Women’s History Month: IKM’s Women in Architecture

Women’s History Month: IKM’s Women in Architecture

As of 2018, gender equity and racial and ethnic diversity have improved. Thanks to a study by NCARB in 2019, there is recent information available for percentage makeups of women in architecture. 50% of AXP candidates were women, a first in history, and “the first year on record that any cohort has seen equal representation of men and women.”[1] Also, “women made up 37 percent of candidates completing the core requirements for licensure in 2018, and 35 percent of new NCARB Certificate holders.”[2]

At IKM, we proudly have 22 women that are in the field of architecture. Of those 22, 12 are licensed Architects and the remaining 10 are Project Designers.

Two weeks ago, IKM posted a blog on Notable Women in Architecture for Women’s History Month. To close out the month, and to pay homage to IKM’s own notable women, we wanted to have some of our licensed female architects share their experiences and thoughts as women in architecture.

Kate Whitmore, Project Architect:

“I have been raised to believe that there is no limit to what I can do in life. Ever since I can remember, I thought of being an architect or an engineer. With my first exposure to the professions in high school, I quickly realized I was one of two females in my classes. And although that fact bothered me a bit, it would not deter me from pursuing what I wanted to do. I am happy to say that starting in college, I have been fortunate to be part of organizations where the balance of women and men is evenly split. In recent years, architecture is definitely on the right track to having equal representation. We are in a profession that affects the built environment for everyone, so having a diverse range of voices from different backgrounds represented is crucial.”

Christine Lyons, Project Manager:

“‘Women can have it all…just not all at once,” is a quote from Madeline Albright that I have always loved. Architecture as a career, for me, has been great for navigating the seasons of life. Whether moving across the country, renovating an old home or having a family, architecture has always been what I needed it to be. I have been fortunate that IKM has provided  flexibility and support for my ever-changing life scenarios. In the future, as the world becomes more inclusive, the profession will need to respond (or lead the charge!) to the changing needs of its diverse work force. I am looking forward to what the next season may bring.”

Robyn Engel, Project Architect:

“Growing up, I never considered becoming an architect. I was drawn to art classes and biology from a young age, but it wasn’t until my freshman year of college and unhappy in a science major that architecture came to my awareness. When I dove into architecture, everything began to click, and my world view became richer. Now, as a licensed professional, I feel I have a responsibility and an opportunity to mentor others emerging into the field. The challenges I see most clearly in architecture today are a lack of overall diversity in the field, as well as a dearth of women at the highest levels of leadership. I feel fortunate to be at IKM, where leadership has vociferously affirmed their commitment to make a difference in these areas. In Pittsburgh, we are lucky to have incredible resources and allies – the Women in Design group has so many talented Women+ at all professional stages that mentor one another. Local institutions also actively showcase incredible female and minority designers – The Carnegie Museum of Art just highlighted the work of modernist architect Lina Bo Bardi, whose work resonated with me in a powerful way. In the greater Pittsburgh community, NOMA’s local chapter is very active as well – because if we can improve the pipeline of teaching children that they can become designers from a young age, we start to see a shift in the makeup of the profession. You have to see it to be it, and I am heartened to work with others who agree.”

Mindy Coblentz, Associate, Project Manager:

“I had two strong role models while growing up. My dad was torn between teaching and being an architect, but received more scholarships at the time to be a teacher. My mom was also a teacher and worked during my childhood. Both of my parents have always encouraged my creative side which led me to architecture, and they are proud of the path I have taken. My husband, whom I have been with since high school, has encouraged and sometimes pushed me to speak my mind. Because of each of their complete support in me and my chosen profession, it had never really occured me that more than half of the professionals I work with are men. I was raised to believe I have value and that my perspective is important. Men, women, and even at a broader scale, people from different backgrounds and cultures bring with them into the design world their own unique way of solving a problem. The leadership at IKM understands and encourages this, which is why we are striving to bring more diversity to IKM.”

Melanie Como Harris, Associate, Project Manager:

“When I told my high school drafting teacher that I wanted to be an architect, the response I received back was, ‘Women can’t be architects, they have to be interior designers.’ Growing up in the 1980s I had never given thought to what women could or couldn’t be when they grew up. While my determination to become an architect was not smited by that statement, I have thought of it many times throughout my journey. The impact has been nothing but positive. The female experience brings a unique perspective to the design world, pushing creativity to new heights. Good design grows out of diverse perspectives only achievable through differing life experiences. With each passing year, the ratio of men and women in architecture moves closer to a balance. To achieve that balance at all levels, we need firms to focus on equitable and inclusion practices. I’m proud to be part of IKM’s efforts to understand the needs of all of our employees and change the way we work to ensure everyone can succeed.”

Allison Mason, Associate, Project Manager:

“I think the notion of Architecture being a male dominated field is happily becoming outdated. If you look at today’s architecture schools or take count of the young architects in firms, it’s a much more balanced number. There are many up and coming women in the field, the key is getting them to stay in architecture so that they can become mentors, award winning designers and leaders. We have a handful of pioneering famous women architects that of course we all look up to, but for me, seeing the local women owners of small firms, or seeing some of my female peers rising into positions of leadership gives me real life examples of women who are doing exactly what I want to be doing.  Seeing a close mentor or peer who is successfully balancing career and family is just as inspiring to me as someone who wins the Pritzker prize. Work/life balance is important as a professional woman and it is equally important to ensuring that women stay in the field of architecture, IKM makes a great effort to work with and foster each women so that we can continue to build our careers, move into positions of leadership, and make our mark on the architectural community.”

Catherine Wick, Project Architect:

“Architects impact the entire population by designing the environments in which we live, work, and play. In order to ensure equity and relevance to the people we serve, it is vital that the profession reflects and represents the diversity of our communities. Women in the profession are the voices for the women that make up half of our population. I feel proud to represent a part of the population that for so long was excluded from the profession! I’m especially excited to see so many women entering (and staying) in architecture. It is my hope that the profession continues to further diversify and include the many voices that make up our community.”

Tami Greene, Principal:

“The amazing women that stepped boldly into the profession of Architecture in the early 20th century were true pioneers. Today the gender gap is closing and many firms are filling entry level positions with an equal number of male and female professionals. I truly believe that the most successful environment for creativity and design is one that embraces diversity and celebrates the traits and talents that make us different. As a female designer, I can bring my experience as wife, mother, daughter, and sister to the projects I design in a uniquely different way than my male counterparts. The male perspective is equally as valuable to the process. Everything that makes us different, such as gender, race, religion etc., adds more vibrant colors to the palette we paint from, and results in a richer and more representational masterpiece.”

[1] “2019 NBTN Demographics,” NCARB, July 29, 2019. March 26, 2020. https://www.ncarb.org/nbtn2019/demographics.

[2] “2019 NBTN Demographics.”