Women architects understand the challenges associated with their profession, but what makes it worse are the biases they encounter from a male-dominated discipline. While times are changing, women in architecture and construction have had to overcome reservations that their gender might in some way limit their knowledge, competence, expertise and creativity.
The challenges women in the industry face are not limited to the politics of the architectural office environment. They extend to construction sites as well. Here, their trials become even more complicated. The primary issue is not necessarily overt and unacceptable comments by just a few workers. Those occur less frequently as the industry learns to accept increasing numbers of women in a previously male-dominated world. The bigger problem involves a patronizing attitude and mindset from executives who mean well, but mistakenly feel that gender must be a factor in how they respond when the expertise they seek is rendered by a female representative.
Professionalism v. Gender
A New York Times article on this very subject sums up the quandary facing women architects. Its title: “I Am Not the Decorator.” The Oct. 2016 piece surveyed several female architects about the challenges they face, including those on construction jobsites. Among the responses were:
• “Every new jobsite means a contractor who will assume I am the assistant, decorator or intern.”
• “Many subcontractors seem very surprised when I give them solutions.”
• “Every single day I have to remind someone that I am, in fact, an architect.”
These experiences are not uncommon. Despite having the same educational credentials and proven-track record of working with clients as their male counterparts, some women find a pink hardhat waiting for them when they arrive at the job site (I happened to have been one of them). In addition, women with professional certifications have been called “baby” or “sweetie” by executives who should know better. Their comments and actions are not necessarily mean spirited, but they are patronizing — the ultimate denigration of the architect’s professionalism and expertise. They occur because some executives or managers think they should emphasize the obvious: the architect happens to be a woman.
Construction management requires an environment of professionalism on every jobsite and that environment includes the licensed architect. That means an individual’s contribution is based on expertise, personal conduct and people skills, and is recognized and accepted exclusive of gender, which neither requires nor deserves recognition.
The increase in women joining the ranks of architects presages more appearances on construction jobsites, which should make their presence less extraordinary for executives. The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards headquartered in Washington, D.C., reports that in 2016, “women accounted for 36 percent of newly licensed architects” and that “nearly two in five new architects are women.”
Architects, whether specializing in design or other disciplines, have undergone intensive study and experience before they can earn licensure. The NCARB reports that licensing of architects marks the culmination of more than 12 years of education and experience “from the time a student enrolls in school to the moment they receive the license.” Architects regardless of gender bring that experience and expertise along with creativity to the jobsite, and deserve respect for it.
At times, there may be a difference of opinion between the architect and executive over issues arising during construction. Women architects understand that they may have to handle resolution of such problems differently than their male counterparts. In a male-dominated environment, an “in-your-face” mentality is likely to be counterproductive especially if that attitude is expressed by a female. Yet the architect knows there will be times when she should stand her ground. When that happens, the challenge will be to state the case when necessary without being offensive. That’s good advice for both genders, but especially for women, who sense the pejoratives often associated with members of their sex who speak their minds. Diplomatic resolution is essential.
Build a professional relationship
Women architects understand the importance of looking past gender issues at the office and on construction sites. To move forward, construction management needs to develop productive working relationships with architects, regardless of whether the person on the other side of the table is a man or a woman. For those executives unaccustomed to dealing with the latter in an architect design capacity, consider the following suggestions:
1. Start with respect – Remember that standing across from you is a licensed professional who has spent years honing her design and other architectural skills.
2. Don’t be dismissive of her opinions – She is as much a professional as you are.
3. Don’t patronize – Please — no pink hardhats or affectionate terms such as “baby” or “sweetheart.”
4. Remember you’re on the same team – Construction management and architects bring so much to the table. Don’t allow awkward feelings about working with a woman architect to impede a project’s progress.
Regardless of the level of experience, architects and executives can learn from each other, especially when both recognize each other as knowledgeable professionals and treat one another with mutual respect. In that way, biases about gender should never get in the way.
Amy Hood, RA, LEED AP BD+C is a sustainability leader and senior architect with BHDP Architecture.
Originally published in Construction Today.
A Life Stage Strategy
Demographers like to uncover, classify, and name groups: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Millennials. It’s what they do. But it’s not what corporate real estate, human resources, and workplace design people do. We deal with living, breathing, changing organisms called organizations — made up of all kinds of individuals, juggling all kinds of life events, needs, and desires.
The “perfect” workplace would understand this and be able, via sensors and other technology, to “see” how employees are interacting with their environment, then be amenable to modification in close-to real time. (See: “The office experiment: Can science build the perfect workspace?”, from Nature, 2016)
We’re not there yet. But we do know that employees at certain stages of life have typical requirements and expectations of work, and face predictable work/life challenges. Some of the more obvious, according to Rowe of Fidelity, are single employees who want ways to socialize at and after work, or new mothers who have specific needs such as mother’s rooms. And, these life stages do not necessarily align with arbitrary generational groupings.
Here are five distinct, easily recognizable life stages of workers, with brief descriptions of each and a list of workplace characteristics:
These groupings shown above are functional, characterized by action, rather than assumed generational preferences. Five groups may be too few. The list doesn’t include non-traditional workers such as parents entering or re-entering the workplace after raising a family or those seeking the flexibility of part-time work because of other commitments.
