It’s no secret that the architecture industry is heavily male-dominated. Lets look at the facts: a study done by the Architectural Review found that men out-earn their female counterparts by 18% as full-time architects, with the number jumping to 31% more for men at the level of director, partner and principal. There are numerous other studies that nod in this direction; the Harvard Business Review found that women are more effective than men in senior leadership roles and a study by Dezeen found that women occupy just 10 per cent of the highest-ranking jobs at the world’s leading architecture firms, while 16 firms have no women at all in senior positions. While these stats are appalling, they aren’t abnormal in the architecture world and signal to the various reasons women lack confidence in male-dominated industries.
Featured Illustration by Leyla Reynolds
Women’s Day From a Female Architect’s Perspective
As the sole founder and president of Bortolotto, one of the top 15 design and architecture firms in Toronto, I have experienced a fair share of gender-based discrimination throughout my career. As Bortolotto celebrates 20 years this summer, I find myself reflecting on our journey as a female-led firm and the implications it has for the female architects of today. From learning how to be heard in the boardroom to mastering project bidding and networking in a room full of men, these are skills that I’ve had to hone from a steep learning curve of condescending comments and awkward conversations at the beginning of my career. I consciously made the decision to not have a male business partner and run the firm on my own terms, which I felt allowed me to better serve my city and clients with creative agency. We’ve come a long way– as we wrap up the design for the Rosalie Sharp Pavilion at Canada’s largest arts and design University, OCAD, and start planning the complete makeover for TD Bank’s Toronto flasgship branch, I am reminded of the times when winning big projects didn’t come so easily. I’ve spent almost 20 years working longer and harder to give Bortolotto a presence in Toronto, but my hope for the women in architecture today is that they are able to leverage the obstacles and experiences people like myself have overcome to their benefit and success in the future.
There is no secret sauce for success and every woman’s management style will be different, however I’ve witnessed a trend in characteristics that form the foundations of success for women in male-dominated industries.
Don’t always say yes
It’s natural to seek satisfaction and approval from potential clients or peers, especially when we want to win a project or get a promotion. We want to work hard to prove our worth and show that we can do equally as much as our male counterparts, but what we don’t realize is that by always saying ‘yes’ we are hurting our chances of success in the process. When we constantly have more work to do than we can manage, it becomes easy to burn out and fall behind, leaving little room for strategic planning and creativity along the way. Saying ‘no’ to work you can’t accommodate so you can master and conquer the work at hand is the real path to success because it shows the true extent of your abilities. The extensive thought and creativity that you put into current projects are often the key to showing what you can do and getting further in your career.
Leverage your strengths and experiences
As an architect I often come at challenges from a design perspective which requires a mind that not only thinks outside the box, but also can be eccentric, without conforming to the rules. Leverage the unique skills you bring to the table both as a woman and as an experienced architect without allowing yourself to feel inferior to those around you. Be confident in your knowledge and it will serve you well.
Learn how manage conflict
Not all men are used to women in power telling them what to do, which may result in conflict at some point in your career as you work your way up the ranks. Don’t allow yourself to be intimidated into backing down, but rather, make a strategic decision that is in the best interest of your work, career and in the relationships you must maintain.
Chase what you want, don’t wait for it be given to you
We have a tendency to work exceptionally hard and rightfully expect that we will get the projects we deserve, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Unfortunately decision-makers are busy and oftentimes the individuals who make what they want heard will get it. If you are clear with what you’re after and make it known, you will get a great share of the projects that you want.
I understand what it’s like to feel under-appreciated and under-valued as a young female architect, but don’t let it hold you back from conquering your career and getting what you want. As you put yourself out there and master your skills, you will find yourself doing amazing things and being recognized amongst peers, both male and female, that value what you have to bring to the table.