Last month, architectural record held its second annual Women in Architecture Forum and Awards in New York, with a packed crowd of architects (mostly women but some enthusiastic men) joining in the celebration. Chosen by an independent jury, the award winners represent a broad and powerful range of contributions to the profession as designers, thinkers, explorers, and mentors. They are Billie Tsien, Design Leader; Meejin Yoon, New Generation Leader; Marilyn Jordan Taylor, Educator; Anna Dyson, Innovator; and Pat Sapinsley, Activist.
RECORD’s awards program not only honors these professionals’ achievements, but also casts a strong light on the accomplishments of all women in architecture—for whom advancement in the field remains extremely tough. While women now make up 44 percent of enrollment in architecture schools, only 18 percent of licensed architects are women, and far fewer are principals in firms.
Not surprisingly, the design honorees run or co-run their own practices. In larger firms, promotion to leadership roles, especially in design, is far more difficult. As part of the awards celebration, record held a panel discussion to look at strategies for women advancing in big practices. Sylvia Smith, a senior partner at FXFOWLE, described how she created and leads a 40-person studio within the firm, focused on cultural and educational projects (Smith was a project principal on the New York City school featured on RECORD’s January 2014 issue). Hana Kassem, a director at Kohn, Pedersen, Fox, who led the design team on a new science center at the City University of New York, talked about the frequent travel and deadlines—as well as a key mentor—that have marked her career path, which also saw the birth of her two children. Also on the panel was Julia Murphy, an associate director at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, who discussed her role in relaunching the firm’s Women’s Initiative and tracking the data of women entering and advancing in the firm—significant metrics that have raised awareness among SOM’s senior leadership.
Of course, women face huge equality hurdles moving up in any profession—and increasingly, the culture of work is under attack as the reason why. In a recent essay in The New York Times called “A Toxic Work World,” author and professor Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote, “Girls are outpacing boys in high schools, universities and graduate schools and are now entering the workforce at higher salaries. But the ranks of those women thin significantly as they rise toward the top, from more than 50 percent at entry level to 10 to 20 percent in senior management.” Increased professional competitiveness and punishing schedules are not sustainable, she argues, for women who want to succeed professionally but are also caregivers.
Work/family balance turned out to be a key theme at the biannual AIA Women’s Leadership Summit, held in Seattle in September. A draft of a new AIA survey, “Diversity in the Profession of Architecture,” was released that cited both women and men who said they struggle with these pressures. (The AIA will publish the final report in a few months.) Among the action items that emerged from the summit: institute a top 10 family-friendly firms list and develop a plan to transform the “culture of hours” in the architectural profession.
One real change in the culture at large is that the tech world has made work around the clock seem essential for success. But aside from occasional unavoidable deadlines, it’s fair to ask if the continuous drive to work insane hours actually produces superior work. As Julie Snow, founder of Snow Kreilich Architects in Minneapolis, said in record’s special issue, Women in Architecture Now: “We’ve blown the cover of all-night charrettes and their ability to produce really refined and thoughtful work. I don’t know if that’s a woman’s perspective—it’s a straightforward business perspective.”
That business perspective is likely to gain traction as more women (and men) demand it. According to James Cramer, editor in chief of DesignIntelligence, whose annual rankings of the top architecture schools is featured in this issue, we’re facing a shortage of architects. The best of the next generation already has more clout—with multiple job offers from top firms, often at salaries higher than in the past. They know the urgent need for a profession that reflects the diversity (not only in gender) of the world that architecture serves. And they will have the power to push for equality in architecture.