It also important to remember that life stages don’t have to be linear progression. As Rowe of Fidelity points out, some parents of grown children may have grandchildren living in the home. They may have the needs of older employees closing in on retirement as well as a young family. The challenge for a truly successful life stage approach to workplace design is dedicating the necessary resources to identify and understand the typical life stages that exist uniquely in each organization.
Implications For Workplace Design
If we focus on employees according to their life stages, not their generations, what are the consequences for workplace design? First, flexibility and choice move to the fore. If you’re trying to create spaces that engage and empower people who are focused on everything from self-definition to balancing commitments (work, family, community) to workplace stability, environmental versatility is key.
Versatility doesn’t just mean providing different types of workstations and meeting spaces with various furniture configurations. It’s a business strategy that must be integrated across human resources, information technology, and operations.
The Perils Of Obsessing About Millennials
Because Millennials have been joining the workplace in force over the past 15 years, it’s natural for real estate and human resources professionals to focus on them. But, in addition to not being the optimal approach to workplace design, we think this emphasis on Millennials actually presents long-term organizational risks.
As we’ve noted above, the generational focus can obscure the fact that employees have lives, and life experiences influence how people engage at work. Also, fixating on one generational group has the danger of skewing workplace designs, making them more inflexible, and alienating other groups of employees in the process.
Consider the latest and greatest tech workplaces. We’ve all read the articles about the play areas and assortment of social spaces, the themed conference rooms, the gourmet cafeterias, the lavish perks, the design-your-own workstation, and work-from-where-you-want approach. (See this article.) There are a lot of good things happening in these spaces, especially all of the flexibility and data-driven elements. There are also limitations. These workplaces are built to recruit, retain, engage, and empower two primary kinds of employees: software engineers and ad sales people. They emphasize younger workers — how many 50-year-old software engineers do you know? And, they’re designed to capture and keep employees on site.
That’s fine when workers are primarily young, single, and interested in experimenting with their jobs and building a community at work. But what about 20 years from now when these same workers are more interested in stability and order and commitments outside of work such as family and community. How will these spaces work for them? And can they evolve as their workers do?
Our Research On Millennials
At BHDP, we realize that no matter how much we stress the importance of thinking about life stages, Millennials will still be a concern for our clients. After all, by 2020, they will account for half of the workforce. So, what did our research with undergraduates at the University of Cincinnati actually tell us about them and the key strategies for meeting their needs?
Common Ground In Workplace Design
While conducting our research to characterize Millennials, what struck us most was not how different they are from older generations of young people entering the workplace but how similar. They seek fulfillment at work, connection to a greater good, and a sense of community and collaboration, just as their parents did at that stage in life. Millennials may be more passionate and outspoken about these values, but those are difference of quantity, not of kind.
As Fidelity’s Rowe says, “With respect to designing spaces and amenities in the workplace, we observe that most individuals have the same essential priorities. They want places to collaborate, focus and socialize with colleagues. Flexibility and autonomy are universally important. Everyone loves an airy, naturally lit environment. They all want to learn, adapt and perform their best work.” Generational definitions can get in the way of this commonality.
Even the Millennials’ oft-noted familiarity with and immersion in communications, media, and digital technologies is hardly a unique generational trait. The rise of technology and the speed and ready access to information has impacted everyone, allowing all workers to stay connected like never before, unbounded by location. This is a fundamental change with huge consequences for the future of work. The rise of more agile, and mobile, workplaces — and the challenges and strategies for making them really function — will be the topic of our next article.
Donnelly is an architect, owner, and client leader with BHDP Architecture, headquartered in Cincinnati, OH. Established in 1937, BHDP designs environments that affect the key behaviors necessary to achieve strategic results for clients by thinking creatively, staying curious, fostering collaboration, and delivering excellence. Donnelly can be reached at [email protected].
Are your facilities planned around Millennials’ and their perceived workplace design preferences? If so, are there recognized benefits or downsides? Are you a Millennial? What do you think?
Originally published in Facility Executive.
November 6 2017 | 3:45 – 4:45
Corporations spend an average of $750/person on wellness initiatives and only achieve a 15% participation rate. Insurance and program costs continue to escalate faster than profits. For many companies this is the third largest expense and one that is unpredictable and out of control. The corporate journey to wellness faces challenges of multiple siloed stakeholders, complexity of options, C-suite disengagement and employee resistance. Tying this together into a coherent facility strategy makes the challenge even greater. In this presentation you will learn how Kaiser Permanente used a facility strategy as a catalyst for culture change and a means of connecting the different silos. You will also receive a workbook developed by more than 60 experts and stakeholders as a tool to take a company through its journey to total health.
- Discover how to connect the dots between the different stakeholder groups and an integrated facility strategy.
- Deepen your understanding of how to take a company through a comprehensive assessment and strategy narrative to develop their own road map to total health.
- Strengthen your ability to lead your organization through a process of discovery and to arrive at plan of action.