WILA Interview Series: Mentorship, Part 1

image: iStock © frankwolffnl

image: iStock © frankwolffnl

“The Mind is Not a Vessel to be Filled, but a Fire to be Kindled”

The Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN)’s focus for 2015-2016 is an interview series developed around being women landscape architects, life/work balance, and mentors. The WILA PPN’s co-chairs and officers developed a set of 17 questions, then searched out willing landscape architects and began the interview process. The following is the first of two posts on the topic of mentorship.

Women & Mentors

Two of our WILA PPN interview questions focused on women’s experience with, and serving as, mentors throughout their careers. One common theme was that mentoring or being mentored is not a particularly formalized process in most firms. The resulting experiences with mentoring or being mentored were very broad, from understanding appropriate office attire, to the sharing of technical knowledge, to focusing on career advancement.

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WILA Interview Series: Career Changes

image: iStock © Sadeugra

image: iStock © Sadeugra

The Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN)’s focus for 2015 is an interview series developed around being women landscape architects, life/work balance, and mentors. The WILA PPN leadership team developed 17 interview questions, and then found willing landscape architects to participate in the interview process.

This group of questions asked the interviewees to share information about their former careers and/or job experiences prior to landscape architecture. As outlined in our first post of the interview series, most of our interviewees said they chose landscape architecture as a second or even third career. So what did they do before, and how did those experiences help lead them to landscape architecture? Did those experiences help prepare them for their new career?

What kind of other job(s), if any, did you have before/during/after your career as a landscape architect?

Sometimes our paths to success and happiness become more crooked than straight. However, as we’ve all learned, there is no shortcut to any place worth going. Life can take some pretty sharp turns, but if you’re willing to follow a new path, you may end up where you always wanted to be. I had a prior career in the television industry and whenever I meet another landscape architect they’re always interested to hear how I ended up in landscape architecture. It seems like most of the time, the other person’s path was just as crooked as mine was.

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WILA Interview Series: Life/Work Balance

image: iStock © alexsokolov

image: iStock © alexsokolov

The Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN)’s focus for 2015 is an interview series developed around being women landscape architects, life/work balance, and mentors. The WILA PPN leadership team developed 17 interview questions, and then found willing landscape architects to participate in the interview process. The following is an in-depth look at responses to the fourth group of interview questions, focusing on how respondents felt their responsibilities outside of work governed their choices and how their work places reacted or set the stage for support.

Nearly everyone has responsibilities outside of work that stress our life/work balance. How have you dealt with the specific life/work tensions in your career?

Though none of the questions specifically asked for respondents’ responsibilities outside of work, i.e. children, spousal needs, extended family, etc., between one-third and half of respondents mention children in their answers. Most also referred to spouses, and one to the care of parents. There was clearly a variety of familial backgrounds, but some common threads.

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WILA Interview Series: Influences

image: Kristina Snyder

image: Kristina Snyder

The Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN)’s focus for 2015 is an interview series developed around being women landscape architects, life/work balance, and mentors. The WILA PPN leadership team developed 17 interview questions, and then found willing landscape architects to participate in the interview process. The following is an in-depth look at responses to the third group of interview questions, asking how respondents felt their gender influenced challenges in their work and/or informed their design work.

Many of our respondents indicated that they had experienced issues with being heard on the job (both at the construction site and in the conference room). Most respond to this challenge by making sure they had their own voice and standing up for their ideas. Several also indicated that they did not feel that gender played a role in their design work, attributing any influences in design (either approach or aesthetic) to personality instead. On the other hand, quite a few mentioned that a focus on collaboration and consensus building in their work was directly related to gender.

Each person’s experience is highly personal, but in sharing, discussing, and being open about our influences and experiences as a profession we become familiar with different ways of approaching similar situations in the future and ultimately push forward the best design for each project.

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WILA Interview Series: Facing Challenges

image: iStock © Thomas_EyeDesign

image: iStock © Thomas_EyeDesign

The Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN)’s focus for 2015 is an interview series developed around being women landscape architects, life/work balance, and mentors. The WILA PPN leadership team developed 17 interview questions, and then found willing landscape architects to participate in the interview process.

The following is an in-depth look at responses to our second group of questions, focused on the topic of challenges and how to overcome them. Several recurring themes appeared throughout the answers to the questions: What challenges have you faced during your career which you attribute as specifically related to being a woman? How have you dealt with those challenges?

The majority of the women who participated in our interviews have experienced interpersonal challenges dealing with men in the office and in the field (with contractors). These difficulties were not only a matter of having to prove credibility and earn respect, but having to do so in a culturally acceptable way.

Quotes from our interviewees:

  • “The biggest career challenges I’ve faced related to being a woman stem from opinions formed by specific cultural or generational contexts. Some people have different ideas about what women can or can’t do or what’s appropriate behavior or language.”
  • “I wasn’t graceful in how I dealt with many of those scenarios, but I dealt with them…by being vocal…speaking to those I thought could make a change and by trying to call it when I could.”
  • “I have had people assume that my male partners were my ‘bosses.’ I have also had some (male) contractors not taking me seriously, talking down to me, or disregarding me.”

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WILA Interview Series: The Choice

image: iStock © aydinynr

image: iStock © aydinynr

The Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network (WILA PPN)’s focus for 2015 is an interview series developed around being women landscape architects, life/work balance, and mentors. The WILA PPN leadership team developed 17 interview questions, and then found willing landscape architects to participate in the interview process. The following is an in-depth look at responses to the first three interview questions.

This group of questions demonstrated how diverse and personal discovering the career of landscape architecture is for everyone, even in a focus group of women. One common theme is how the majority found landscape architecture as a second, and sometimes third, career choice or discovered it in college as a second degree path. Very few knew from the beginning that landscape architecture was the career for them.

Question 1: How did you choose landscape architecture as a career?

When asked this question, most of us have a story to tell of how we found landscape architecture or how it found us. Whenever I meet another landscape architect, I love to hear their story. Of the 20 women interviewed, these are some of the reoccurring comments when asked this question:

  • Many discovered their career choice via contact with another landscape architect or similar design professional.
  • The career choice was discovered through a school guidance counselor or college degree advisor.
  • A few were lucky enough to learn about landscape architecture early on and knew it was the career choice for them.

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Introducing the WILA Interview Series

image: iStock

image: iStock

The Women in Landscape Architecture (WILA) Professional Practice Network‘s focus this year revolves around an interview series developed around being women landscape architects, life/work balance, and the importance of mentors. The WILA PPN’s co-chairs and officers developed the following 17 questions for this interview series, and then sought out willing landscape architects and began the interview process.

The following is a summary of the interview questions and trends or themes from the responses. Over the next few months, WILA will roll out eight in-depth analyses of groups of questions that focus on a particular concept or theme. Our hope is that by sharing these stories, new perspectives will develop on how diverse and unique women landscape architects, life/work balances, and mentors can be and how they influence all of us.

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