Despite efforts over recent years to improve recruitment and retention, women remain a minority in architecture, as is the case in most STEAM careers, but one of the most powerful tools in changing that imbalance is leadership by women already in the field. That can take the form of formal mentoring programs, as well as supportive networks, and promoting each other's work.
No matter what road you take as an individual, though, changing the field rests on the shoulders of the whole community and these three women are some of today's leaders working to shape the architects of tomorrow.
Angela Esposito: Helping Girls Build
One of the reasons that women are underrepresented in STEAM jobs is because they aren't exposed to the activities and subjects involved from a young age. With that in mind, each week, Angela Esposito gathers with a group of Chicago public school girls ages 11–14 for meetings of Girls Build! Each eight-week series focuses on a different design topic and encourages the girls to use their creativity to develop design skills, become comfortable with experimentation—and failure, and build their leadership abilities in a safe environment.
Though Girls Build! focuses on architectural tasks, Esposito takes a broader view of her work. "By the end of the series they are confident, asking great questions and ready to take on their roles in the world as leaders," Esposito explains regarding the group
. This is the same confidence that girls—and women—need to harness to succeed in any field, but particularly in male-dominated STEAM professions.
Brandy McCombs: Make Your Own Opportunities
Just as Angela Esposito emphasizes the importance of confidence in women's success, Brandy McCombs echoes the sentiment. McCombs, the founder and president of International Builders and Consultants, Inc., once worried that the "good ol' boy network" would keep her from succeeding in the field, but soon found the issue was all in her head
, literally. Rather, McCombs says, "Lack of confidence and aversion to risk are much harder to overcome."
If confidence is an issue of getting your head in the game, how can young architecture professionals overcome this lack of confidence instead of succumbing to it? One way is to make your own opportunities. After some time in the industry and participation in mentoring programs, Brandy McCombs began her organization. As a student, take advantage of your status to study new technology using their student licensing. Lumion, a popular rendering software, is free
for current students, as are many other common design programs. And don't forget about discounted student memberships to organizations and maker spaces where you can hone your skills and network with more experienced individuals. You can create your own opportunities to grow and learn.
Charu Sharma: Embrace Risk
In most fields, the leaders are those who are willing to take risks, but what most people don't acknowledge is that our entire professional careers are actually about risks—some are just larger than others.
For example, 85% of new businesses fail within the first five years
, but working for someone else is fraught, too. They could fail, you could get fired, or you could be bad at your job. But there are also plenty of beneficial ways to embrace risk.
It was precisely with the topic of risk in mind that Charu Sharma began the go against the flow movement. Sharma is a campaign planner at LinkedIn, but also built two startups out of her dorm room—she's known as something of a powerhouse in many different communities. In go against the flow, Sharma hopes to encourage young women to create their companies
and build economic opportunity independently.
Sharma encourages young women to take risks, as well as asking established entrepreneurs to share their risks and failures—because it's okay to fail and to take the road less traveled. It is, as she explains, okay to go against the flow.
Where women today lead, others will follow—and that will reshape how we think of many professions, architecture among them. Right now, only two out of every five architects are women. Will you be the one who tips the scale?
Anna is a freelance writer, researcher, and business consultant. A columnist for Entrepreneur.com, Forbes.com, and more, Anna specializes in entrepreneurship, technology, and social media trends. Follow her on Twitter and LinkedIn.