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Advice From a Young Professional: Get Involved!

This piece was written by Annalee Groner, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP BD+C, where she reflects on the importance of finding your place within a community, and how the Women In Architecture has helped her find confidence in the profession.

When I first started working out of school it was definitely a big change. A new type of working environment, a new set of peers, new projects; I have to say it was a bit overwhelming. It took a little time but I steadily began to get the hang of things, a better understanding of the new programs I was using and the firm’s structure, becoming more and more comfortable with each day.

Within six months to a year I finally (fully) eased in; I found a place on my team and people who I could rely on as mentors. I was learning a lot quickly, which is always satisfying, yet it seemed as though there was still an aspect missing. I couldn’t quite pinpoint it, but I decided to try getting involved in more out of the office activities to find out. I started by attending more networking events, which transitioned to more architecture-specific events through the AIA. As I began to see more faces I recognized, living and working here in the South Bay started to feel more like a community. Yet, within every community, there are different neighborhoods, different blocks, different groups. So which group did I belong in?

I hadn’t heard about the Women in Architecture (WIA) prior to attending my first event. They were hosting a goal finding/career planning workshop that sounded interesting to me, so I decided to test it out. The objective of the workshop was to narrow in on short-term and long-term goals then practice communicating this information to your supervisor through a mock-review. We moved through the steps of the process over a three hour period, really asking ourselves what we were looking for and who we wanted to be in the industry. The event ended with a few final words and as I got up to leave I realized my whole demeanor had changed, not only did I feel a little more confident but even more secure with my place as a women in this industry. I had only experienced this one event and it already had an impact on my way of thinking. Right then and there I decided that this was something I wanted to be a part of, so I walked over to the Chair and asked how I could get involved.


Now, after a year of being the Director of Events for the WIA Silicon Valley, I couldn't be more happy that I chose to join. Not only have I been lucky enough to be a part of our growth, but I've been able to experience first-hand the impact the WIA continues to have on others. It's been so inspiring to a be a part of such a passionate, motivated and supportive group of people. I have definitely found my place.

So, my final advice to those of you just starting out in the industry is:

  1. Find Your Place - Whether it be in or out of the office, find a place where your voice can and will be heard.
  2. Find Your Passion - What excites you? What change do you want to be a part of or have a say in? Find and follow that excitement.
  3. Find Your People - Find the group that you connect with, that inspires you, and that motivates you to be the best that you can be.
Leah BayerComment
Plan Your Own Promotion – If You Don’t Do It, No One Else Will

Planning Your Own Promotion
+ 10 Career Questions to Ask Yourself

This piece was written by Pamela Anderson-Brulé, FAIA, President and Co-Founder of Anderson Brulé Architects.

I believe that career and promotion planning must be an equal responsibility for an employee and employer. There must be a proactive and positive development plan to grow and expand an individual’s skills and responsibilities, and that growth must include market appropriate salary increases.

Many architects, and especially women, treat this very important process with a passive, wait and see, “I hope they notice my value”, “I am sure I am not worthy” methodology.

If you do not recognize your value, neither will your employer. If you do not have self-confidence, you will not garner confidence from them. If you do not bother to do appropriate market-based research on your skills, responsibilities and salary ranges within our industry, and yet complain that you are not equally paid, then you are not fighting for the very equity that women are working so hard to achieve.

Your Role and Responsibility

Understanding your skills and responsibilities is a proactive, highly engaged, rigorous process that you must jump into with both feet. This is not about being aggressive or demanding — this is about designing your long-term career plan in a creative, organized, goal and time-based way.

Write down your career plan.  Review it regularly (or at least quarterly). This requires interactive and proactive communication.  You must acknowledge that you are in a state of learning and not just a state of doing. Ask yourself:

          1.     Are my daily tasks and activities collectively taking me to the next step in my career plan?

You should not design your career plan in a bubble of predetermined expectations. Your career plan needs to support and align to your firm’s long-term strategic plan. Remember, you are employed to provide value to your firm.

Understand that your relationship with your firm is a business proposition. The value, skills and role that you play, need to bring deliberate and increased value to the firm and to you. This would suggest that you need to understand your firm’s long-term strategic plan. Ask yourself:

          2.     What is the firm trying to accomplish over the next three years?

          3.     Where are the gaps in achieving these goals?

          4.     Where can I fit into supporting, guiding, or leading efforts that specifically advance the firm’s vision, mission, or strategic goals?


