The Focus on Adding Women in the Design Industry Marches On
The end of March marks the close of 2019’s Women’s History Month. As we reflect on a period dedicated to celebrating the influence of women in our society, I decided to sit down with some talented female design professionals at DLR Group to discuss their challenges, opportunities, and inspiration as women in design.
I learned early on in my career that taking charge and being assertive were key to managing many of the interactions we encounter in the design and construction industry. Thanks to societal expectations, these are traits that don’t always come naturally to women. What have you seen as either challenges or opportunities in your own experience as being a woman in your industry?
Amber Beverlin: To generalize, many of the women I work with have great organizational minds. There’s a way to approach situations that’s not linear by nature, and women seem to have the ability to do this well. I also believe many women are naturally very observant and reflective, skills that are especially relevant for DLR Group’s brand promise to elevate the human experience through design.
Audrey Koehn: I think women’s innate ability to multitask, be relational, and manage different personalities also allows for great opportunity in our industry. We can manage teams and lead our clients in a way that’s empowering. On the flip side, I think the biggest challenge women face in our industry (and any industry, for that matter) is our inability to fully own our successes. Humility in leadership is an extremely positive attribute, but if you don’t own your accomplishments, someone else will. We need to own the value we bring.
Jill Maltby: Confidence can often be a challenge. For me, it can be easy to support someone else, but it’s often more difficult to believe why others might support you.
Brooke Grammier: The tech industry is still somewhat “traditional” and because of this, women struggle to get into leadership positions. This can be particularly challenging if a firm isn’t willing to question traditional conceptions of what a tech leader should look like. DLR Group is unique in this way, in that our senior leadership recognizes the value in challenging traditional norms and have made intentional decisions to provide leadership opportunities for women in the firm.
DLR Group team in Denver, Colorado. Photo by The Unfound Door.
Traditionally, the AEC world has been led by men. I am excited about the unique opportunity we have to inspire the coming generation of female architects, engineers, and designers. What or who inspired you to pursue a career in your design?
Shona O’Dea: My dad was an engineer, and we would often talk through ideas – feasibility of a solution, the science behind how things worked – and I was always envious of how he could rationalize his ideas using physics to argue why they would work. So, I went on to study engineering and found I had a passion for sustainability. After that, I discovered energy modeling and I was hooked. I had found a way to advocate for sustainability in a data driven way.
Diana Brown: As a young student, I was interested in math and science and my mom really encouraged me to pursue them. She even introduced me to a family friend who worked in the engineering field, so I could learn more about what I might do professionally with these interests. I appreciate that she was always there encouraging me to pursue my passion.
DLR Group team in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Mark Davidson.
As a student, I loved math and art so becoming an architect seemed like an obvious choice. Understanding early on what made me tick helped me align my passions with a career path and has also led me to make decisions that have helped me become successful. What advice would you give to other women as they begin their professional endeavors?
Mary Wurst: Take as many opportunities as you can. Jump into your career by asking lots of questions and being willing to say yes to new opportunities. Doing so will allow you to dream big and see what your career can become, and hopefully, afford you the ability to ask for more flexibility as your personal life changes and grows.
DB: Girls aren’t always taught that it’s okay to take chances and fail. Failure is a way to learn to be better, and so I say take risks, even it means you might fail. One of the greatest accomplishments of my professional life has been getting my structural engineering license. When I first began pursuing my license, I wasn’t getting the mentorship and knowledge needed to pass the exam. Even though changing employers can be scary, I decided to quit my job and come work at DLR Group because I knew there would be opportunities to work on multiple project types and structural systems. And with the help of these experiences, I achieved my licensure goal. Regardless of where you’re at in your career, don’t be afraid to be a voice in the room. Speak up and share your knowledge. Don’t wait for others to give you permission to showcase your talents and expertise.
SO: Find your tribe of ambitious successful women and make sure to support each other. Read about gender in the workplace and understand how to advocate for your needs. Senior women need to elevate more women. We are more the same than we are different - it's ok to acknowledge our differences and celebrate them.
AB: Listen to those around you who have more experience. Seek out ways to grow and make note of the practices that hold you back. Speak up for yourself but also realize there will be times when it’s best to sit back and observe. There is always something to learn from every situation.
DLR Group team in Portland, Oregon. Photo by Kim Nguyen.
Part of a manager’s responsibility is to provide opportunities and create positions that support diversity in leadership roles. What other ways do you think we can we advance women’s leadership in our industry and beyond?
Rachel Chung: As the practice of design continues to evolve, technology will play an increasingly instrumental role in the future of our industry. To ensure the next generation of professional women can meet the changing technological demands of the AEC industry, and advance into leadership roles, we need to ensure STEAM and STEM play an integral part of the curricula and priority for girls and young women.
JM: Leading with empathy and understanding bias is key to moving the world forward, especially when it comes to advancing women in positions of power.
MW: By being flexible! Those of us who work in a field traditionally dominated by men are regularly measured against an outdated model of gendered expectations. Career advancement is often closely tied to a willingness to consistently put in long hours at the office, a lifestyle that’s simply not feasible (or desirable) for working women who also have families. Firms should be willing to accommodate varying schedules and offer choice in where and how we work. Luckily for the women at DLR Group, our firm supports this work-life-balance, which has made a crucial difference in working efficiently and being intrinsically motivated to elevate the human experience through design.
AK: We need to empower women to recognize and stand up for their worth. And we need to allow them to have a say in their careers. I once had a boss who accommodated my request not to be involved in business development activities (I am very much an introvert), and thanks to this I was able to focus my time and energy on developing my strengths, skills, and ultimately, my career path as a leader within DLR Group.
BG: I believe this starts with the younger generation. Both male and female senior leaders need to be identifying young women to grow and mentor in leadership. To me, it’s simple: if we each take an interest in mentoring young women, it will help to grow more women leaders in the future.
To continue the conversation with DLR Group, share your thoughts on any social media platform and tag #DLRGroupWomensDiscussion.