Monday, March 21, 2011

More thoughts on gender and the architectural profession

I posted recently on how/if/when I've ever been treated differently in my job and career based on my gender. I and at least one of the commentors made the point that working hard and being really good at your job generally overshadows any gender difference. Being experienced and knowledgeable about how to put a building together or knowing what codes apply in a certain building type is what pushes you farther in your career. As I've mentioned here before (and as D commented in the last post), architecture pays you for your experience, not your degree. With the experience and the knowledge (plus the ability to relate to others and have good working relationships with clients, consultants, and colleagues), you can go as far as you like for the most part.

When I'm not practicing architecture or maintaining a blog, I teach a communication class here in Colorado. While the class is aimed at women, the skills I teach are unisex and useful regardless of age, gender, nationality, etc. The women I teach in this class generally range in age from 18 to mid-60s, and they're all interesting and wonderful people, and frankly I learn as much from them as they do from me. (Hope they don't feel conned by that.) I remember in one class, as I was discussing the importance of mindfulness in communication, a twenty-something African-American woman spoke up:

"I grew up here in Colorado," she explained. "When I went to visit a black friend in Chicago, we went shopping, and I mentioned how nice it was that the salespeople were always nearby if I needed some help. My friend was all, 'Girl, they aren't here because they wanna help--they're makin' sure we don't shoplift anything!' It never occurred to me, growing up in a nice neighborhood in Highlands Ranch where everyone taught their kids that everyone was equal, that someone might think I was gonna steal something based on the color of my skin. I was blown away that people still thought that way."

The reason I bring up this young woman's astute comment is that it highlights a concern I have for the Millennial Generation, of which many interns are a part. Many Millennials (and some Generation X folks as well) have been raised to be color blind, gender blind, orientation blind, age blind, and so on, and I think that bodes well for our society and culture. But there are still people out there who do see color or gender or orientation or a foreign accent as an excuse to exclude or treat with less respect, and I fear that like the bright young woman in my class, you might miss it if it happens to you. Being able to tell when you've been disrespected based on some superficial trait, like race or gender, is helpful because it guides you to right action. It doesn't mean you have to make a court case out of it (unless you want to because the infraction was so egregious), but rather it means you know when the problem is something you can fix versus something you can't. If you're being treated differently because you're not performing up to a standard, that's something you can fix. But if you're being treated differently because you're not white or not a guy (or as D mentioned, if you're not at least 40 years old), then you know there's really only so much you can do.

There are schmucky people still out there, making judgments about us based on our color, gender, age, accent, orientation, or political bent. And sadly, these things rarely if ever actually affect the way we do our jobs or how we work on a project, yet we might get judged on that: "Of course he missed that detail--didn't you see that red state bumper sticker on his car at the job site?" "Well, I'm not surprised that she didn't know that part of the code, it was too much for her pretty little head to think about." "Well, did you expect anything less than shoddy work from one of these texting, iPodding kids?" When I go out to a client meeting or a jobsite, I'm representing my firm. Anything I do or say reflects well or poorly on the firm for which I work. But I'm also representing a bunch of other groups: white people, women, short people (I'm not kidding), my political leanings (though I try very hard not to talk politics at work), Southerners (I'm originally from Georgia and have been known to use the word "y'all" in an email), and so on. I know that anything I say or do also can reflect on whatever particular group of which I'm a member. But my goal is to obliterate the perception of group and bring it back to the task at hand. My goal is to be so good at my job that it becomes the only thing upon which someone could base a judgment, and I urge you all to do the same.

If you have a topic you'd like to see discussed here or a question you'd like to ask, feel free to let me know in the comments or via email in the sidebar. Thanks!

1 comment:

  1. Lulu, I'm glad to see this topic discussed here, as it's been on my mind all through out architecture school. I do feel like I had to work harder to pick up on my technical skills in order to measure up to most of the guys. But as I'm about to graduate with my B.Arch and as I'm thinking about my career, looking at firms, etc, I've found a concerning pattern: I know of very few women who actually have their own practice, or are at least one of the principals of a firm. Additionally, I know of even less non-white women in such positions. I'm not sure why that is, and maybe you can elaborate on that a bit, but I sure hope this trend changes...soon.