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Everyone Has a Design Voice

Catherine Meng

At DLR Group we like to say, “Everyone has a design voice.” However, as both a woman and person of color, I am also very aware that some voices are still outnumbered by others. Although our profession continues to make strides in diversity and equity, the statistics are clear: according to the American Institute of Architects 2018 Firm Survey Report, the share of women architecture staff at firms is approximately 35 percent, while that of minorities is only 27 percent.

Catherine Meng and Taryn Kinney sit in a small room with microphones on the table in front of them
Meng interviews Principal Taryn Kinney, AIA, LEED AP, on change leadership.

Much has been previously written (here, here, and here) about the state of women in our profession. But rather than simply wondering where are all the women in architecture, I wanted to take action. And so, the Design Voice Podcast was born through support from a DLR Group Personal Development Grant. I started the podcast to elevate and amplify the voices of women in the architecture, engineering, and construction professions. Each episode features honest conversations with women who shape the built environment, unique takes on the state of the profession, stories of career journeys, and more. The podcast medium allows my guests to share experiences in their own voices directly with listeners, in a more intimate manner than through other text-based online or printed platforms.

Since launching the podcast last spring, I’ve published 23 episodes. I have interviewed two women from DLR Group, but the majority of my guests have been from different AEC firms of varying sizes from across the country. From Margaret Cavenagh at Studio Gang, to Wanda Lau of ARCHITECT magazine, to Pascale Sablan of S9 Architecture, to Dean Jennifer Wolch of the College of Environmental Design at the University of California, Berkeley, the podcast aims to showcase a diverse range of professional and life experiences. My guests and I have had conversations spanning a wide array of topics, including the latest trends in education design, career advice for young professionals, the difficulties of pumping breast milk at work, and everything in between. Since the beginning, I have striven to balance celebrating the achievements of the many women who are making valuable contributions to our profession every day, yet to also acknowledge that systemic issues around gender and race still have a deep impact on our profession.

Although I am the podcast host and editor, the show is not about me or my own work. To me, this is the crux of podcasting – to help others share their stories, highlight their accomplishments, and to listen to their ambitions and passions. This may seem contrary to the competitive nature of professional practice, where a healthy dose of self-promotion is required for winning work, where many firms vie for the same projects, and where the term “starchitect” still continues to dominate public thinking around our profession.  However, I have found that there is much to be gained by looking beyond myself, my own firm, and my immediate network to elevate the stories of others. We need to hear from people who have had different personal backgrounds and career paths from ourselves, who may have alternate definitions of success, whose impact on the built environment is distinctive from our own. I always end each episode the same way. I ask each guest to give a shout-out to someone who has been a great mentor to them. In this way, each episode is no longer just about the interviewee, but also about the important influences and inspirations in their lives.

Just as our work in the AEC industry is almost always a collaborative process with the input from countless individuals and groups, so too should our narratives be represented by a multitude of voices, each one contributing to an overall, better understanding of our profession. We need to hear all these voices because it helps us find our own.

You can listen to all the shows at DesignVoicePodcast.com.

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