To Elevate Women in Architecture, Have a Look Around

In February, I received word that I’d been made a fellow of the AIA. This was only the second greatest personal moment in my 37 years of practice. The first will always be the day I got word that I’d passed my exams and would be receiving my architecture license. What a day that was! I still feel the pride—a woman in the early 1980s, an architect at 27-years-old with my whole life before me. Anything was possible! And I’ve never regretted my decision to go to architecture school, to become licensed, and pursue a life of architecture. I can’t imagine another path that could have given me more purpose and joy.

Have there been trials? Of course. But when aren’t there trials when something is really worth pursuing? And the rewards have been significant: The part that I didn’t expect is the amazing people I would meet along the way—good men and many, many great women.

Recognizing Women Who’ve Paved the Way

Lately there’s been much talk about the women missing from the profession. Yet I have a different view of the challenge: There isn’t enough talk about the many incredible women in architecture who are already practicing, teaching, and making great strides to change the world we live in. We’re witnessing the valuable efforts by several groups—including the AIA’s Women in Architecture Committee, the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, and Equity by Design—to both elevate women architects and find ways to improve their professional prospects.

We need more of the former. As an architectural practitioner and educator in New York City, I meet women architects every day with the expertise, passion, and leadership capabilities that place them at the top of the game. For this reason, I’m not overly focused on the barriers to entry for women in the profession. Instead, I choose to focus on the women who are paving the way for the next generation of architects. As seen in surveys by Equity by Design, role models are essential to cultivating new women architects.

The firm I founded, Spacesmith, boasts a team of professionals that’s about 80 percent women—the inverse of most firms, and we love it. Although, of course, we welcome the men who are part of the team, including our colleagues, consultants, contractors, and clients. And we all enjoy our firm’s vibrant and creative culture.

This is my advice for the profession: Women architects and future architects, stand together. Have a look at one another. We are the future. We are strong, motivated, talented women who are determined to move the profession forward. I invite the women who have left architecture or are hesitant to join us. Together we can continue to make a difference.

Improving Workplace Diversity and the Bottom Line

We matter to the profession. Countless studies show how women can more effectively create, solve problems, innovate, serve clients, and administer building projects. Adding women to male-heavy companies makes them 15 percent more likely to outperform their competitors, according to management firm McKinsey & Co. A Catalyst report shows firms with more women in senior roles will see higher returns on equity, sales, and invested capital.

Plus, women in leadership roles help ensure greater stability and smarter risk-taking, as seen in a study by Wake Forest University. This is just a start. Other studies show women bring higher levels of employee engagement, confidence, and long-term loyalty.

Still need convincing? Just have a look at our work. Whether it’s the pioneering vision of the late Zaha Hadid, the intellect of Denise Scott-Brown, the sublime forms of Deborah Berke, or the professional leadership of NCARB’s own Kristine Harding, we’ve proven we have what it takes.

We’re here. We’re winning. And we know exactly why!