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  • April 5, 2021

    On March 26, the AIANY WIA Committee was honored to host Dr. Harriet Harriss as our featured Women’s History Month Leadership Breakfast speaker. Dr. Harris is an architect, writer, historian, and the Dean of the Pratt School of Architecture in Brooklyn, New York. Her scholarship principally concerns pioneering pedagogies in architectural education and confronts themes such as feminism, equity, decolonization, diversity, inclusion, civic engagement, the climate crisis, and queer ecologies.

    Her presentation ‘Mistresses of the Architectural Academy’ addressed the lesser-known prejudices within architectural education and reclaimed the term ‘Mistress’ as a powerful title for women leaders, with valuable tactics to combat gender inequality. She presented data and historical examples, demonstrating how the traditional models of pedagogy are symptomatic of systemic and self-perpetuating bias, which take root at a young age and propagate through education into practice. We learned how conscious and unconscious suppression of women, illuminated by lower remuneration, fewer opportunities for growth, the tendency towards “cancel culture”, the (secret) competition, and lack of support, has resulted in women continuing to be poorly represented in leadership roles.

    She provided strategies to combat gender inequity including allyship and intersectional diversity; inclusionary design; referencing women in writing, history, and theory; designing inclusive business models; ensuring gender-balanced panels and juries; and creating leadership and entrepreneurship programs for women.

    The talk concluded with an address by Catherine Chattergoon, the inaugural Student Advisor to the Dean at Pratt, who exemplified her statement “It takes being uncomfortable to find comfort”. We are impressed by her role in advising and supporting students.

    We are grateful that our speakers also took the time to share their answers to questions, some of which were addressed during the event, for the benefit of those that could not attend. Their responses are recorded below:

    In addition to gender, what are the speaker’s thoughts on certain ethnicities, that are not part of historically underrepresented groups, “colonizing” institutional leadership positions, perhaps based on a perception of cultural cache?

    Catherine: The canonized narratives in architecture are characterized by histories of exclusion, and this has played a significant role in shaping the hierarchy in our field and our institutions. Our understanding of success and leadership has been made in the image of the colonizer, but we can move towards decolonization through anti-racist rhetoric and contemporary forms of abolition. We need to bring culturally diverse ways of learning and understanding into institutions to begin decolonizing leadership positions; power should be used to protect the most vulnerable and open new doors.

    One challenge in professional practice is that I think sometimes there is so much focus on pushing women in leadership that companies think getting them a title is enough and women are being pushed out of the design track into project management or technical positions. I’m really interested in how this ties into what you are saying. What are some ways to push female design leadership when there are so few models?

    Catherine: The ideas we have towards leadership need to be pushed and challenged, and since there are so few examples for female design leadership, we can begin to create and define our own. The changes in professional practice are more often reactive instead of proactive, and this is why we continue to see the glass cliff phenomenon for women in leadership roles. Leadership is about empowering others and working together to do the impossible. This can start from the top-down with women being supported in leadership design roles where they are in a position to effectively change power structures, but it can also simultaneously occur from the bottom-up where a deeper process of enabling can be used to optimize decision-making domains and allow women to express their design ideas. We need to lend women in architecture the agency to be in a position of influence, and working with others to think about different models of leadership can be the foreground for a new type of distributed power.

    Personally I think the reason why women are under represented in architecture compared to medicine and law is the low pay. You cannot pay for nanny and all with your pay at your late 20s or early 30s. I was lucky to be able to start my family late in my 40s and was able to keep both family and career but it’s not easy at all and still struggling.  

    Harriet: I agree with this statement.

    Catherine: I completely agree. It is difficult to balance a career in architecture and a family, and the wage gap makes it nearly impossible to pay for childcare. In many instances, we are asking women to make a choice: children or career, and there is a stigma towards motherhood that equates it to sacrifice for working women. In addition to addressing the underpaid roles of women in architecture, we need to reform patriarchal concepts and biased ideas of care that prohibit women from building a family and a career simultaneously. In terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion, we need to change the culture and support workers by making family a priority. It is important to consider that we have different lived experiences, and the field of architecture should be accommodating towards our professional career and personal relationships.

    In my firm, we’ve talked recently about “scarcity mindset” and the limitations on being able to envision a different vision of success that goes beyond being treated the same as the dominant population (white men) when you’ve started from a place of disadvantage, for structural reasons. How do you think people can think more expansively about achieving a different sense of power?

    Harriet: It comes down to the narrow ways in which leadership has been defined by white, ‘western’ men serving an imperial, colonial, and hierarchical system that, in order to advantage them, needs to substantially disadvantage others. The ‘qualities’ of leadership under this paradigm discriminate against anyone who exists outside of it, but especially those who try to. In my view, the principal responsibility of leaders is to make more leaders and to give everyone a chance to lead. This is certainly the philosophy in the school that we are working towards.

