Right Responses

WOMEN IN ARCHITECTUREWhat construction managers need to know about working with women architects.   

By Amy Hood 

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. 

Respecting Qualifications

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, designing environments that affect the key behaviors necessary to achieve strategic results for their clients in the workplace, higher education, industrial, retail and science markets. For more information, contact BHDP Architecture. Tel: (513) 271-1634. Website: www.bhdp.com.

 

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