Recently, several CannonDesigners from our Buffalo office volunteered at the Herbert Hoover Elementary School in Kenmore, NY through the Junior Achievement Program of WNY. This is our third year at Hoover, and the volunteer team absolutely outdid themselves in creating an exciting experience for this year’s second graders.
Junior Achievement (JA) aims to prepare young people for the real world by teaching job and money management skills. The program is driven by volunteers and works with children from kindergarten through graduation. JA reaches almost 15,000 students in the Western New York area through specifically crafted programs for each classroom and event. Our Buffalo office is a longtime partner of JA, and over the past eight years has visited various schools throughout the Western New York region. This year, the volunteer team presented a lesson on community, covering topics such as voting, money and taxes.
The team saw the experience as an opportunity to “make a positive impact on the next generation,” said Stacey Stevens, a volunteer. “Having volunteered with the second graders and high school students a few months ago, I could really see the difference I was making in their lives.”
By immersing themselves within Hoover Elementary’s classrooms, our volunteers were able to directly reach the students. This level of community involvement is important to the entire Buffalo office, where CannonDesigners are able to “lead by example and make a difference in the lives of these children,” said Kristen Segarra, another volunteer.
Kristen led her class alongside Dianne George – check out this great photo of the two of them after their lesson!
Though the volunteer team may have their tax skills down pat, this lesson on community was important to students and presenters alike. This experience can be as informative as it is rewarding. Working in the K-12 market, volunteering provides CannonDesign employees the unique opportunity to truly be in the spaces they design. Jeremy Dwyer, a seven-year CannonDesign JA team veteran, added that this activity is “an excellent teaching tool for our junior staff.”
However, volunteering with JA isn’t just for the architects and the business-minded. The JA program encourages employees of diverse professional backgrounds, and this year our team included what in past years had been a rarity – two engineers, Becca McGowan and Dan Buccini, who eagerly joined the volunteer team. JA is typically less STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)–focused, but our engineers took this as a challenge. Becca said that although the content isn’t directly STEM-related, t inspiring a kid who may one day want to be an engineer, too, is time well-spent.
Volunteering with the JA program has been a regular part of the Buffalo office’s activities for almost ten years. Taking the time to give back to the local community is very important to our crew here in Buffalo, and we hope that in the coming year our volunteer team will continue to grow.
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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