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.

What challenges have you faced during your career which you attribute as specifically related to your gender? How have you dealt with those challenges?

Most interviewees indicated that they had faced challenges pertaining to being heard, respected, and taken at their word on the job. This was especially true for those working in construction management, but also occurred at the conference table both with internal groups and external/client relationships. One individual indicated that lack of professional female role models made it more challenging to envision how she might step into a leadership role.
Nearly every person had a story of misunderstanding, either deliberate and calculated or ingrained by cultural or generational experience. Most found these instances became less frequent with time and indicated that learning how to respond helped them speed through a trial period-like process—a process which never truly went away throughout a career, regardless of title, years of experience, or past performance.

Others reflected on balancing work and family life and the consequences they perceived from their decisions relating to prioritizing family obligations. At least one interviewee felt that gender had not played a significant role in any professional challenges in her experience.

Quotes: Challenges

  • “It has been a challenge, as contractors don’t want to see a woman on the site. The first few weeks of a project is the ‘test’ period for me. Once I or my staff pass it, we’re good, but the contractors put us through the ringer sometimes. So, in CM, it’s a challenge.”
  • “…without strong female roles in the profession locally (early in my career there was not a single group of landscape architects run by a woman), 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.”
  • “Credibility in a room full of men.”
  • “I have had people assume that my male business partners were my ‘bosses.’ I have also had instances with some (male) contractors not taking me seriously, talking down to me, or disregarding me.”
  • “Balance between being a good mom and career.”
  • “I saw a cohort advance higher than I during my child bearing years”
  • “I’m not aware of having had either particular gender-related help or challenges.”

Quotes: Tackling Challenges

  • “I have looked for ways to be heard and communicate best…I also have had to ignore or use my gender to disarm or change expectations around the table.”
  • “…I decided that instead of killing myself to prove my value to others, I needed to recognize it in myself and focus my efforts.”
  • “Stuck to my points, didn’t give in.”
  • “Keep doing excellent work, meet deadlines, and turn a profit.”
  • “Sometimes it takes time to move through their gender perception issue…”
  • “I have had to earn the respect of peers through knowing these areas of the profession, and not shying away from holding my ground and stating my case.”
  • “I have found that the best approach to these challenges is to be educated on the topic and to keep a cool head.”
  • “I try to resolve those challenges in smaller groups when I’m not confident.”
  • “Shifted to less than 100% time, non-billable, firm-wide management position.”

How has gender informed your project management, approach, or design aesthetic?

The majority of respondents felt that their gender influenced their project management, approach, and design work by allowing them to be more collaborative, supportive, and focused on consensus building during the entire process, both with in-house design teams and collaborative groups and with clients and other external relationships. Several agreed with the general idea that they tended toward a more collaborative approach and management style, but attributed this to innate personality rather than gender per se.

At least one person indicated that being a mother directly influenced her design work as she was constantly working to design places her children would enjoy (now or in the future).

Quotes: Influence on Project Management, Approach, or Design Aesthetic

  • “I know how to establish and maintain a basis of understanding among collaborators. I think this has made me a better leader and teammate. I also find that good listening skills enable me to be inspired by my colleagues and be more satisfied by the day to day process of working with others and more open to experimentation in design.”
  • “I think women are great team builders.”
  • “I’m concerned about my employees and their professional development. I encourage them to ask questions and to speak up—things I was afraid to do when I was younger due to male-dominated management.”
  • “I think many women are more focused on consensus building and communication. I have certainly embraced this style in my management of people and projects. Often, this comes with a tendency to credit the group over your individual achievements, of which I am sometimes guilty. I have been lucky to have had champions in the workplace who are thoughtful in noticing contributions made.”
  • “My project management is more collaborative. I am prone to sharing information more readily and being more transparent in my approach. I don’t know if that is directly associated with my gender or more from my personality.”
  • “I don’t know if I can attribute anything to being a woman (I haven’t really thought of things this way), but more to personality traits.”
  • “Women are natural collaborators, so my project management style seeks input and collaboration from other team members. My design aesthetic is informed by being a mother and wanting to create the type of world I want my daughter to live in.”

Thank you to all of our respondents for the candid evaluations of their experiences as professionals. We hope that these stories remind everyone that folks (regardless of gender) work hard to be at the table and come with a diversity of experience which can positively contribute to the discussion, design, and experience.

Stay tuned for our next installment on balancing life demands and an ever-changing work schedule, and what some offices provide to help. For more information, check out ASLA’s Career Discovery page.

by Kristina Snyder, ASLA, WILA PPN Co-Chair

One thought on “WILA Interview Series: Influences

  1. Shavawn Coleman September 2, 2015 / 3:29 pm

    Hello! Great article! Not sure if you have, but read Sheryl Sandberg’s ‘Lean In’ book. It was really helpful in handling being a woman in a very male dominated industry along with many other things. One thing that this book pointed out about work/life balance is why is this only asked to women? Men have families too, why aren’t they asked how they balance work and life? Just a thought. Thanks for the great article! I have experienced many of things these scenarios stated above. One time I had a contractor try and ask me out on a date, trying to sweet talk me so I wouldn’t make him return the wrong plants he ordered. (He ended up dateless and had to return 75 plants!)

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