    Catherine: There are real fears that are embodied by marginalized people from everyday experiences of oppression permeating your consciousness, but we can begin to move past this by creating a space for collective dreaming where people can come together to rethink and redefine leadership and success. Most of the growth in this area will come from unlearning and understanding the world in which we operate. I know it is hard to imagine new possibilities when traditional measures of success are unobtainable because of structural disadvantages, but I hope we can all have the audacity to live life in the way we choose. The dominant narrative has been rooted in colonized, racialized, and gendered ideals, but we can begin to counter this by centering multiple narratives in conversation. The collective act of coming together can help us overcome social polarization and unite us in building an equitable future.

    How is Pratt addressing other academic issues such as student debt, high tuition fees, gentrification…?

    Harriet: Humbly, the answer is not enough, but the items listed are not a Pratt problem they are a policy problem. Student debt is wrong on a social but also economic basis. We should be investing in our future equitably, and to do this requires an end to student debt.

    Catherine: We can always do more, and I am proud to be part of an institution that is committed to change and conversation. While Pratt cannot solely resolve these issues, we are in a position to confront injustice as designers and culture producers. This starts with unlearning through dialogue and supporting students in understanding these issues and their position within them. Architectural education should emphasize a more inclusive approach to design as an alternative to gentrification. We can begin to work towards this by centering voices that have been excluded in our field and establishing authentic relationships with the surrounding community. The issue of affordable education and expensive tuition has made higher education inaccessible to many people, but it is my belief that education should be a right and not a privilege. In most cases, our money is not being used to help the public good, and I hope we can redistribute money and resources to education, housing, healthcare, and climate justice to build a better future. This will probably be something that we spend the rest of our lives advocating for, but the ways in which we show up now will shape our future.

    We would like to thank Harriet for choosing to challenge the status quo by taking strong actions to address inequity within academia, as well as all those who attended and participated in the Q&A. Some resources Harriet recommended as well as some of her books are below:

  • March 25, 2021

    As architects and designers, we listen, lead dialogues, guide our clients, and strive to build communities that evolve and grow to reflect the diverse world we live in.

    The escalation of hostilities against the Asian community have exposed long, underlying anti-Asian racism. Their voices have been muffled by systemic policies, perpetual micro-aggressions, and a culture of exclusion.

    We must stand up and advocate for a world that does not oppress—that is safe for our Asian brothers and sisters, families, friends, colleagues, and loved ones to live in, and free from violent attacks. We must encourage growth, empathy, compassion, and understanding. We must value all of their contributions, from those who speak with the quietest breath to the ones who lead with the boldest actions.

    The AIANY Women in Architecture Committee is committed to providing a platform that will support the Asian design community. We will elevate their voices and share their experiences. Inaction will only lead to continued acceptance; for our industry to evolve, we must act.

    In honor of Asian/Pacific American Heritage Month, we welcome you to participate in a discussion at our May 19th committee meeting, WIA Forum: Allies With the Asian Design Community. We will listen to experiences from our Asian peers and open up the meeting for conversation.

    WIA stands with AIA New York’s Board in efforts to address all forms of discrimination. For several resources on how to support and learn about the Asian community, please see below:

  • March 17, 2021

    In line with the theme for International Women’s Day 2021, the AIANY WIA Committee kicked off Women’s History Month by hosting a panel with inspiring women architects who ‘Choose to Challenge’ the status quo. Four speakers shed light on issues of sponsorship, mentorship, self-care, work life navigation and flexibility, cultural competency, traditional firm and client structures, professional advocacy and championing a J.E.D.I. paradigm shift within the AEC community. Event moderator, Annelise Pitts, AIA, Principal Consultant, Cameron MacAllister Group, did a wonderful job guiding the conversation, asking tough, provocative and highly relevant questions. Each of our speakers provided unique insights into how one can begin to address and frame the deep structural injustices that surround us.

    Our speakers included Tamarah Begay, AIA, President & CEO, Indigenous Design Studio, Damaris Hollingsworth, AIA, Principal Architect, Design by Melo, Diana Nicklaus, AIA, President & CEO, saam Architecture and Rosa Sheng, FAIA, Principal & Director of J.E.D.I., Smith Group. Tamarah Begay, AIA, is a member of the Navajo Nation and the first Navajo woman registered architect. With over 15 years of experience working in Native American tribes connecting culture, language and tradition through design, Tamarah shared a fundamentally different design approach for and with indigenous communities, and the ways that she is challenging preconceptions and prejudice. Damaris Hollingsworth, AIA, reminded us of the importance of seeking out mentors, partners and advocates that work with you and advocate for your work. Supporting future generations of BIPOC women architects is a responsibility she undertakes seriously, as a way to keep the pipeline into our profession accessible and equitable. Diana Nicklaus, AIA, emphasized that making a good business case for equity is key while implementing radical, moral change to make a lasting impact. Rosa Sheng, FAIA, shared important takeaways from the J.E.D.I. agenda, forecasting change as a result of working toward social justice.

    From challenge comes change—and we thank our speakers for motivating us to choose to challenge, for their tireless advocacy around issues of J.E.D.I. in the architectural profession, for elevating underrepresented groups and for calling us all to action. We are grateful that our speakers also took the time to share their answers to questions, some of which were addressed during the event, for the benefit of those that could not attend. Their responses are recorded below:

    Hello, thank you panelists for the wonderful presentations. As a new young emerging professional, I am still learning about the field and trying to map my own path. What advice would you give for us to engage in the profession, and specifically in pursuing our own passions that may not be “conventional”? 

