What actions can we take to reshape our discipline? Part two of Lori Brown’s essay outlines four case studies from other disciplines that offer much insight into how we might change our own profession.

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As I demonstrated in part one of this essay, our architectural system perpetuates a strong disciplinary identity and guards against any change – especially in terms of changes to economic and social relations where the alternatives may be problematic for those administering power as well as those benefitting from it. Architecture is not alone is this, and questions of equity in architecture are tightly embedded in broader social and political contexts.

Given this, how we might dramatically alter our discipline to ensure equity? Can we discover other ways to promote equity within architecture? How do we advance and evolve our profession? There are very few current successful, sustainable mentoring and support models for women within architecture, but I have found inspiring models outside of our field. There is much to gain and emulate from these groups.

These include organised mentorship and educational outreach endeavours, which are increasing the numbers of young women in other male-dominated disciplines. Many of these groups use laterally structured practices combined with creative and inspired educational programming.

I will discuss four examples below, which indicate the potential we have to impact the future of our discipline, how we practice and who can succeed.


Shesays is a multi-faceted organisation working to support, mentor and help women reach top positions in creative and marketing businesses. They began over seven years ago and are now located around the globe – London, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, to Toronto, Sydney, Melbourne, Scotland and Chicago.

The diversity and range of programming Shesays provides is impressive. Some of their programming generates revenue, so they are able to support a staff of two to three people full-time and a few paid intern positions. Examples of their programming include events where successful women in the industry discuss their experiences and “The Golden Stilettos”, which award women who have made it on their own tenacity and hard work.

Shesays also runs job placement and recruitment services, educational courses taught by award-winning professionals for people to hone or learn new skills, informal mentoring, and a collaborative online platform to work on real jobs through SHOUT. This is a radical new way for women to collaborate and get paid. Current calls for design are listed on their site with deadline and amount you may earn; some are by invitation only and others are open call. Their community votes on the submissions and if your design is selected you will be paid as well as the second and third runners up. We were so inspired by this service that we used this resource for ArchiteXX’s own branding and identity.

Yale Law Women

Yale Law Women is a student-board organisation is run by eight women.

“Yale Law Women works to advance the status of women at the Yale Law School and in the profession at large. To realise this mission, we create programming, resources, and mentorship opportunities to bolster women’s pursuit of their professional and personal goals. YLW is a non-partisan organisation committed to building a supportive community of women at Yale Law School and beyond.”

YLW is utterly inspiring and tireless in its efforts. The scope of its work includes a summer mentorship program, classroom guidance, time management skills, woman to woman mentorship, student publication guidelines, class outline banks, connecting students with female professors, advocacy including Title IX and an Omnibuds program for the law school, and lastly the highly publicised annual Top Ten family friendly law firms.1 Imagine if architecture students were able to be as proactive!

YLW is also committed to changing law school educational dynamics and creating more equity in the classroom. In 2002, using the Yale Law School’s research on gender dynamics in the classroom during the 1980s and 1990s, YLW published Yale Law School Faculty and Students Speak About Gender: A Report on Faculty-Student Relations at Yale Law School. Ten years later YLW revisited this to determine how things have progressed. Through one-on-one hour-long interviews with faculty members, observations of student participation rates in 113 class sessions, and nearly 400 anonymous student survey responses, YLW created recommendations for students, faculty and the administration.

Probably the most talked-about YLW effort is their annual Top Ten Family Friendly Law Firms list. YLW are interested in firms that are “deconstructing gender stereotypes of ‘bread-winner’ and ‘care-giver’ by creating ‘family friendly’ options to attorneys of both genders on equal terms.” They use the industry standard top 100 law firms and their HR departments to conduct their survey and all responses remain confidential. They seek to educate both the firms and students about current practices to help produce change and to promote those firms with fairer practices. They highlight part-time/flex-time, maximum hours worked per week and family care policies (including child care either on-site or back-up services and family leave) as well as leadership and promotion rates.

