right to ask for a flexible work schedules from their employers.
This could be the catalyst we need for re-evaluating current workplace policies. While each company's circumstances may be unique, the challenge lies in the creative adaptation of the new ordinance with HR workplace policies to support flexibility while improving productivity, profitability and retention of professional talent.
by Rosa T. Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C