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BSA News

Jul 13, 2023

Robust Itinerary on Tap for Boston AIA Women’s Leadership Summit

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Women's Leadership Summit 2022.

Photo courtesy of AIA.

Since 2009, the AIA Women’s Leadership Summit has graced such cities as Chicago, San Jose, and Minneapolis, but this year it is returning home to its Boston roots—with an engaging agenda addressing the theme of equity in the context of society, design, and the workplace. The summit, which began with 150 attendees its first year, has attracted more than 700 attendees in recent years, with this year’s turnout expected to be one of the strongest ever. In addition to the keynotes, the summit will feature dozens of workshops, breakout sessions, and wellness tracks.

Agenda Highlights

The summit will be “about unique stories, racially and ethnically diverse women, and bringing in not only architects but also others who have a huge impact on the built environment,” says AIA President Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA, and this year’s agenda reflects that. Here are some highlights:

Keynote speakers. Inspirational speakers Melodie Yashar and Aurora James are among the impressive keynote speaker lineup. Yashar, vice president of design and performance at ICON, a construction technology company focused on large-scale additive manufacturing for Earth in space, will talk about designing life on Mars. Her projects Mars Ice House and Mars X-House were first-prize winners of NASA’s 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge in 2015 and 2018, respectively. James is the fashion designer who created the Brother Vellies line and the founder of the Fifteen Percent Pledge, a call to action for major retailers to commit 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. In this keynote, Grandstaff-Rice will join James in a one-on-one conversation, during which they’ll discuss the role of disruption as it relates to equity in the workplace, with a panel discussion to follow on racial and social justice, ethical manufacturing, and women leading in business.

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Audience and stage, Women's Leadership Summit 2022.

Photo courtesy of AIA.

Workshops. The workshops will cover topics that are directly relevant to the daily lives of architects. One 90-minute interactive workshop titled “From Leader to Owner: Demystifying the Path to Firm Acquisition” will educate aspiring entrepreneurs on a range of ownership issues, including professional development, firm acquisition and transitioning, and implementing an employee stock ownership plan, to name a few. “Something Is Missing: Solving the Midcareer Mentorship Gap” will highlight the benefits of midcareer mentorship, and another workshop will focus on what it means to be a woman in the AEC profession and what women can do about the stress, pressure, and unrealistic expectations.

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Conversation, Women's Leadership Summit 2022.

Photo courtesy of AIA.

Breakout sessions. The breakout sessions give attendees the opportunity to connect with other participants, think deeply about the topic at hand, and have thoughtful and engaging conversations. One session will explore how conscious leadership “enhances and expands an individual’s and an organization’s capacity to purposefully, intentionally create.” Inspired by the Women Life Freedom Movement in Iran, researcher and academic Zahra Rasti will host a breakout session focusing on how architecture and urban design can be powerful tools for promoting social justice. In another session, four women who founded award-winning firms will discuss what led them to start a firm, differentiators that propelled their practices, and how mentorship and sponsorship empowered supportive transitions.

Wellness activities. An evening of wellness activities will round out the first full day of the summit, and there will be a variety of early-morning activities to help jump-start the summit’s final day.

Not Just for Women

One obvious question: “Are men invited, and is the content relevant to them?”

Grandstaff-Rice reiterates that “all are welcome,” and Carole Wedge FAIA, former principal at Shepley Bulfinch and one of the original planners of the first summit, says: “I would love to figure out how to encourage men to come… particularly if they are in a position of leadership in their firm, if they’re hiring, if they’re thinking about how their firm goes forward—as many of the summit’s sessions will provide guidance on these topics.” Kelly Ard AIA, partner and president at designLAB architects, succinctly puts it this way: “There are issues addressed at the summit that are human issues—relevant to all—and there are issues in which we’re celebrating and lifting up really amazing and inspiring women leaders, and why should that be only exclusively inspiring to women? It should be inspiring to everybody.”

This year’s summit will be held September 12 to 14 at the Boston Sheraton Hotel at 39 Dalton Street (Google map). Visit the AIA website to see more of the summit’s agenda or to register. Don’t miss this amazing event!