    Diana: Ask lots of questions, and don’t always take no for an answer. I did the Harvard GSD summer program (Career Discovery) in undergrad, and was told I should not be an architect. Then, I did not get admitted to any of the three graduate architecture programs to which I applied. I was able to enter University of Texas, however, through their Preservation program—but never took a class in Preservation, and joined the M. Arch. program my second semester.  There are always alternate routes to explore!

    To Diana, how does the flexible scheduling & other systems of support you put in place help your design process? Do you think this model could be replicated at larger firms?

    Diana: The flexible scheduling and other systems of support are there to help our team. As such, the team is better able to contribute—both in terms of time/energy/focus, as well as having a voice in the design process. We do not have a single design process. Rather, each design team approaches it based on the project requirements.

    I think the question of performance can be lost in the conversation of pay equity. I see a lot of my female peers out performing others, so in some ways, achieving pay equality in terms of years or title on paper isn’t REAL equity in regards to actual performance. How do you include that kind of nuance in the conversation? 

    Annelise: I strongly agree that pay equality or parity (equal pay for equal work/credentials/experience) and pay equity (equal pay of work of equal value) are fundamentally different. The challenge, then, becomes determining what constitutes “work of equal value” within an organization, which, in turn, means clarifying what behaviors and contributions are valuable and therefore rewarded within an individual organization. One way to do this is by creating a pay philosophy, which describes a firm’s approach to pay, and then using that philosophy as a jumping off point to clearly articulate the processes that will be used to determine pay going forward. There’s a great description of this methodology in the Compensation chapter of the AIA Guides for Equitable Practice. Then, of course, the challenge is ensuring that the procedures and criteria that are used to evaluate “work of equal value” don’t have inherent biases that result in pay disparities on the basis of personal identity.

    Thank you all for your presentations.  Fantastic!  What’s the best way to receive a copy of the “antiracism development continuum” Rosa shared in her slides? Or is this generally available online?

    Continuum on Becoming an Anti-Racist Multicultural Organization

    We thank our audience members and supporters for tuning in, asking thoughtful questions and engaging with this excellent panel. We hope you will join us at our next event!

  • February 24, 2021

    To recognize and celebrate the 43 AIANY women who have accomplished the important milestone of obtaining licensure last year, AIANY WIA Committee held a special event after the February Committee Meeting, with “In Dialogue With… Newly Licensed Women Architects of 2020.” Following the monthly committee announcements, we kicked-off with a virtual toast, and featured eight women from the “Class of 2020”. Tania El Alam of Perkins Eastman, Lisa Martinez, AIA of Grimshaw Architects, Irina Matos, AIA of Workshop/APD, Wells Megalli of Deborah Berke Partners, Alicia Rebadan, AIA of Arquitectonica, Theresa Saad of Hart Howerton, Jenna Wandishin, AIA of Moody Nolan, and Arielle Siegel Weiss of Urbahn Architects, all shared wonderful tips and stories of their unique paths towards licensure. They spoke about several challenges encountered, lessons learned, advice and resources for the licensure journey, professional and personal aspirations. Recurring advice from the night was perseverance, not being discouraged by hurdles and failure, and leaning on communities at the workplace or the several ARE study groups in the city and online, for support. And not to forget to have a nice breakfast sandwich before a group study session and to be rewarded with a yummy Shake Shack burger after an exam, whether you pass or not…

    A highlight from the meeting was a presentation of gender parity trends in licensure over the past 20 years in New York City. Arielle Weiss, of the AIANY WIA Media Communications Team, compiled and shared graphs and charts comparing licensure statistics from the five boroughs. These are included with the AIANY February Committee Meeting Agenda. The graphs and metrics can also be viewed on her blog here.

    The valuable ARE resources shared by the recently licensed architects are:

    We thank our eight volunteer architects for being so generous and sharing their journeys with us!

    The AIANY WIA February Committee meeting agenda, Around Town & Related Events, Topics, and Good Reads can be viewed and downloaded here.

  • February 17, 2021

    We are delighted to announce that the AIANY Women in Architecture Committee will host the Winter 2021 WIA Practitioner | Student Mentoring Session on Thursday, February 25, from 6:30 PM-8:00 PM. We are going virtual this year! Students of architecture programs from five participating institutions will have a group or one-on-one mentoring session with AIANY WIA members/practitioners for resume reviews, informal design critiques and/or professional development guidance.

    Participating Institutions:

    • The Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture, The City College of New York (CCNY)
    • The New York City College of Technology Department of Architectural Technology (City Tech)
    • School of Architecture & Planning, Morgan State University
    • School of Architecture, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)
    • School of Architecture and Planning, University at Buffalo

    If you are practicing in the field of architecture with 10+ years of experience, we need you to be a mentor to inspire the next generation of architects! Please sign up here.

    We look forward to seeing you and thank you in advance for your participation and support at our upcoming events.


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