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.”
The lack of female role models in landscape architecture left some struggling to find their way: “without strong female roles in the profession locally, and a real feeling of imbalance in the management, it was difficult to envision becoming a leader and I struggled to feel credible in many situations.”
Several of the landscape architects interviewed also faced the challenge of balancing work and parenting: “Design projects and client demands are unpredictable. At least one parent needs to have flexibility…”
Each respondent had a different way of stepping up to the challenge of balancing parenting and demanding careers. Some moved to positions within the same firm with lower time requirements. Others prioritized “children before work…and accept you may not advance as fast,” and others maintained balance by compartmentalizing: “quality time with kids, efficient management of time at the office.”
A couple of the landscape architects who responded to this question either did not feel there were any particular challenges specific to women in the field, or felt they didn’t allow gender to create challenges: “I was lucky not to have encountered prejudice, mostly I think because I knew more…than the people I was working with.”
Each respondent dealt with these challenges thoughtfully and purposefully. They earned respect not only by being capable, but by demanding credit for their work.
- “I have had to work harder to prove my competency, especially in technical areas….and not shy away from holding my ground.”
- I earned respect “by absolutely knowing what I am talking about. And if I do not know, I find out and get back with the information immediately.”
- “Just show them what you know and they come around.”
- “The best results I have had with overcoming these challenges is to simply maintain confidence, know what I’m doing, and provide solid landscape architecture knowledge to a project. Also, engaging those contractors in dialogue about construction issues and getting them to a point where they understand that we are working together to solve construction issues. Sometimes it takes time to move through their gender perception issues…the best course has been to not get worked up about it and carry on with confidence. I can recall many meetings in a room full of (male) contractors where I ended up leading the meetings, setting the direction, and had their complete cooperation, respect, and support.”
In the end, there was a clear sense of accomplishment when some of those gender barriers were broken down or turned from challenges into strengths.
- “(I) had to earn contractors’ respect out in the field. But once earned it was good!”
- “I have looked for ways to be heard and communicate best. This has been the most rewarding and biggest challenge to being a female landscape architect.”
- “I think in some ways it may have made for more collegial relationships.”
by Tanya Olson, ASLA, WILA PPN Officer
Some of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with are the contractor’s and construction crew’s belief that I know anything about construction. Let alone that I usually know more than they do. The cultural backgrounds of many of the crews in my geographical area often causes a lot of rude comments about me in a foreign language until I make a fluent comment in that same language.