Founder of the Month: Erin Olson-Douglas, AIA


Erin Olson Douglas  

Q:  Where do you work and what is your current role?

A:  I work for the City of Des Moines as an economic development coordinator. There are four of us that hold this position. We each bring a different set of experiences to a job that promotes development in the City and negotiates public incentives for private development. My role is to ensure that individual projects adhere to larger visions that we have for the city and that we get the best possible design and building quality in projects that receive public subsidy. I also have a family – I am married to a landscape architect that has his own small business and we have 3 young children.


Q:  Why did you choose the field of architecture?

A:  I chose architecture in high school. “Architect” showed up in a career exploration exercise w/ our guidance counselor. It seemed like a good combination of interests in arts and creative pursuits and more rigorous academics. I continue to choose architecture because it feels like a field where I can make a difference in the place where I live. Every day presents an opportunity to work on improving our place in the world in a real, tangible way.


Q:  How do you balance it all?

A:  Ha Ha! I don’t! I show up at work with snot on my shoulder and there are many nights that I fall asleep with my laptop still humming. I try to live in each moment and be present where ever I am – I try not to work on the weekends and I don’t live on my phone when I am at home. Conversely, I try to get totally absorbed in work when I am at the office. So, in one sense, I try to separate my home and work life. Yet, I do have a fair amount of flexibility at work. I often catch up on work in the early mornings and late evenings. I have always been a morning person and, now more than ever, I cherish early mornings – a time where I can squeeze in a workout or some personal emails or attend to a little work, (usually) uninterrupted.


Q:  What is the best advice you have received?

A:  You don’t regret the things you’ve done, you regret the things you didn’t do when you had the chance. This works for many situations – decisions big and small. It was influential in my decision to move halfway across the country and go to graduate school.


Q:  How has [the founding of] Iowa Women in Architecture influenced you?

A:  I have been surprised by the size of the iaWia community. I had no idea that there would be so many of us. And, I am impressed by the quality of the dialogue in our community. There is a wonderful camaraderie among new and old friends around the lofty goal that we are working to make long-term change for women in design fields and for the relevance of the profession …and that many of us have (or will) shown up at work with snot on our shoulder.


Q:  What would you like to see from Iowa Women in Architecture in the future?

A:  Sustained attention to issues that will keep more women in the design fields and grow meaningful careers for women. This will mean continually analyzing and evaluating what iaWia can do to help foster a better design culture. iaWia celebrations for new female firm principals and partners in firms around the state are something I would love to attend!

iaWia has already done a magnificent job of attracting females practicing in the design fields to our membership and to a number of the events and activities it has sponsored. I have been pleasantly surprised by our numbers; I hope others have been, too! I would like to see informal relationships grow from this network -- this takes time, but I think it's one of incredibly important byproducts of being active in iaWia. I know there have been times when career (and career-impacting) decision-making has felt a little lonely. The number of women involved with iaWia shows that there is really no reason for this. I would like to see the networking, mentoring, and friendships continue to grow over time so that when where we approach important junctures in our careers, we know there are others we can call upon to share experiences and glean from each other's wisdom.