 We are all very involved in our lives and work, and we have limited time. How we spend our time in building a career plan that specifically supports both firm and employee, is very important. Ask yourself:

          5.     Can I create a life plan and a career plan that work together?

          6.     Is there a way to align personal goals with firm goals?

For instance, can volunteer work help you learn leadership skills or engage you with a network that might support future work for your firm?

Rather than designing your personal time to conflict with your work, create synergy between your worlds. Ask yourself:         

          7.     Could I become a dedicated supporter of my child’s education and school, while building a relationship with other parents or the school administration?

          8.     Could I understand the school’s needs for future facilities, join a committee and learn to lead a team?

          9.     Could I introduce my firm to the school administrators and become the architect for their project?

          10.  Is there a way to weave my life, interests, and passions together in an eco-system of synergistic activities that feed growth and positive outcomes to everything within my world?

To a great extent, if you conscientiously and proactively seek these opportunities, the answer can be yes.


Your Employer’s Role

Now, let us focus on what you can and should expect of your firm. Set reasonable expectations for your employer and the firm leaders in relationship to supporting your career, promotion plan and progress.

You need to make sure that your firm has created a value-based proposition for all their employees. If they are not vocalizing their vision, mission, and long-term goals, it will be very difficult to create alignment. In some firms, strategic goals are discussed only with a small leadership group and you may not have immediate knowledge.

The best thing to do in this case is ask. Invite a firm principal to lunch or a short meeting. Express your desire to understand the firm’s business objective better so that you can more clearly align your career plan to their objectives. Ask where they see gaps in their ability to achieve their goals. It may be…

  • They have an issue of needing more employees at a certain level – the firm may need more job captains. How can you use your network to help find an excellent candidate?

  • They may need to build a stronger program in sustainability – could you lead a firm initiative to identify staff skills and interests, and create a plan of action?

  • They are concerned with a future market position or to understand an industry trend – could you do research and provide insight?

If your firm leaders do not have a long-term strategic plan, or are not willing to have a meeting with you to discuss it, then you need to ask yourself, “How can I align my career plan with an organization that either does not have one or is unwilling to share it with their employees?”

In other words, you should suggest you will help lead their strategic planning effort (or run)!


Research and Plan

It is my strong belief that prior to accepting employment with any firm, you should seek an understanding of that firm’s strategic direction.

Learn how your prospective employer communicates and articulates their strategic direction, how the firm’s development is aligned with staff development, and what steps and processes they take to support each employee’s development and advancement.

Ask your potential employer:

  • What are the processes and steps they use to determine salary and promotion?

  • What access do they have to support licensure, education and leadership development?

  • How do they work with their employees to promote and support career planning?

 It is best to start your career plan with the knowledge that you are in a firm that will be your partner in your success!


Ready to get started? Download a WIA Design Your Career Form.

Leah Bayer 3 Comments
Calling All Men of Architecture --- WE NEED YOU!

This piece was posted by Megan Blaine, AIA, Founder of Blaine Architects. It was written by a former colleague of Megan’s as a call to action.

Believing in gender equity is not just a female issue. We need support from everyone, including men. We know most men believe in equity, but they often aren’t aware of gender discrimination in the workplace, and perhaps more importantly, they don’t know what to do about it.

We're recruiting male allies or “Manbassadors”, if you will, to help combat the subtle ways that gender discrimination creeps into our workplace. You don't have to sign up, declare your intent, or march with a sign. By doing any one of the small actions below, that's it; you're part of the movement. 

Take a look at this list of surprising things that happen to your female coworkers, and the small steps you can take to be an advocate for gender equity: 

