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Event Recap - Connecting Through Coaching: To Oneself and to Others

Speaker: Lynn Simon
Blogger: Mani A. Farhadi
Location: Hawley Peterson Snyder, Sunnyvale, CA
Date: April 18, 2018
Time: 6:00 – 8:00 pm
Sponsor: AIA Silicon Valley, Women in Architecture Committee


What happens when a group of architects gathers into a circle to share personal stories? Magic!


About 18 women and 2 men attended the April 18, 2018 WIA event Connecting Through Coaching: To Oneself and to Others, led by speaker and Coach extraordinaire Lynn Simon, FAIA, and hosted by Hawley Peterson Snyder. Simon is a Vice President at Thornton Tomasetti in San Francisco.

Light snacks and drinks were provided by WIA. A synopsis of the workshop activities follows: intriguing stories, a quick lesson on coaching, an amusing group activity, eye-opening role play with the coach and volunteer, and a take-home exercise.


Would you share a ‘defining moment’ in your life? Simon kicked off the evening by asking each person to recount a significant turning point. These moments included:

  • Gaining unexpected perspective from a landscape architecture professor;
  • Acquiring confidence when thrown into a challenging business situation;
  • Witnessing engagement at an international congress of women architects;
  • Almost quitting, only to turn it around and open a practice;
  • Inspired by the intersection of art/architecture making an impact;
  • Finding one’s voice after joining WIA, then becoming its Chair;
  • Influenced growing up surrounded by ancient architectural heritage;
  • Fascinated by the joy and satisfaction of interior design projects;
  • Learning from harsh critique in school to reevaluate meaning in one’s work;
  • Translating athletic teamwork into a successful trio of architect/client/contractor;
  • Taking a solo feasibility study as an opportunity to launch a practice;
  • Seeing the path from a greener environmental future into a healthcare practice;
  • Transforming the fluidity of dance into designing better flow of space;
  • Bringing a background in architecture into the high-tech industry;
  • Evolving surreptitiously from a drafter into a technical architect.

The stories were unique and personal. People felt it was a safe space to tell their story. It gave me a glimpse into how resilience, inspiration, trauma, risk or evolution played a role in transforming each of us from where we were to where we are today.


Can you define the difference between Training, Mentoring, Facilitation and Coaching? Simon explained the various overlaps and distinct skills in each of these areas. Training involves the transfer of learning; Mentoring is helping someone with career development; Facilitation requires a content-neutral party to move a group’s work towards an outcome; Coaching is designed to improve performance and/or personal growth. Simon emphasized the importance of a coach’s role in providing positive reinforcement, having a mutual understanding, and identifying objectives together. A coach is there primarily to listen.


Ever heard of somatic movement? We found out by doing a group exercise. One group was told to share their happiest moment, while the other group was told not to pay attention to them and avoid eye contact. It was difficult not to show reaction to a person who was sharing with such enthusiasm! Then we switched. One group was told to share their saddest moment, while the other group was told to be empathetic and interested. Afterwards, we analyzed the difference in these experiences. We talked about the effect of body language in dialogue, cues in engagement and how to create a connection. Simon described somatic movement is when you follow and mimic someone by being attuned to them. Many shared examples from relationships at work or with clients that could be improved by understanding these techniques.



How does individual coaching work in real life? Simon conducted an intake session with our WIA volunteer, Leah Bayer, as those of us in the ‘audience’ observed quietly. Bayer was anxious, since she was in the midst of making a life-changing career decision, which she needed help with. First, Coach Simon asked her to close her eyes, stay grounded and relaxed, connecting to the earth. Taking a deep breath, Simon guided Bayer through her major decision. Bayer shared what she was worried about, and how the decision had not only frozen her, but was causing her to be ill. In response, Coach asked Bayer to picture herself making a ‘no’ decision, and imagine what that would feel like having made that choice, to which Bayer replied ‘suffocating.’ Contrastingly, Simon asked Bayer to think about how a ‘yes’ decision would make her feel afterwards, to which Bayer said ‘freedom,’ as her face beamed with happiness. Once the session was complete, we chimed in with advice for Bayer, respectfully and organically. It wasn’t a space for judgement, but rather for helpful suggestions. It certainly was brave for Bayer to open up in front of the group.


Any questions? We asked Simon about her coaching practice, how often to meet with a coach, how long each meeting is, and the type of advice that would be given. To conclude, Simon distributed a handout which guided us to work on our listening skills. She suggested that we practice paying attention to our daily communication with others, and to turn up our awareness around conversations. Via a journal method, we were asked to capture our dialogues, then reflect on those conversations on a daily basis for 3 weeks.


