Designing Women Build Strong Leadership Foundations With Supports

 In spite of the international accolades for architects such as Jeanne Gang of Chicago, who has changed the face of buildingJanne Gang, internationally celebrated architect, in this photo for Fast Company, is a rare example of women in leadership in design. But that is changing. design in this decade (and earned a MacArthur Foundation genius grant in the process), architecture and design remaindifficult industries for women to prosper and rise to the top. Strong leadership of women in many design arenas is the foundation for progress.According to a recent survey, “Women in architecture are promoted less frequently than men, make less money than men, occupy fewer leadership positions than men, receive fewer awards than men, find their jobs less satisfying than men, and, not surprisingly, abandon the profession in greater numbers than men,” writes architect Ned Cramer in Construction Wire for Hanley Wood.[bctt tweet=“Strong leadership of women in many design arenas is the foundation for progress.”]He adds, “Despite these inequities, it’s not women but men who are more likely to leave architecture due to low pay, long hours, and lack of opportunities, according to the Equity by Design survey. Women instead are more adversely affected by cultural issues: a lack of role models, unprofessional behavior, bullying.”That is changing with women networking to offer each other more support with strong leadership.“According to the International Interior Design Association, 69 percent of the 87,000 design practitioners in the United States are women, but only 25 percent of firm leaders are female,” writes Anna Volpicelli in 7X7.The tides are beginning to turn, but challenges remain for women in architecture.Volpicelli interviewed four top designers in the Bay Area, including Lisa Bottom, Design Principal at Gensler San Francisco, who said: “Today, the profession is far more egalitarian. The era of improper behavior towards women is long gone thankfully. I am happy to report that both the design and construction professions have many more women in powerful positions and a woman’s ability to multi-task and see the big picture while following up on small details is seen as a valuable set of skills.”Anne Fougeron, Principal of Fougeron Architecture, told Volpicelli: “The challenge is to convince people that you are as capable as your male colleagues. There seems to be an underlying assumption that men understand and know more about construction than women! I am often asked if I am the interior designer.” She added, “I think women are primed to take over and be the new emerging voice in the field of architecture. We just need to keep pushing down the barriers of sexism. We must remember to always ask for what is rightfully ours.”Automotive design, as well as architecture, have traditionally been fields with few women in strong leadership roles both domestically and internationally.Recently at automaker Renault, Agneta Dahlgren, Groupe Renault’s Head of Design for C-Segment and Electric Vehicles,Dahlgren is blazing a trail in the automobile industry as a high level executive young girls can look up to as an example. was awarded Woman of the Year 2016 by the independent organization Women And Vehicles in Europe.The award was to “highlight the career of a woman who can serve as a role model for young women seeking work in the automobile industry, and whose position is key to her company and to the automobile industry as a whole,” according to Automotive World. Dahlgren was a key player on the design of the new Megane model set for launch in October 2016.Architecture, product design and company start-ups –literally company design— have similar communities. And they all need strong leadership from women at the top for more women to succeed.According to Karin Klein writing in Medium, women make up less than 5 percent of venture capital firms. As the founding partner at Bloomberg Beta, Klein found this problematic.“We’re simply asking that we VCs begin to collect the data and that LPs ask us for it — a sort of transparency pledge. Women contribute to 25 percent of the GDP growth. Women are starting more companies. Women outperform men in both brokerage performance as well as hedge fund performance. Why not see how this plays out in venture capital? With so many new funds being formed, the opportunity for LPs to change the game is now.”Klein adds, “Female non-partner investor hires at the VC firm. Women are graduating from engineering and business programs in sufficient numbers to significantly increase entry-level hiring.”She recommended to shift this imbalance by starting to collect data in these categories, with the goal to monitor where to make changes and improvements:

Discussion, conversation, and action to change behaviors and traditions is what needs to happen is so many different fields, including design from architecture to products. Strong leadership from women is a priority.To shift the tradition of majority male places of business, all gender stereotypes must be reconsidered.Avivah Wittenberg-Cox, CEO of 20-first, one of the world’s leading gender consulting firms, and author of Seven Steps to Leading a Gender-Balanced Business, writes in Harvard Business Review, “Offices perpetuate the rigid strictures of masculinity.”She continues, “While men may look at today’s power structure and see it (perhaps reassuringly) dominated by their own gender, they must look around their classrooms, their homes, and their businesses, and see the reality shifting before their eyes. Now that women have shown that humans can flex across the whole spectrum of traditionally male and female roles, can we allow men this freedom? Can they allow it to each other?”Wittenberg-Cox adds: “Until we can have an inclusive conversation – with everyone, including men – about existing gender roles, expectations and stereotypes, we are bound to remain locked in them. It will never change anything to talk about gender in a group of like-minded, like-bodied people, although this may feel momentarily empowering. In a gender balanced world, how to be a leader, manager and employee at work takes new skills and adaptation, as does how to be a father, husband, lover, and son at home. Yet these are much-needed conversations are still waiting to happen.”