Quoting from their site:

“Yale Law Women produces its annual Top Ten Family Firms report to raise awareness of gender disparities within the legal profession as well as to highlight progress and innovative solutions. We believe that the legal industry is capable of making major strides to improve the experiences of women and men attorneys alike. That improvement hinges on careful attention to utilization in addition to availability of family-friendly policies.”

The WAGE Project

On June 10, 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act.

“This prohibits arbitrary discrimination against women in the payment of wages. This act represents many years of effort by labor, management, and several private organisations unassociated with labor or management, to call attention to the unconscionable practice of paying female employees less wages than male employees for the same job. This measure adds to our laws another structure basic to democracy… While much remains to be done to achieve full equality of economic opportunity–for the average woman worker earns only 60 percent of the average wage for men – this legislation is a significant step forward.”2

Fast forward over 50 years and women now make on average 77 cents / $1 if you are white, 69 cents / $1 if you are a black woman and 57 cents / $1 if you are a Latina woman.3 According to a 2012 study by the American Association of University Women, when one compounds this across a lifetime a college-educated woman working full-time earns half a million to a million dollars LESS than her male peers. Less money means more limited choices. And the “pay gap only grows larger as women spend more years in the workforce.”4

One of the primary reasons for the wage gap is that women do not negotiate. Studies conducted by Babcock, Lashever, Gelfand and Small found that starting salaries of recent Carnegie Mellon male MBA’s was 7.6% higher than the women. This was because the women simply accepted the initial offer – only 7% of women attempted to negotiate, where 57% of their male counterparts did. That it, eight times as many men as women had asked for more money.5

Founded by Evelyn Murphy, Phd economist and first female Lieutenant Governor for Massachusetts, The WAGE Project describes itself as having been established for one purpose: “to end discrimination against women in the American workplace in the near future. To do that, WAGE inspires and helps working women to take the steps needed so that every woman is paid what she’s worth. The WAGE Project is the means by which women get from earning 77 cents to earning $1 for every $1 men earn. Our nickname, WAGE, reminds us of the goal we pursue: Women Are Getting Even.”6

The WAGE Project provides workshops for college students and for women in the workforce to become aware about the wage gap – how and why it happens, how to benchmark one’s salary and target one’s value and how to negotiate for this value. The college workshop discusses benefits, explains cost of living and budgeting, determines what one’s minimum salary needs to be accept a job, and teaches students how to research, get the information and be prepared to negotiate through a role play at the end followed with a de-briefing.

From 2009 to 2011 the Wage Project has delivered more than 230 workshops at 165 colleges, universities and other sites across the country. They have a presence in 44 states with more than 700 facilitators. I organised workshops for both my own academic institution at Syracuse University as well as for ArchiteXX in New York. Both events were tremendously successful and informative. All left feeling angered, aware and empowered to go out and negotiate more successfully for one’s actual value.

Girls Who Code

Girls Who Code, GWC, is an organisation taking on another hugely male discipline – computer programming.

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Their mission is “to educate, inspire, and equip young women with the skills and resources to pursue academic and career opportunities in computing fields.” Their vision is to “reach gender parity in computing fields. [They] believe this is paramount to ensure the economic prosperity of women, families, and communities across the globe, and to equip citizens with the 21st century tools for innovation and social change. [They] believe that more girls exposed to computer science at a young age will lead to more women working in the technology and engineering fields.”7 Computing is an ever-expanding field with a predicted 1.4 million computer specialist job openings by 2020 (according to the U.S. Department of Labor). GWC seek to bring many more young women into this field. In order to reach gender parity by 2020, women must fill half of these positions. This means that 4.6 million adolescent girls will require some form of exposure to computer science education to realise gender parity.

The GWC educational Summer Immersion Program is an excellent model that empowers young girls through skill building and design projects. An innovative pedagogical model, the program pairs 300+ hours “of intensive instruction in robotics, web design, and mobile development with engaging, career-focused mentorship and exposure led by the industry’s top female entrepreneurs and engineers.”8 Students are educated in areas including computer science, robotics, algorithms, web design and mobile development as well as being mentored by some of the top female executives, entrepreneurs and engineers working today.

