Thumbing through Architecture 101: From Frank Gehry to Ziggurats, an Essential Guide to Building Styles and Materials, readers will spot dozens of famous names: Frank Lloyd Wright, Henry Hobson Richardson, Norman Foster, Louis Henry Sullivan. Noticeably absent from the pages are female architects.
Until 1972, at the advent of Title IX, most architecture schools refused to admit female students. Now, enrollment is up for female students at the School of Architecture at Oklahoma State University. Recently, the AIA Eastern Oklahoma – Women in Design group contacted the School of Architecture at Oklahoma State University to find out more about the mix of students enrolled within the architecture program. They learned that the first year of a new class at the School of Architecture at Oklahoma State University had twenty-five male students and twenty-four female students; by the fifth year, only sixteen men and twelve women remained, meaning 50% of the female students left the program. However, studies show that both men and women change majors because of the time, money, and workload required to receive their Bachelor of Architecture, not because of gender-specific reasons. In fact, seventy-one percent of male and female respondents in the 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey believe their schooling adequately prepared them well for their career, including courses in design thinking and construction methods indicating that the disparity between males and females working in the profession typically happens post-graduation, not during schooling.
The disparity continues once intern architects enter the workforce. Only 35% of Associate AIA members are women, and just 18% of AIA members (licensed architects) are women. Of the top 100 biggest architecture firms in the world, only three are led by female CEOs, and sixteen of the firms have no women at all in senior positions.
Women at SGA Design Group
Drawings, coffee cups, and framed photos of family members and pets dot the desks of the SGA Design Group staff. Throughout the Tulsa, OK and Bentonville, AR offices of SGA, women are drafting, designing, preparing proposals, and leading meetings, the same work their male colleagues are doing.
“Gender is not a consideration at SGA,” says Sherry Volberding, HR Business Partner. “We look for the most qualified candidates that will add value to our firm and our clients.”
The women at SGA Design Group agree that, even though the architecture profession is still male-dominated, both genders have to work hard and prove themselves to earn opportunities within the firm.
“Our primary focus is to serve the client. The opportunity is available to everyone to deliver on exceptional quality and service,” says Shekoofah Khedri, an Associate at SGA Design Group and member of the American Institute of Architects. “I’ve never felt like I had to prove myself more in the office than anyone else has to.”
Since its founding in 1995, SGA Design Group has worked diligently to create a culture and environment that optimizes its employees’ skills, providing its clients with high-caliber talent and unparalleled service. With virtually half its employees being female, SGA Design Group has made strides toward inclusion in the leadership, day-to-day work, and in the physical office environment. A recent remodel of the firm’s Tulsa office added a health & wellness room for virtual doctor’s visits and nursing mothers.
“I appreciate working for a firm that supports its female staff in the challenges of being a working mother,” says Bethany Husmann, a Project Architect at SGA Design Group and member of the American Institute of Architects. “With one young child and another on the way, knowing a well-equipped health & wellness room is available is a comfort to me. It is a tangible sign of the firm’s support and respect as I balance the responsibilities of being a mother and a professional. I am also impressed with the willingness to listen to suggestions and take action to improve accommodations.”
Encouraging the next generation of architects
For female architecture students looking to join the profession, and recent graduates who are pursuing licensure, the women at SGA Design Group advise them to set goals and stick to them, acknowledging that while setbacks may happen along the way, having a plan and executing it will help them enter and stay in the profession. “It’s a feeling of empowerment,” says Virginia Hart, Principal at SGA Design Group. “I wouldn’t leave an exam until I scheduled the next one, to give myself hard deadlines to finish.”
Because data shows only 30% to 35% of architects in the United States are female and that many women leave the profession during childbearing years, the women at SGA Design Group encourage their female colleagues to pursue licensure as soon as they can, no matter what their family plans are.
“I tell all of the intern architects that I mentor to put their goal of licensure first,” says Kristine Pagano, Project Manager at SGA Design Group. “I put off finishing my exams, had multiple children between when I started and was finally licensed and it took more years than I wanted it to because I didn’t set licensure as my first goal.”
“SGA Design Group prioritizes licensing and continuing education by providing its employees with study materials, flexibility in scheduling to study and take exams, opportunities to gain Architectural Experience Program (AXP) hours,” says Virginia. The firm hosts bi-monthly lunch and learns to help staff more easily acquire the continuing education credits they need each year.
Over the years, Ariane Tattershall and Virginia Hart, now both Principals, have been advocates for the other women in the firm. Every other year, AIA holds a Women’s Leadership Summit to bring together women in the profession from across the country for a two-day summit focusing on leadership and design. Two years ago, Virginia attended the summit and found it an extremely valuable experience to get to network and speak with her peers and share similar experiences. With the conference approaching again this year, Ariane and Virginia advocated sending Shekoofah and Kristine.
“It was important to me that we offer the opportunity to other women in the firm because these women deserve the chance to go and be recognized for the leadership skills they display daily,” says Ariane. “They work hard every day, providing excellent service to our clients and mentoring others within our firm. We are very excited to be able to send them to the AIA Women’s Leadership Summit this year.”
The women at SGA Design Group also spend time outside of the office encouraging other women in the profession and those aspiring to become part of the profession. Two such examples include Shekoofah Khedri and Sarah Ramey’s work as volunteers with AIA Eastern Oklahoma. Shekoofah volunteers on the Women in Design committee with AIA Eastern Oklahoma. The committee is developing numerous ways to support female architects and intern architects through mentorship, championship, and education to inspire and encourage women within the profession. Sarah, an intern architect, also volunteers with AIA Eastern Oklahoma to inspire Tulsa’s youth to become the next generation of architects and engineers.
Along with numerous others in the profession, SGA Design Group is making strides to change the disparity between the number of women who start architecture school and those who end up getting licensed and serve in senior leadership positions. We’re excited to see where the future takes us.