Girl UNinterrupted: The Boston Experiment
On Thursday, September 27, the young female designers behind the Girl UNinterrupted project presented their findings to a full and engaged room.
Zhanina Boyadzhieva Assoc. AIA and Juliet Chun AIA, both professionals at Leers Weinzapfel Associates, spoke about their research work—intensive survey outreach for quantitative data and intentional interviews with Boston-area architecture leaders—and its outcomes. Survey responses shed light on existing gaps—actual and perceived—that exist in the AEC working landscape in areas of pay equity, parental leave, career development opportunities and mentorship, and flexibility in work culture.
Following the presentation of their Boston-based research, Zhanina and Juliet moderated a conversation between area AEC professionals with a range of roles and career experience: Meg Gatza, director of operations, Bruner/Cott; Stephanie Herring Assoc. AIA, designer, Cambridge Seven Associates; Diana Nicklaus AIA, president and CEO, saam architecture; Jared Ramsdell AIA, associate, Touloukian Touloukian; and Jay Wickersham FAIA, 2018 BSA president and partner, Noble, Wickersham & Heart.
Topics of conversation ranged from identifying reasons why the workplace might be more competitive than nurturing (citing the intensity of studio culture in architecture school) to unlimited vacation time (a benefit of saam architecture) to how little or how much parental leave can mean. While each panelist had an individual perspective, all seemed to agree that top-down policy could be a major—if not the most major—shaper of workplace culture.
Still, it was clear that action from all angles could move the needle on issues of equity for professionals at all career points. After all, Girl UNinterrupted is a robust grassroots effort to investigate what equity and working life look like for designers today—and what they could look like, with better understanding and greater buy-in. While Girl UNinterrupted was born out of the Boston architecture community, Zhanina and Juliet have already begun to expand their research to other cities. And the lessons that the architecture world has learned alongside them can be easily translated to any profession in which people are striving for a more inclusive, livable, and equitable work life.