AIA Women's Leadership Summit

Bethany Jordan, a Iowa Women in Architecture member based in Cedar Rapids, attended the AIA Women's Leadership Summit in Seattle.  Read on to learn what the summit covered and what Bethany had to share.   

I recently attended the AIA Women's Leadership Summit for the first time. It was a truly engaging experience. The host city, Seattle, Washington is an amazing place with inspiring atmosphere. The keynote presentations, sessions and lunch discussions were informative and motivating. I come back primed to have discussion and create change. Here are a few things I’ve learned.Image 4

We’ve made good progress since the first Women’s Leadership Summit in 2009. Kate Schwennsen, FAIA, wants us to keep pushing forward. Since 2009:

  • Female architecture students up 10%
  • Women architecture faculty up 38%
  • Licensed women architects up 10%

While promising, it’s not far enough. Key issues we must keep pushing for improvement within the profession are:

  • The pay gap widens with experience
  • Culture of over-work has not improved enough
  • Reasonable parental leave
  • Women in leadership positions
  • Re-defining success so it’s not based on seat time

Charlotte Bunch said “You can’t just add women and stir.” Schwennsen closed by encouraging us all to “keep stirring.”

Courtney Martin, author and entrepreneur, lead a spirited talk on why women leave the profession. Reasons included: workplace culture, isolation, reproduction, punishing schedules, and career advancement. Martin, who is married to an architect, shared a slide that I found particularly heartening titled “Sh*t not to feel bad about, (from an outside, rational opinion)” and stated we should not be discouraged that we are not licensed or that we’re not working constantly - the system is broken, not us.

How we can change this:

  • Be yourself, kill the myth of meritocracy
  • Correct for your own socialization: we were raised with inequality, don’t perpetuate it unknowingly
  • Bring all women to the table, make conversation: older women need to share experiences with younger women
  • Motivate people through humor
  • Stay in for the long haul, change takes time

Martin encouraged us to be as visionary about our careers, as we are with the buildings we create.

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The best thing I am taking back from the Summit is intangible – the connections I’ve made with many amazing women, all of whom I hope to see again. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the support from my office leadership to attend the convention. Because of that, I can now share the knowledge of 325+ women. The next AIA Women’s Leadership Summit is in Washington, D.C. I hope to see you there!


Bethany A. Jordan, Assoc. AIA, Shive-Hattery

Things (and people) you should check out:

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