Julia Gamolina is the Founder and Editor of Madame Architect, a platform dedicated to highlighting talented women from the world of architecture and advocating for greater equality in the profession. She is also a Business Developer at New York-based firm FXCollaborative.
As March comes to an end — and with it, the celebrations around International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month — I’ve been thinking about this month’s energy around highlighting women and their contributions to the architectural industry. Firms, publications, organizations and individuals all dedicated themselves to celebrating architects that are women, and women advancing the profession: those from centuries past, those making new waves, and the secret wings whose contributions need to be further recognized.
But what happens when March is over? Where does this energy go?
March’s fervor, support and efforts for advancement must continue. We must not, as Despina Stratigakos talked about in her Madame Architect interview, face historical amnesia again and again. In a recent podcast, Audrey Gelman, co-founder and CEO of the Wing, talked about a recent study that said it would take women 213 years to catch up to where men are professionally. With a gap like that, our commitment to women needs to deepen as we leave this “designated month.”
How do we accelerate our work? Based on what I’ve seen and heard this month, and on the 60 Madame Architect interviews I’ve published, I’d like to suggest a few ways forward.
1. More Frequent and More Varied Recognition and Rewards
The message young architects hear over and over again is that this career is a long one, that architects hit their stride in their 60s. The idea that a 20-something has to wait four decades to feel heard and seen, especially women, who already face extra challenges, is harmful for industry retention. No wonder many leave, family or no family.
I feel incredibly fulfilled in my career so far; it certainly helps that in addition to my responsibilities in professional practice, I publish an interview once a week. It means that, every week, I feel like I’ve accomplished something, put it out into the world, done so collaboratively, and had it recognized.
How do we implement a better system to recognize the milestones in between a career’s beginning and its apparent “peak”? First, celebrate everything you can during the design and construction phases of a project – the initial announcement, the groundbreaking, envelope finish, topping out — and do it with the whole project team, whether directly involved or not. Second, highlight strong performances for each part of the project. The Oscars are far from perfect, but I will point out that they feature best director, best actor, best actress, best supporting actor, best supporting actress. What is our equivalent?
While “lone geniuses” at the heads of firms are repeatedly profiled, firms and associations could be recognizing the technical directors, project managers, construction administrators, marketing staff and beyond for their critical roles in team success. The AIA’s New York Chapter, for example, acknowledges the various foci of those in the practice, but these honors don’t tend to make it into mainstream culture. Until they do, firms and other industry institutions can fill that recognition void – and better retain their talent in the process.
2. Profiling Women Within Your Own Community
Ever since I started Madame Architect, I’ve seen other grassroots efforts to amplify women and they seem to take one of two approaches: First, visuals of high profile designers or historical trailblazers , or second, women honoring women in their own communities. Both are important — but right now, the latter is more powerful.
Focusing on our trailblazers and predecessors is key, and key to do in academia, so that incoming young women can see that they have a foundation and a legacy from which they can build on — and that a career in this field has been possible for a long time. However, the highly circulated and mainstream publications already feature the high-profile women that have reached significant stature in the field – that I don’t see the point of grassroots efforts continuing to focus on those architects.
Currently, our representation skews to those that are already in the mainstream and featured by main media outlets. Countless women are making quiet but extraordinarily significant contributions that need to be amplified. In order to even the scale, let’s focus on these. I cannot stress more highly how much articles like “The Tallest Tower in the US is being Built by a Woman” and “A Tall Order”, both by Karrie Jacobs, are needed. Karrie really set a fantastic precedent for all of us. Madame Architect aims to do both, profiling all the women that are out there and all the career paths that are possible, in equal measure.
3. An Even Playing Field for Women and Men
Platforms dedicated to just women are necessary right now, because we first need to catch up and start closing the gap in publicity. However, I sometimes fear that grouping “women in architecture” can separate women, as though we are still a category unto ourselves and not in the mix. The next step to that would be to make sure that every list of award nominees, every competition jury and every discussion panel is 50/50, no matter the topic — half women and half men.
Both are important at the moment — special platforms for women, because we need this momentum, but also positions for women within groups of men, in conversations with men, in panels, in articles, in lists. Also, women can’t only be in articles simply because they are women — they should feature in articles about everything related to the profession, through the quality of their work, the strength of their expertise and the stories they have to tell.
March may be over, but the energy around recognizing and celebrating talented women in the field — the women that are here, now — should not be. Let’s honor, encourage, support, write about, award and pay the women that advance the practice of architecture, in every month that follows, and all the years after that. Let’s accelerate the consciousness and activity, quicken the rhythm of dedication, and see how the industry begins to change for the better.