"Why are women leaving Architecture? and "Why is Architecture is loosing its talent?" The problem seems obvious, while the solution remains complex and somewhat elusive like the proverbial elephant in the room.
Last Friday, a colleague and I gave an office presentation of lessons learned from our attendance at the AIA Women's Leadership Summit in Phoenix. It was a refreshing surprise to see many men, including a Principal and Senior Associates, in attendance. While I didn't know what to expect, I was encouraged by the resulting dialogue between men and women on topics ranging from flexible work schedules for caregivers, an increasing need to align project teams with today's diverse Client profile, as well as the lack of Paid Family leave policy in the US compared to other developed nations; key issues at the tip of the iceberg in the rapidly evaporating Architectural talent pool with women leaving at a faster rate than men. Although the outcome of this particular event was very positive and encouraging, it left me wondering.
"Why do we tend to shy away from having these conversations about the issues that matter most and ultimately affect us all?"
While it may seem obvious and come off sounding like a 12 step program cliche, initiating change involves exposing the problem(s) at their root cause; Shattering the Glass Ceiling or Fixing the Broken Pipeline requires Outing the Elephant in the Room. Initiating change for equitable practice is a long term proposition that requires both women and men to be fearless and committed to an ongoing discourse, which at times may be awkward and delicate, but necessary nonetheless.
But engaging both women and men in the profession in an educated dialogue is just the start. In Alexandra Lange's article, Architecture's Lean In Moment, Metropolis July/August 2013 her call to action provides a sensible direction for next steps.
“We need to create a new set of best practices. That will be a design project in itself, based on data, shared examples, and interpretation. Once written, we need to find leaders who will adopt them, firm by firm, sector by sector. That pincer movement needs to make partners (small p) of those coming into architecture and those with enough seniority to make change happen.”
A few recent articles and initiatives champion that engaging male advocates is part of the solution. Getting our male colleagues, clients and consultants involved in these difficult conversations and having them "on our side" is critical to real change. In The Harvard Business Review Blog post "What Men Can Do to Help Women Advance their Careers" Debora Spar proposed 5 suggestions. Of which, "Showing up and asking questions" and "Give Credit where credit is due" seamed to be low hanging fruit for male advocates. Financial business icon Warren Buffett in a Fortune magazine article in May, 2013 espouses that companies should invest in women to succeed.
"Fellow males, get onboard. The closer that America comes to fully employing the talents of all its citizens, the greater its output of goods and services will be. We've seen what can be accomplished when we use 50% of our human capacity. If you visualize what 100% can do, you'll join me as an unbridled optimist about America's future."
Buffett further promotes that "Women are a major reason we will do so well." as an unchanneled resource within the national economy . A recent Sunday New York Times featured Hannah Seligson’s article “Page by Page, Men Are Stepping Into the Circle" suggests that men are leaning in and seeking to be more involved in the equity discourse. In Sylvia Ann Hewlett's book “Forget a Mentor, Find a Sponsor: The New Way to Fast-Track Your Career.”, she covers the advantages and strategies of forming Sponsor/Protege alliances for career advancement. She also suggests how to navigate the gender taboos that have prevented women from benefiting from Sponsor advocacy in the past. In this regard, Catalyst has launched an initiative "Men Advocating Real Change" (MARC) as an online learning community for professionals committed to achieving equality in the workplace.
In the spirit of breaking down barriers and initiating change, The Missing 32 Percent Project strives to be the forum for Architectural practice that brings men and women together in conversation to tackle these difficult questions. So, keep reading, keep talking and continue to join us as we take our next steps forward.
by Rosa T. Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C