Closing the Gender Gap: Young Women in Architecture


We caught up with 2013 Intern Think Tank member Elizabeth Main to chat about diversity in architecture, balancing work-home life, and why licensure matters.

Why do you want to be an architect?
I want to make the world a better place through the built environment. As cheesy as that sounds, it's really how I feel! Entering a monolithic chapel can make us feel awe-struck and humbled, viewing a trendy skyscraper can make us feel excitement and fascination, and sitting in a cozy cottage can make us feel warm and protected. The built environment affects everyone in it, and I want to be a part of making that environment amazing.

Based on your experience in the field, do you think there’s a gender gap in architecture?
Unfortunately, I feel there is a big gender gap in the field of architecture. I think women as design professionals are regarded highly and given great responsibilities—but they’re still given few opportunities to lead projects and firms. I find it very discouraging that many firms do not endorse part-time work, which is a necessary schedule adjustment for working mothers. I see multitudes of other professions growing around the needs of family-oriented women, yet the architectural community continues to hurt itself by only making room for women who can work sixty hours each week.

Tell us about your role models—are there any female architects you look up to or admire?
I was lucky to be a student to a couple of very talented and intelligent women during my time in college. Both were principals in their respective firms and balanced a variety of roles, including volunteer, board member, and wife, to name a few. I was especially happy to see that they were still excited and passionate about architecture, even after practicing for a few decades each. It encouraged me and taught me that architecture will always have new mysteries and adventures for me to discover, and that the more I engage, the more I will be rewarded.

Is there anything you wish you knew before starting your path to licensure?
Before I began my path to licensure, I knew very little about real-world firms. I wish my academic program had integrated with real firms—whether through internships or sponsored studio projects—so that the transition from student to license-chasing-intern might have been smoother. I felt very uneasy at the end of graduate school and simply didn't know what the path to licensure would be like. Luckily, I found a firm that very much supports my path to licensure.

You’ve already passed a few of your AREs—what keeps you motivated to forge ahead?
I have two primary motivators to continue progressing through my AREs. First, I want to maintain my momentum from graduate school. I had good study habits as a student that I wanted to take advantage of—I began testing less than a year after finishing school. My other motivation is my family. I am married right now with an adorable puppy, but one day soon I'd like to be a parent. Unfortunately, this profession is not the most supportive of employees who can't commit to a full-time job, and I haven't yet decided if I want to work full-time or take a break from the office once I become a mother. With my license in hand, I can make any decision and not "lose" the hard work I've put into my career thus far.

How do you stay on top of earning IDP experience?
I am currently about 60 percent through my IDP. I like to report my hours to NCARB quarterly, but I update my tally on a personal spreadsheet weekly. My supervisor, who is a principal in my firm, is great about discussing any areas I haven't filled, and he looks for projects and opportunities to keep my workload in harmony with my IDP needs.

Why is getting licensed important to you?
I want to be a licensed architect for a number of reasons. Initially, I sought the legitimacy and title that I could proudly bear as an official architect. However, as I've grown to know more about this profession, I want to have the trust, reliability, and knowledge that the public inherently associates with architects. I want to be a source for good design that serves the public interest, and I believe being an architect allows for this.

What advice do you have for other young women entering the profession?
Architecture is a beautiful art. It woos me, amazes me, and challenges me. As women in architecture, I see a number of barriers to our professional growth. Let's allow these barriers to be something different: momentary hurdles to jump. Let's make this profession the home of the most talented and influential women!

Elizabeth Main, Assoc. AIA, is an Intern Architect at Pulse Design Group in Kansas City. She graduated from the University of Utah in 2012 with a Master of Architecture and a certificate in Historic Preservation.