The final project provides an opportunity for the students to apply the skills they have learned to real world problems they are interested and motivated by. The results are far-ranging in scope and scale. From designing a mobile application for mobility-challenged New Yorkers to better navigate the city, to helping book clubs begin across the country through a twitter-based platform, as well as helping ESL students learn and meet others online through the design of a web application. And what is even more powerful and has compounding positive affects is that often once the program is completed, many of these young girls will return to their schools to start Girls Who Code computer science clubs.

Conclusion – what is the take away?

These case studies provide a plethora of great ideas.  We can no longer remain disciplined by our “discipline’s identities”. We must hold design practices more accountable to fair and inclusive work policies. Why haven’t we seen a top 10 family friendly architectural firms for upcoming graduates or those looking to change jobs? As has been put into practice by other disciplines, lets seriously begin to make change.

Educate and train our students differently for a trickle up effect to occur
  • If educational demographics can change, then so can professional demographics
  • Based on what I was hearing at the book events and since, students are lead to believe the discipline is structured one way but once they graduate and enter into it, they are shocked to realise a completely different reality.
Educate and train firm leadership about the positive impacts work equity has for the greater collective

The Beverly Willis Architectural Foundation is working with industry leaders, educating them about why having more women as a part of upper-level-leadership on design teams is important. Many client companies are also beginning to demand this.

Restructure the workplace
  • Create more transparency in salaries
  • Create alternative firm organisational structures
  • Push needs to occur from both supply + demand side
  • Fair work policies are good for everyone

The more we talk about these issues publicly with men and women alike, the more quickly things will change. Karen Burns notes in her March 2012 essay “Women in Architecture” that a UK government-commissioned report on women on corporate boards concluded “Evidence suggests that companies with a strong female representation at board and top management level perform better than those without and that gender diverse boards have a positive impact on performance.”

Dare we conclude that women make businesses more successful?!

As Leslie Kanes Weisman writes in her article “Diversity by Design: Feminist Reflections on the Future of Architectural Education and Practice:”

How can an architectural education [and by extension the discipline] that continues to define professional expertise in relation to the history of white, heterosexual, Euro-American male consciousness prepare students to function as effective professionals in pluralistic communities? How will students be sensitised to “difference” when they are encouraged to suppress their own gender, race, and class identities in the process of becoming “professional”?9

We must evolve, now!

  1. Discussion with Yale Law Women Chair Lauren Hartz, February 28, 2013, at the ArchiteXX meeting in New York City.[]
  2. John F. Kennedy, Remarks Upon Signing the Equal Pay Act, June 10, 1963, The American Presidency Project, accessed May 23, 2013.[]
  3. Jessica Bennett, “How to Attack the Gender Wage Gap? Speak Up,” New York Times, December 15, 2012, accessed May 23, 2013.[]
  4. Christine Corbett and Catherine Hill, “Graduating to a Pay Gap Earnings of Women and Men One Year After College Graduation,” AAUW American Associate of University Women, October 2012, 5.[]
  5. Linda Babcock, Sara Laschever, Michele Gelfand and Deborah Small, “Nice Girls Don’t Ask,” Harvard Business Review October 2003, accessed May 23, 2013.[]
  6. “What is WAGE? WAGE Women Are Getting Even”, accessed May 22, 2013.[]
  7. http://girlswhocode.com/about-us/”>Our Mission + Values” accessed June 20, 2014.[]
  8. Summer Immersion Program,” accessed June 20, 2014.[]
  9. Leslie Kanes Weisman, “Diversity by Design: Feminist Reflections on the Future of Architectural Education and Practice,” in Sex of Architecture, eds. Diana Agrest, Patricia Conway, and Leslie Kanes Weisman (New York:  Harry N. Abrams, 1996), 279.[]