Girl UNinterrupted is a widely acclaimed initiative that seeks to bridge the gap between young female designers (and designers in general) and leaders in the architecture field. The initiative focuses on data surveys, honest conversations, and published reports. The team previously interviewed Abbie Clary last year.
As this conversation highlights, “PJ is a woman of many talents. As CannonDesign’s Houston Health Market Leader, PJ helps leading architecture institutions create landmark facilities and critical strategies for the future. She is the co-leader of the Diversity & Inclusion Council at CannonDesign and has shared her personal experience and strategies on those topics and local and national conferences. She is the recipient of 40 Under 40 awards from Building Design + Construction, ENR Texas & Louisiana Region and the Houston Business Journal. She’s also a mentor, a leader, a teammate, a planner, a mother to twin girls, a medal-winning martial artist, an occasional rock climber, and a constant source of positive energy.”
PJ then shares a look at her unique career path and goals, challenges she’s faced, and ideas for the future. The full piece is available online. Below is an excerpt:
So for you, it was always architecture, but it wasn’t a straight path to healthcare design?
Healthcare architecture was so different from anything I had ever done before. The mission healthcare institutions have, the incredible passion you can sense in their staff, the talent, the inspiration and the ability to actually change lives – it was so unique for me and I loved it.
I loved those early days as a fledgling architect, it was a great deal of construction documents and construction administration when you learn how a building is put together. I loved that and as I look back, those early learning experiences have helped me tremendously. Then I had the opportunity to do some healthcare planning and that was exhilarating. It spoke to my deep love of solving complex problems and I was hooked like never before.
That role just kept getting better for me. I loved building relationships with healthcare leaders and I also loved building high performing teams to solve these challenges. And so now, I’m CannonDesign’s Houston Health Market Leader and it encompasses everything I enjoy and want to do professionally. My work now involves building teams, mentoring our staff, building client relationships, solving complex problems, making a difference. It has been a journey, but I’m deeply happy.
You had many different stages in your career. Can you tell us a little more about the challenges you faced and how you overcame them?
I always talk about my career in two distinct phases between my time in India and then in the US. And, while immigration is not a new story for anyone, it can be a real challenge. You think of migrating to a new country through the lens of the future – exciting opportunities, untapped potential… and that’s there, but there’s this phase of integrating your past with your future that can be a real hardship.
In India, I was on a path and I knew who I was. Then you move here, and how you speak and behave and live, it’s just different and you have to learn so many things all over again. It took me several years to assimilate into the culture here. You have to stop, take a breath, make a change and find a way to feel comfortable in your own skin while never letting go of who you were, before you can find your unique place in a new country. And I eventually got there, took some time but it was all worth it.
Have you faced challenges as a woman in the architecture industry?
Yes, for sure. Not just as a woman, but as a woman who is 5-feet tall, who weighs 100 lbs, is petite and a bit of an introvert. I hear people say, “You’re so tiny,” or, “Look at you, you’re so petite,” and over time, you develop this internal bias against yourself. And it’s really women who say these things to other women, we look so critically at each other and it’s unfortunate that we feel it’s ok to say these things.
The key here is, you have to turn all these comments around. Those things that people say about you, they aren’t negatives or weaknesses, that’s just what makes you – you. Say thank you. I am short, it’s great – thank you! And, if you can get to a point where you stop looking so hard, at others and at yourself, then you get to realizing that everything about you is unique, and it’s what makes us awesome.