Closing the Gender Gap: Working Together

To kick off Women’s History Month, we interviewed an ambitious intern about diversity in architecture, balancing work-home life, and why licensure matters. As the celebration comes to a close, we posed similar questions to two members of our leadership, Treasurer Margo P. Jones, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP, of Greenfield, MA, and Secretary Kristine A. Harding, AIA, NCARB, of Huntsville, AL.

Why did you decide to become an architect?

Margo: I liked to draw, and I loved art and buildings. I also grew up in a Boston suburb that was teeming with architects, including a few women—Sarah Harkness and Jane Thompson among them. By ninth grade, I decided that architecture was for me. 

Kristine: I wanted to be an architect since I was a sophomore in high school. I loved sketching plans on graph paper, and my mother encouraged me to take on architectural drafting. I fell in love with the creative drawing process. Once in college, I learned how exciting it was to create places that respond to the natural environment or surrounding context.

How has the profession evolved since you became licensed?

Kristine: I have been licensed for 20 years, and in that time the biggest change has been the adoption of the computer and paperless environment. There is also more specialization and emphasis on collaboration.

Margo: Computers, of course, have changed everything—mostly for the good. They’ve empowered us as architects. Designs develop more quickly and are more accurate; communications with clients are clearer; turnarounds are faster; and you can see vivid 3-D renderings of buildings in their actual settings. But computers have also complicated the profession, adding an element of glitz that can be misleading. Documents can get overdrawn, slowing the process. And it’s sometimes hard for young practitioners working only on the computer to get a sense of scale. 

If you could tell your younger self anything, what would it be?

Kristine: Relax and take it all in. Every experience molds you as an architect. Embrace each experience and learn from it. Our profession is a life-long learning process, and I remind myself that is why we call it a “practice.” My daughter is a freshman in architecture now, and I feel as if I am talking to my younger self all the time!

Margo: What makes you think my younger self would have listened to an old fuddy duddy like me? But if she did stand still long enough, I would give her a big smile and say, "Hey, keep on plugging. Don't worry so much. Every job leads to the next one. Go for it. Work hard. Assert your ideas. And as James Brown says, ‘Express yourself!’" 

You’ve both served on several NCARB Committees. Why is it important to give back to the profession?

Margo: Giving back to the profession through service at NCARB has been very gratifying. I enjoy the camaraderie. I enjoy meeting other professionals from across the country who are also civic minded and conscientious. It is important that women and other less well-represented folks be at the table when rules are laid down, when exams are written, when selections are made. Working together, we can make sure our buildings are safe, that laws are fairly enforced, and that doors are opened to all qualified candidates.

Kristine: One of the joys of giving back to the profession is meeting the people who serve on our committees. We are all creative and passionate about what we do. I feel that I am making a difference through my service on NCARB’s Board of Directors. It is very rewarding. We are only as strong as the collective whole, and if we want to initiate change, we must do that together.

How can architects work together to help close the gender gap?

Kristine: My father taught me that every person deserves your respect no matter what their station in life is or how different they are from you. The architecture profession is a small voice in the large scheme of things politically and professionally, but we need to work together to encourage and support everyone coming into it. There is no gender in creativity, and we can show this best by first respecting that among ourselves and lead the way.

Margo: I know something about that gap. At MIT, where I studied architecture, I was the only woman in my class. It’s lonely being a token—you battle stereotypes and misunderstandings. To this day, I often find myself in a room that is 90 percent male, and I feel I have to assert my ideas doubly hard just to be heard. 

But the great news is that our profession has become extremely collaborative, which works to our benefit. I believe that the success of my firm comes in large part from the inclusive, embracing way we approach clients, design jobs, and make staff assignments. And when the gender gap closes a little, other discriminatory practices tend to follow suit. 

What advice do you have for young women entering the profession?

Margo: Make connections. I was extremely fortunate to work right out of school for a kind, gifted gentleman who became an important mentor—he was active in NCARB too! Find people you like, and learn everything you can from them. And above all, don't hold back! You are just as talented as the next guy—if not more so. You just have to apply yourself and do it. If you love what you do, it will show and your work will succeed.

Kristine: Do not let yourself believe that you can’t do something. Look past the differences in those who work around you and be the best that you can be. Lead by example and don’t make excuses for your gender. Celebrate it and if you truly believe that you are equal, then you will be.

When I was young and I told my father that I wanted to go play football with the boys down the street, he never told me that I couldn’t because I was a girl. Throughout my life, I never thought about what girls could or couldn’t do. Maybe that is what helped me succeed in my career as a person and not as a woman.