A woman’s place is… at the drawing table and on the job site

MIDDLEBURY — On the first morning of Efficiency Vermont’s recent Better Buildings by Design conference, I was energized by the enthusiastic chatter in the exhibit hall. After a few minutes I realized that the baritone hum was coming from an almost exclusively male presence, and it reminded me that a woman in the architecture and construction field is still somewhat of an oddity and definitely a minority. As “Me Too” has become part of our national conversation, I couldn’t help but think about my own experience as a woman and as an architect.
At the 2016 American Institute of Architects convention, four architects (who are women) presented the case that increasing the number of women in the field would benefit the field as a whole. They highlighted some startling statistics: Though nearly half (45 percent) of architecture graduates are women, women make up only about 25 percent of licensed architects. Even fewer (18 percent) are principals or partners in a firm. The panel noted that firms with three or more women on their board of directors tended to outperform those with fewer or no women; clearly a broader range of skills and leadership styles is ultimately more beneficial. So why the disconnect?
Breaking through the barriers of a male-dominated field isn’t easy. There were times when the centerfold pinup on the wall and I were the only two women in the construction job trailer. I have been in meetings when answers to my questions were directed not back to me but to Ashar, my male business partner. I have even been cornered in a trailer by a client’s representative and asked inappropriate questions about my personal life. Increasingly, though, I work with many men who genuinely respect my contributions to the planning, design and construction of a building project. And catcalls on a job site seem to be a thing of the past.
Of VIA’s 10 employees, half are women, including three of our four licensed architects. We are intentional about our collective support of women practitioners at all levels in our firm. As workplaces begin to meaningfully address equity in pay and flexibility for family care by both men and women, I predict that more women will follow through with their passion for architecture. I hope the 14 bright and attentive women in my current “Architecture and the Environment” course at Middlebury College will be among them. Architecture needs their point of view.
Andrea Murray is a principal architect at Vermont Integrated Architecture, P.C. in Middlebury.

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