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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?

I’m not an Architect...

by Karen Robichaud

I am not an architect and, I don't event play one on TV! 

I majored in English and minored in Theatre Arts. When I graduated I had no clue what to do with myself or how to build a career out of my interests and skills. Eventually I stumbled into graphic design and communications for an architecture firm. This gives me a different perspective on how firms operate, how equity fits into that and what they can do. Because of my liberal arts background I’m always trying to connect issues and ideas across disciplines. Before I arrived in Atlanta for the Equity by Design Hackathon, I read the course materials, but I also revisited some of my favorite pieces that have taught me to broaden my perspective and deepened my understanding of how different people understand the world. Sometimes revisiting a favorite piece better clarifies my ideas or reminds me of a great way to phrase a thought. I too need to step outside myself and listen. I read through a few of my favorite passages from Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist, re-watched Chimamanda Adiche’s TedTalk, “The Danger of a Single Story” and pulled up one of my long-time favorite essays “Yes, You Are” by Sarah D. Bunting about feminism. Each of those pieces inspires me and prompts me to think about what I can do and share to help “eat the equity whale.”

Walking in to the Hackathon, I had no idea what to expect from the experience. After all, I’m not a hacker and I’m not an architect! I left feeling inspired, excited and eager to implement hackathons everywhere. There’s so much to hack! As I listened to the introductory remarks and comments before we broke into small groups, I had an idea for something I’d like to hack specific to the equity movement. I was struck by the importance of language. I care deeply about how we use language and the meaning of the words we use (which is part of why “Yes, You Are” appeals to me). In the context of the Equity by Design discussion, I was struck by when and how words like male, female, man, woman and girl were used. I never heard anyone utter an equivalent of “girl.” In the session I heard a few people say “girl” when they should have said woman and I never heard that happen with “boy/man.” It’s a small thing and it’s subtle, but the longer we perpetuate the use of “girl” when we mean “woman,” the clearer it is that issues of equity and perception run deep in our social constructs.

I admire the research and dialogue the Equity by Design effort has cultivated, but I think a big piece of the puzzle is education on a broader level. How do the issues facing architecture mirror those facing other industries? We need to talk about what’s going on in our society at large for different groups to better understand how and why biases play out in the workplace. When we talk about the cultural ideals reflected in the media and pop culture, we better understand why it’s so deeply ingrained in our subconscious that it’s “bad” for women to exhibit assertive behavior. I think unlocking some of that is key. Many other industries suffer from the same gaps in diversity and if we have larger, interdisciplinary discussions that support and inform industry specific conversations, it becomes possible to move the ball forward on multiple fronts.

The Hackathon reminded me how important it is to listen, challenge assumptions and push outside my comfort zone. I want to keep talking about equity, draw parallels to other disciplines and elevate the conversation so we’re not working in a bubble. I want to find ways to help people see the challenge from many angles so that we’re all hear each other better.

We need to listen and we need to share stories fearlessly.

What's next for EQxD?

Join us in San Francisco at AIASF on June 11th for our next EQxD "U" Workshop "What's Flex got to do with Success?" (Win Win Strategies for Work/Life Flexibility) Meet the panelists, and participate in small group break-outs to "hack" what works for flexibility in the modern workplace. This event is relevant to all AEC professionals! 6pm-8:30pm.