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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?

EQxD Get Real: Control Less, Celebrate More, Shall We?

By Katie E. Ray, Assoc. AIA |  Arlington, VA   

Several encounters come to mind when considering uncomfortable situations I’ve experienced as a female architect, particularly since becoming a mother last August. My first week back after my 8 week maternity leave, I had to tell my boss that I couldn't drive with him to a site meeting because I needed to pump in the car. There was also the conversation I had with my project team, in which I said we can no longer have impromptu ‘stand-at-my-desk-chatting’ meetings at 4:55pm, because if I don’t pick up my baby by 6pm, I have to pay my provider extra. I’ve also learned a lot these first 6 months about the ‘work-life-balance’ of being a mom architect. These lessons included discovering that my baby hates when I check work email while I nurse him in the evening (read: I no longer check work email after 8pm), and that studying for the ARE while attempting to sleep-train an infant is no small feat (read: impossible.) However, the biggest hurdle I've experienced is something that has been occurring long before I ever became a mom, and it has to do with my female colleagues.

I’ll use this seemingly insignificant story to illustrate: I recently discovered a new tool available in Revit 2015 which would greatly benefit the work-flow our team utilizes for Lighting Schedules. We have one Hospitality client (whom we have done multiple renovations for and have many more projects on the horizon) that requests for us to show a photo or cut sheet image for all decorative lighting fixtures specified on the sheet next to the RCP. In the past, to achieve this we've created an Excel document then placed it on the sheet as a raster image.  Being able to place an image into the cell of the Revit Schedule would eliminate this tediousness step (and let’s be honest, the process is a huge vulnerability for mis-coordination.) I saw this new schedule as a game changer for our team. Anything that first reduces confusion and opportunity for mistakes and, second, saves time will achieve two of my major work/life goals: better projects and more time to spend with my family.

With great elation, I sent the new process on to the team, copying the “Revit Captains.” I’m a Project Manager, and our team works very closely with our Interior Design team. The folks familiar with Revit, and familiar with the frustrating workflow we go through for schedules, were immediately on board. But a certain member of the team, a fellow woman colleague who heads Interior Design, proceeded to claim that this must be vetted and agreed upon “by all” as acceptable.

She sent a flurry of emails, voice-mails to my personal cell phone that evening, followed by conversations the next morning, all because I stated I would begin employing a new tool. It was a mind-boggling, knee-jerk reaction. I racked my brain. Why the opposition? I've come to realize it was based on nothing more than feeling a loss of control. The way I handled her tailspin was to agree that, yes, all should be on board. But I also affirmed that I am the PM and in the end reserve the right to execute the drawings as I see fit. I never want to fuel the fire, however I think it’s critical to reiterate that I am competent and capable to make these decisions for my team.

This story, which likely sounds like plain and simple “office drama” at its worst, is meant to illustrate that women design professionals have got to lift each other up a bit more. Can’t we celebrate new ideas without immediately seeing them as an attack on our own ability to manage? I can’t imagine the hurdles that this particular woman has had to overcome, being in the position that she holds.  Quite often she is the only woman in a room full of men. But, at times, the politics of asserting your opinion can actually be damaging to the morale of others. With this story, I worry that this particular woman has confused the advice of ‘find your voice’ to mean, ‘be louder,’ but I think we have a duty to each other to bolster and celebrate ideas and accomplishments when they arise.  Some may think this is an issue of clashing personalities, but as I said in the beginning, this is not the first office I've experienced a challenging situation with fellow female colleagues. I think the delicate balance of asserting yourself versus coming off as a roadblock to your colleagues is a balance worth finding, because the only way to advance ourselves is by supporting each other when steps forward are taken.

About Katie Ray @bigklittleatie

Katie E. Ray, Assoc. AIA currently lives in Arlington, VA and is a PM for a firm just outside of Washington DC. Her projects currently range from restaurants, bars, spas, and country clubs. She is a mother and yogi; on the weekend she loves spending time building lighting and furniture from salvaged materials.



EQxD Get Real - To read more about challenges and resilience from diverse viewpoints, go here.

In a similar spirit of spontaneity of the Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth blog series, we are excited to bring you EQxD Get Real: True stories of Challenges and Resilience from diverse perspectives of architects and designers. Each day we will feature the stories of each person's challenges in the profession and what they learned from those experiences to inspire action for equitable practice in architecture. 


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