  1. THE MENIAL TASK: We get asked to do many more non-work-related menial tasks than our male counterparts, from fetching everything from coffee, picking up prints, making copies, and breakfast to organizing parties and planning social events. If a woman in your group is asked to do something that isn't her job, don't turn and look at her expectantly, or avoid her eye contact. Say "Oh Michelle doesn't need to grab coffee, I'll do it."
  2. THE MENTION: Frequently women have a hard time gaining notoriety for the quality of their work. A lot of this is because we're not as good at self-promotion, but that's on us, we're working on that. What you can do: Recently my husband took 60 seconds out of his annual review to say "I think Amy and Kristen feel under-appreciated here, and it's really going to suck for all of us if they leave. I just want to put in a plug for them that I think they're doing stellar work above and beyond what their job description is and what they're being compensated for." There were zero negative repercussions for him, they didn't give his raise to Amy and Kristen. And he said his boss seemed surprised like he hadn't yet considered all the these women had been doing for their department. 
  3. THE CONFERENCE CALL WALL OF SOUND: Studies actually show that people just do not hear women's voices as well as men's, so we get talked over and interrupted in conference calls... a lot. If you notice a female team member struggling to be heard in a conference call, use that deep, baritone of yours to say, "Hey guys I think Kate has something to contribute here." It works like magic. 
  4. THE PUNCHLINE: Laughter in the workplace is a necessity, but be wary of jokes at the expense of women. Femininity is the butt of the joke far too often. Whether it’s playful banter with other guys for playing with Barbies, or joking about women talking too much at a board room table, it communicates to women that we’re less respectable by nature, while elevating masculinity as the more respectable trait. A couple of male colleagues used to joke around by challenging the masculinity of the other, often putting each other down through feminine qualities, until one of the men privately messaged the other, “Hey man, what’s wrong with being a girl? You’re putting me down by saying I’m a girl, but why is being a girl an insult?” There was no big show of it, but the guys still work together and still get along.
  5. THE CC DROP: This happens all the time, someone sends an email to the group, and on the Reply All the woman in the group is dropped from the thread. If you notice this, add her back in on your reply. Extra credit: say "Adding Sarah back into the thread, think you guys accidentally dropped her."
  6. THE SWEETHEART: We get called things like 'girls' and 'sweetie' a lot, especially on site. We get asked if we’re “going shopping” during site observation walks. Crude jokes are often made at the expense of women, right in front of us. Like, you would be shocked how much. Unfortunately it's often when we're by ourselves. This is a tough one to fix, so you get lots of extra ally points if you can do it. If you hear someone call your female team member 'girls', 'sweetheart', or basically anything they wouldn't call you, try to find a private moment with that person to say "Hey, I know you didn't mean anything by it, but as a firm policy we try not to call the women in our organization 'girls', and I'm wondering if you might do the same. I'm sure you understand." This has so much power coming from you in a non-confrontational way. 
  7. THE EMAIL TO 'GENTLEMAN' OR 'GENTS': Yes, even if you are writing to a group of all men. Chances are very high that women will be added into the thread or have the email forwarded to them, and it feels incredibly exclusionary to see that no one considered a woman might be able to contribute to the topic. Unless you are planning a bachelor party, try using gender neutral terms like All, Everyone, Team, or even Folks if you want to get cute.
  8. THE LEAP OF FAITH: This one is the most important: Just believe us. It takes a lot of guts for a woman to speak up and say she feels unfairly treated. She's probably not making it up! Instead of immediately defending the behavior she is relating to you, try the mental exercise of "What if she's right?" At a minimum you will be a more supportive ear, and at best you'll be fostering a better, more inclusive workplace.



If you're interested in these issues on a global scale, check out the United Nations' He for She campaign: 

Women Leaders in the Age of Social Connection

This piece was written by Katia McClain, AIA, DBIA, LEED AP BD+C, Associate and Managing Director at LPA.

A couple of weeks ago, my friend's 13-year-old son had a homework assignment regarding women in leadership and equity for women. He asked me if I knew how many current world leaders, head of state of government are women. My answer was 20 and I was short by 9. As of January 2017, there are currently 29 female leaders in the world - the lowest number in several years. Included are women such as Queen Elizabeth, Angela Merkel, and Michelle Bachelet. Some have inherited the position, but most have fought hard for it. But while the imbalance in these figures continues to be a struggle, there are other ways women have taken hold of powerful leadership positions. 

We don't have to be "world leaders" to truly lead and affect our world. There are women that are not the head of any government, but in this age of social change, technology, and social media, they have great influence in our community. I think of women like Mother Teresa, Oprah Winfrey, Sheryl Sandberg, and Malala Yousafzai, who, when they speak, with their callings and passions unique as a fingerprint, they inspire us all.

For me to respect and follow a great leader, I need to recognize and understand those leadership traits that make a great leader. Women, in particular, have off-the-chart instincts and emotional intelligence that empower them with a unique ability to lead in a different way than we've historically observed from men in leadership. The best women leaders I know are empathic and demonstrate an inclusive, team-building leadership style of decision-making. With global attitudes towards leadership shifting toward more collaborative and inclusive strategies, these traits are not only sought after, but necessary in order to make a difference in the world. Now is the perfect moment for women to embrace their collaborative nature and step up. Leadership is not about controlling. It is about inspiring. 

