What Architects Look Like

Black turtle neck, horn rimmed glasses, khakis… such are the stereotypes of the Architect’s wardrobe. Yet nary is there a mention of physical attributes. Architects come in all shapes and sizes and all genders. What makes a great architect isn’t related to how they look. So why are most architects men and why is our office mostly woman?

“Women in Architecture” is a tag line that makes me bristle. Like “Women in Sports” or “Women in Engineering” – the assumption implicitly indicates that a woman doing these things is something unusual, atypical or special – as in most women are not capable.

Alix Daguin very clearly explains this sentiment below:

I was raised by single mother while she built her own company in ‘ a man’s world’. I went to an all-girls high school followed by a competitive coed Ivy League and played sports most my life to date. The past 7 generations in my family are restaurateurs; peer into a kitchen of your favorite restaurant and see what the man to woman ratio is there!

My thoughts concerning this subject is that I don’t think of myself as a woman architect, manager, entrepreneur, climber, performer, runner. I will not preoccupy myself with thinking about what is expected of my gender in these roles. It over complicates things and in the end, interferes with what I set out to do. I’ve seen and been privy to injustices related to sexism; and I would consider myself extremely, extremely, extremely lucky. I try to learn from these injustices and support my colleagues and friends.

Girls test higher than boys on STEM related tests but fewer women enter STEM fields. See this Atlantic article. Data clearly shows girls are capable. There is something else going on at a societal level. As a mother of two, I saw how in the early years of my children’s life, my career took a back seat to being mother. I also saw how as my children grew and my career ambitions grew, I was fortunate to have a spouse who shared equally in the household. I realize that at times he put his career in a holding pattern to allow my career and our family to flourish.

Alex Waterson a red dot studio consultant shared her thoughts on being a woman, soon to be mother and an architect:

I’ve been lucky enough to work mostly in architecture offices with a high percentage of woman architects. This may have been a subconscious decision on my part, but has definitely played a role in my self-reflection as a woman architect. Five years out of grad school, a queer woman, and only a couple months away from having my first baby, the next step in being a female architect has taken on a new meaning for me. I believe decisions on maternity leave and balancing care of children upon return-to-work are the primary reasons there are so many more male architects in leadership roles to date. Being a leader in architecture can be career demanding of time and energy, and with a young child to care for, it may be a challenge for me to jump right back in full-time 3 months postpartum. So, I still have to feel out that decision and figure out what feels right for my family when the time comes. Yet I have found myself surrounded by peers and mentors who are mom architects over the last few years, especially when I made the shift to working in primarily residential architecture. I am learning through example that being a mom architect can be a rewarding and wonderful path to pursue. I also see that the world is changing politically, that people care about equality and diversity. I believe that as my daughter grows up, she will see her two moms as examples of what it means to be a woman in the world, and that’s what matters most to me.

Red Dot Studio has a high proportion of woman on staff. Many are mothers, many are not. As an employer, we have a responsibility to allow our work force to care for their family – whether it be an elderly parent or a sick child. As family members, we have a responsibility to share equally in the making of our households. Gender equality is both a personal and community decision.