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Emerging Leaders with Women in Design and Women Principals Group

Risk taking, lessons learned, and identifying what you would do if you weren’t afraid were just some of the topics touched on at the Emerging Leaders event jointly hosted by the Women in Design and Women Principals Group at BSA Space on June 6. The panel—comprising Laura Wernick AIA (HMFH Architects), Natasha Espada AIA (Leers Weinzapfel Associates), Angela Ward Hyatt AIA (Schwartz/Silver Architects), Emily Grandstaff-Rice AIA (Cambridge Seven Associates), and Laura Solano (Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates)—fielded questions and provided honest answers about what it takes to be a woman leader in the design profession. The audience, filled with close to 100 women of all experience levels, nodded along, took copious notes, and laughed out loud during the lively discussion.

Each panelist moderated a small breakout group. The topics were deep and wide ranging. Recent publications such as Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg and the Architectural Record article “Crashing the Boys’ Club” by Sarah Williams Goldhagen have called attention to the challenges that women face in senior-leadership positions, above and beyond the everyday project- and firm-management responsibilities. Maternity leave, work/life balance, unequal pay, and women’s tendencies to hold back on self-promotion were just some of the intense discussions that filled the room. Other conversations were less gender specific and touched on practical advice about how to be fair but firm with contractors during construction administration and strategies for how to negotiate a promotion.

As the evening wound down, it was evident that this was just the catalyst for many such conversations to come. Although the road to senior leadership has been paved by several truly talented and successful women in the design industry, there are still a number of road bumps to be overcome by those currently on the path to leadership. By talking about shared issues, putting the spotlight on the challenges and inequalities, we can work together to level the playing field and further strengthen the Boston design community.

Photo by Kat Hodge.