The women leaders I know are resilient because they have a circular vision and can see what is around the corner. But with that forethought comes cautionary insight. Paired with a perfectionist mindset, and we tend to avoid risks to a fault, needing to be absolutely positive of success before trying something new. Stop! This thinking holds us back from taking charge and it must change! Let’s strive for excellence, but not for perfection. True leaders carry an “I’ll show you” attitude when faced with adversity and have an insatiable desire to always do better, rarely satisfied with the status quo. Tory Burch once said, “If it doesn’t scare you, you are probably not dreaming big enough.” Dream big and take risks; don’t let others tell you what you can and can’t do. And remember that you aren't alone - embrace your support system through the challenges, and celebrate with them through the wins.

I have learned from women mentors that being genuine is of upmost importance. They know their strengths, limitations, fears, and emotions, and they don't mask them. This authenticity makes them connect with others at a deeper level, with their heart and their mind. It takes kick-ass women to encourage future kick-ass women, and these mentors have encouraged me to be myself, love myself, forgive myself, and accept who I am.

These undervalued traits make women different type of leaders; we understand survival and we are not afraid to fight for what we believe in. We reinvent ourselves every morning and live our lives in a constant entrepreneurial spirit. We value our families and are the glue that keep things together. In times of cultural transformation, it is our right-brain, feminine consciousness, our best guide. 

Embrace the shifting tides, embrace your unique strengths, and lead - the future depends on it.

Build Your Tribe - 8 Values for Leadership Success

This piece was written by Mariana Alvarez Parga, AIA, Director of Architecture + Sustainability at MADI Architecture + Planning. It was inspired by a few books and videos listed at the bottom, as well as a conversation with her best friend and colleague, Jorgelina Roset, General Manager at Blaisten SA in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

. . .

As soon as I started reading Tribe, a new book from Sebastian Junger where he explains our evolutionary heritage from tribal behavior, I couldn't help but think about his message applied to a firm’s leadership. As I read along and realized that his message was about our society’s flaws, it made perfect sense to interpret it for the small scale society that is work.

In his book, Junger explains that a big struggle for returning war veterans is their reentry into society (or lack-of). This is because they are coming from a “tribal” environment where they had a defined role and responsibility towards the group, but that vanishes when they can't clearly see how they're needed in the society they are returning to. Their sense of belonging and self-worth is almost non-existent when they return, and Junger explains that it's not the veterans but society that's the problem.   

This idea made me analyze my work experiences through the years and I found that those moments where I felt the most demotivated were the moments were my role in the “tribe” was not clear. The key to resolving this is communication. Both leadership and members of the team need to have constant communication for a clear understanding of a project, its milestones, priorities and the roles of each member. 

Becoming part of a firm’s leadership is an endeavor that is personal and unique to each individual. We all have different qualities, goals, and motivators. As I continue to learn about my own, I recognize that by doing a better job in understanding our human nature, we can start to correct global problems with our society one firm at a time. Here are 8 values I've identified that will help strengthen leadership skills:

  1. Build work environments where there is a predominance of trust, happiness and commitment within the team. These are first affected by structure, culture and strategy of a firm and its leadership - invest time on defining and developing them. Next, embrace what is needed for your team members to feel trust: team support, fair work, equity, team work, participation, belonging, and good communication. 
  2. Communicate. Good communication can be achieved by being impeccable with your words, speaking with integrity, avoiding assumptions, respecting all voices, recognizing others, and encouraging group participation and creativity
  3. Build sustainable teams by understanding people’s personalities and the basic things that keep most of us content. In the big picture, we all need to feel competent at what we do, authentic, and connected with others - competence, autonomy, and community. In Junger’s words “these values are intrinsic to human happiness and far outweigh extrinsic values such as beauty, money and status.”
  4. Frequently check the climate, that is, how people feel. It's not enough to setup the system and let it run. Things will break down overtime. Make it a habit to review and make adjustments as needed.
  5. Stay relevant, be visible and approachable. Transparency, openness, and approachability will ensure good communication is reciprocal. You need to not only be a good speaker, but an excellent listener.
  6. Take care of your own happiness first. If you're unhappy, others will feel and reflect unhappiness back to you. So seek out what you need to feel good: inspiration, freedom, friendship, being yourself and feeling valued.  Express gratitude and make time to laugh.
  7. Travel abroad. It will give you a broader perspective on things and help you reset priorities (both in business and in a personal level). 
  8. Perform periodic self-evaluations and remind yourself of what you think a leader should be. Look back at leadership models, your sponsors, mentors.Ask yourself what legacy you want to leave, and assess whether you're on the right path. If you aren't, make adjustments. If you are, keep moving forward!

I believe these values can greatly help everyone because they reinforce the sense of community we all need in our core - a tribal structure, one which has been all but lost in modern society. These values create healthy organizations that give individuals a purpose while also strengthening the whole - when your people thrive, your tribe thrives.