How did it end? The evening wrapped up on a positive note, with everyone feeling empowered; knowing we had learned about relationship skills, we had participated in softly coaching a colleague and we had shared an evening of empathy. We were nurturing, connected and transformed. It was what I hoped would happen when a group of architects came together in a circle. Magic!

A Collection of Thoughts on Self-Advocacy

This piece was written by Angshupriya Pathak, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, the 2018 Chair of WIA Silicon Valley as a reflection on self-advocacy and leadership.

While I have been struggling to complete this blog for months, I have also been reading Warren Bennis’ book, On Becoming a Leader. The following are a series of powerful questions Bennis explores in his book, along with my own introspective thoughts on self-advocacy, particularly within my career in architecture.

• What do you believe are the qualities of leadership?

It is easy to be an advocate for others, but being your own advocate is really, really hard. While you are trying to balance project deadlines with client demands and project team dynamics, your own professional-development needs can easily get lost under that pile of light fixture cutsheets and meeting agendas on your desk.

You have to keep asking for the training, the mentorship, the raise that you deserve. In today’s fast-paced, crazy crunch-mode world, if you don’t ask for all that is vital to your career growth, no one else will. Speaking up for yourself and continuing to do so, until heard, is essential to self-advocacy. It inspires others to do the same.

• What experiences were vital to your development?

Being told that women have a really hard time managing Construction Administration on-site, again and again. I kept asking for CA experience, again and again, until I was given a chance to work on the CA phase of a project. Even after that, when I realized I was being hindered from attending jobsite meetings, I insisted. You have to keep asking. If the answer is a repeated “no”, it is time to move on to more promising career avenues. I had several women tell me they were inspired by my decision to move on. Ultimately, you need to make the right decision for your career advancement. 

• What were the turning points in your life?

Attending a TED Talk Screening hosted by the WIA Silicon Valley Chapter. Making myself visible outside of the four walls of my workplace made me realize I was surrounded by a tribe of unstoppable women who shared my passion for equity in the profession. Immediately after, I started making myself visible in meetings by sitting at the table and not hovering at the fringes. I was experiencing the power of making myself visible. Trusting myself to “learn by doing”, I dived into the role of Vice Chair of the WIA. As Chair in 2018, I am excited to see how the future unfolds.

• What role has failure played in your life?

Failure is essential to growth. It is what keeps you mindful and grounded. You will make mistakes, it is inevitable. Owning the mistake is indicative of your willingness to fail and continue your learning. What is pivotal to your growth is how you take your learnings and move on.

I always thought I needed to complete milestones, get licensed, etc., before I would be deemed suitable for a promotion or a pay raise. Up until I joined the WIA, I did not comprehend the fallacy of waiting for things to come to me. Now I do not wait to pursue opportunities that inspire me, in the workplace as well as in my volunteer initiatives in the AIA Silicon Valley Chapter. The personal and professional growth I continue to experience is exponential to my urge to pursue opportunities that force me outside of my own box.   

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• How do you learn?

Humility is essential to learning. No matter what your role and position within your Firm or volunteer organization, you will always be surrounded by peers who bring diverse experiences and perspectives to the table. In the WIA Committee, all members bring their unique perspectives on equity, equality and diversity. Acknowledging and respecting all opinions is the first step toward problem solving.  

• Are there people in your life, or in general, whom you particularly admire?

The friend who nudged me on to attend ‘THE’ TED Talk Screening. She is a fellow-WIA committee member.  It is also how I forged relationship with my Mentor. Having a  Mentor is absolutely essential. You may be a good Student, but your potential can only blossom under the guidance of a good Teacher. A good Teacher will help you find your best self-advocating voice.

• What can organizations do to encourage or stifle leaders?

When an organization is not willing to recognize your areas of strength and keeps reminding you of your weaknesses, it is promoting the worker-bee culture. When Leaders at the helm of an organization are willing to let their employees steer the course, new Leaders are made. Transparency and communication is the norm in my current workplace. All employees are responsible for designing the course of their career paths with the guidance of Mentors and Firm Leaders. Everyone works together to ensure individual aspirations are encouraged and honed under the greater umbrella of the Firm’s strategic vision.


It is never too late to listen to your inner voice and find a way to express it.  The practice of self-advocacy might take you time.  However, once you start experiencing the power of making yourself heard, there is no stopping you.

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.
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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.

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: 

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