Our Diversity + Inclusion Council recently hosted architectural historian Despina Stratigakos to present a lecture based on her book “Where Are the Women Architects?” The event – held in our Buffalo Office and broadcast live throughout the firm – helped raise awareness surrounding the issues women face in the A/E/C profession to promote a thoughtful discourse within our firm moving forward. In addition to attending the lecture, all employees were encouraged to submit questions to Despina, which she responded to during a thought-provoking 30 minute Q+A session moderated by our own Carisima Koenig.

Key takeaways from the lecture and Q+A discussion are outlined below.

It’s no secret that a substantial loss of female representation in the profession has occurred throughout history. Despite the current number of female students enrolled in architecture programs being nearly equivalent to the number of male students, only 17% of architectural professionals in the workforce are female. If this trend continues at this pace, we’ll have to wait until the year 2093 to see a 50/50 gender split of registered architects in the profession.

While these numbers seem disheartening, according to Despina, firms recognize this shortfall and don’t want to lose female talent – which also equates to the loss of creative vision and projects. The idea around what practice will look like in the future is shifting. It is becoming increasingly evident that both men and women – especially younger generations – are pushing for change, recognizing this loss of talent as an issue that affects the industry as a whole.

“It’s not women’s work to fix gender equity issues.”

Despina stressed that a common mistake is expecting individuals or a small group to fix structural problems. If what we expect is a seismic shift in firm culture and the industry as a whole, we need to ensure that a diverse group of voices are heard and those that are pushing for equity are not working in isolation. After all, it shouldn’t just be women working to find a solution – the lack of gender equity is everybody’s problem.

“Think about your process and your structure — come together as a community to define your goals versus asking one small group to define them.”

As far as working to implement change, Despina recommends that you need to begin by knowing where you’re at – for example, take the pulse of the current climate through an anonymous survey – in order to drive conversations about equity. Once you have a baseline and know what your goals are, you can envision where you want to be and begin addressing the policies to get you there. By implementing structural changes within an organization, you’re no longer relying on or asking one individual to fix the problem. It becomes more about bringing an entire community together around a common vision for equity within your firm.

“Just as we recognize diversity among men, we need to recognize the diversity among women as well.”

Photo courtesy of Mattel, Inc.

Despina shared lessons learned from the controversy surrounding the launch of Architect Barbie, and explained how the response challenged her assumptions. One of the biggest takeaways that she shared was the importance of being respectful of the many different voices and perspectives of women in architecture. In addition, while it’s critical to understand the diversity that exists among women when we focus on empowering them in the workplace, it must be done in a way that does not exclude or alienate men from the conversation. For example, issues that were historically seen as “women’s issues” are now being embraced by men as their issues, too. Work/life balance, being more involved with your family, and not always needing to work longs hours – aren’t these things that we all desire?  If we expect to make it everybody’s responsibility to move the needle forward, then the conversations around equity and the initiatives for progress must be inclusive of all voices.

Read more from Despina:

Where Are the Women Architects?

What I Learned from Architect Barbie

Hollywood Architects