In celebration of women’s history month, we sat down with women from around the globe at CRTKL to discuss the intersections of their identity with their careers.
How has your experience as a woman shaped your career?
Preeti Mogali, Dubai: I started my career in a world where more equality in the workplace, at least in terms of responsibilities and finances, was already in discussion. I had the opportunity to benefit from an environment that was becoming more favorable to women. In a place like the UAE, talent and hard work hold more value than gender, and a lack of bias helped me aim high. As architecture is a male-dominated industry, you are often the only woman in the room, so you need to be more confident and more eloquent to be seen. If anything, being a woman has been an advantage in growing my career and opened doors that would not be in the picture just fifteen years ago.
Risha Na, Beijing: There are a few dimensions to being a woman architect: ways of thinking, ways of knowing and ways of experiencing. In terms of ways of thinking, as a woman, we may be better at integrating analysis and intuitive thinking, which helps me understand reality in the moment without logic and analysis – which is strongly tied to emotions, but, at the same time, analyzing all the data and information related to the reality itself to get the nature and make the decision.
For ways of knowing, we’re looking at things from a very technical perspective of how it has been created – we’re more apt to see the materials and styles in a more pronounced way and have an appreciative perspective to notice the subtleties of the unique style.
And in ways of experiencing, we can be more emotional about the subtle details and more interested in understanding the depths of being. All these ways of seeing the world shaped the ways of my working life.
Federica Buricco, London: I don’t think that being a woman particularly helped or got in the way of my career, but I am glad that there are more and more women in the industry. When designing new places, it is important to include as many perspectives as possible and the process should be inclusive
Camila Simas, Chicago: I was always fascinated by the rare female figures within the architectural world. They taught me that, as a woman, we see the world in a different lens — and the minority issue was not about them outnumbering us, but the narrow-mindedness of the industry not willing to accept different practices. I took this lesson as a mantra throughout my career: to not doubt myself just because what I say might not resonate, but believe that, through continually not molding a world to mine, one day it will not contrast!
What is the importance of moving “beyond bias”? How can we do this in the workplace?
Sarah Holstedt, Seattle: When we have more diversified team members, different questions are asked — which bring to light new and important solutions. Having more voices and more lived experiences represented at all levels and stages of the design process means that we are likely to have considered more ways that the design is going to impact its end users.
We may see a wider variety of community connections, business development opportunities, etc. because there are simply more social circles/affinity groups represented.
Risha: Diversity has been shown to foster creativity and innovation: a diverse workforce is an innovative workforce. Men and women will inevitably have different experiences and backgrounds, which shape their approach to business.
Especially in our industry, we need some big-picture perspective on strategies, while also using a microcosmic angle of design, to fulfill the whole storyboard: being sensitive to colors, proportions and materials; leaning on history and imagining the future. Regardless of gender, race, religion, age and culture, we need diversity.
Challenging each other and collaborating with people who think differently can breed creativity and promote the innovative ideas that push teams forward.
Federica: Fighting conscious or unconscious bias requires a big shift in mentality that utilizes education and facts, but also emphasizes empathy and tolerance.
Preeti: At CRTKL particularly, it feels like the bias is limited since a lot of our senior leadership is female. This is truly inspiring and motivates our generation. Generally, in the workplace, the ability to do the job and excel should hold precedence over role, rank and gender — and it applies to everyone, not just women. If this open-mindedness is encouraged through the right communication and support of our senior leadership, the bias should someday be non-existent.
Camila: We need to bring awareness to the fact that we, as women, might have a different way of conducting the business or a new leadership style, but it is not a question of right and wrong — it is just different from the predominant male universe that we’re used to.
How have you been inspired, within our industry, to support gender equality? What advice would you give your younger self?
Federica: Being an urban designer makes you aware of the issues of our cities – which have not been designed for women: certain areas are more unsafe than others; sometimes sidewalks are too narrow to move around with walkers, strollers or wheelchairs; often, there are not enough public toilets or places to rest or breastfeed. I am glad that I can work in an environment that values these important aspects.
My younger self would be surprised and proud of where I am, I think. I would tell her to be prepared to be flexible, enjoy challenges and work hard
Preeti: I am of the belief that we support talent, despite gender. As gender is increasingly becoming fluid, the discussion should not be limited to empowering women, it should be about empowering everyone who needs to be. There was a time that women were overlooked and politics in the workplace came into play, but, today, we are shining — if not dominating — most industries. We don’t need to be empowered; we are empowered. Now, we need to help someone else who needs to be elevated the same way we were by strong women who broke barriers in the past, so we see a better future.
I would tell a younger version of myself to be a sponge: absorb all the knowledge of everyone around you and really listen, because the only shortcuts in life are through other people’s experiences. The rest is hard work — and the enthusiasm to grow and learn at least one new thing every day.
Risha: I do not like to be called a female architect – it gives you a stamp that doesn’t help you get further within the male-dominated architectural industry. What we call ourselves should emphasize our profession and skills. Gender or age doesn’t matter here: we have the same opportunities to speak up and there is no difference at all in capability.
I am still full of passion, hold the commitment and have a vision and tenacity for this career. I would tell my younger self a few things:
First, being an architect really is a marathon, not a sprint. Try to slow down and savor every experience life has to offer. Have patience in the long term for that big goal that you have while you execute your small goals daily. ‘Macro patience, Micro speed.’
Second, is a Herman Hesse quote from Siddhartha: “When someone is seeking… it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything… because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal.”
Finally, don’t be scared to fail — believe in yourself! Discover your inner strength and realize who you really are. Get as much experience as possible.