Women in Design: How to Find a Network of Other Women Designers

by Christa Schaefer, ASLA, and Tanya Olson, ASLA

Scenes from the Women in Landscape Architecture Professional Practice Network‘s annual gathering / image: EPNAC

You’ve reached that point in your professional life where you find yourself looking for people to connect professionally and create networks with. These special individuals provide a unique dynamic to the depth of our professional lives and may be peers or mentors. They make us feel self-assured and connected, and sometimes become great friends or even business partners. They can be male or female, but there are benefits to finding connection with others of the same sex. Here are two stories from the Women in Landscape Architecture (WILA) leadership team on how they found a network of Women in Design (WID).

WID-Wisconsin – Christa Schaefer, ASLA

I finished my MLA in the Twin Cities and moved back home to Waukesha, WI for job opportunities and to stay connected with family. When I moved I found myself leaving my professional connections behind and felt disconnected from landscape architects in my new home. I wondered who and where they were.

Job opportunities helped me develop a few professional connections, but few were with other women in design fields. I reached out and became engaged with the Wisconsin Chapter of ASLA (WI-ASLA), but still found minimal female connections. Ultimately those opportunities through WI-ASLA expanded my leadership skills and I did finally make some very valuable female connections. These connections have helped support me finding my way through the very male-dominated world I currently work in.

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WILA at the Annual Meeting

The 2015 WILA Walk in Chicago image: Event Photography of North America Corporation (EPNAC)
The 2015 WILA Walk in Chicago
image: Event Photography of North America Corporation (EPNAC)

The ASLA Annual Meeting and EXPO in New Orleans is just around the corner, and we can’t wait to see you there!

Women in Landscape Architecture (WILA) events for this year’s meeting include a discussion during our WILA Professional Practice Network (PPN) Meeting about Working Families and Navigating Work Relationships on Behalf of Your Family. Join us on Sunday, October 23 at 9:15 AM in the Garden District Meeting Room on the EXPO floor. Find us again at the EXPO Reception featuring the PPNs at 4:30 PM Sunday afternoon.

Once again, we are delighted to join the host chapter, ASLA Louisiana, for the Women in Landscape Architecture Walk on Monday morning, 7:00 – 8:30 AM. This is a FREE walking tour led by local landscape architects from the host chapter. Join ASLA Louisiana for a walk along the Mississippi River to visit existing and proposed riverfront projects designed to bring the City of New Orleans back to the River. Walk co-leaders Dana Brown and Gaylan Williams will lead us from the Convention Center to the Riverwalk, through Spanish Plaza and the future Four Seasons Hotel, through the Audubon Aquarium’s riverfront plaza, to Woldenberg Park and on to the cruise ship dock and the Mookwalk in front of the French Quarter. A new Riverfront Master Plan is underway to make walking more seamless, integrated and compelling. Spanish Plaza, a gift to the City in 1976 from Spain, is being re-imagined to commemorate the 300th birthday of the City of New Orleans in 2018.

Many education sessions this year explore topics relevant in particular to women in landscape architecture. WILA PPN Co-Chair Tanya Olson will be introducing one of these sessions: SAT-A10: Women in Landscape Architecture: Pathways to Success, on Saturday morning. More information on these events and education sessions which might be of interest to WILA members are listed below.

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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 Highlights from Denver

The 2014 WILA Walk, led by Connie Perry and Susan Morris-McCabe, included a stop outside the Denver Art Museum image: Tanya Olson
The 2014 WILA Walk, led by Connie Perry and Susan Morris-McCabe, included a stop outside the Denver Art Museum
image: Tanya Olson

We hope you all enjoyed the ASLA Annual Meeting in Denver last November. The main WILA events included the WILA Professional Practice Network (PPN) meeting, where we had speed-mentoring, and the WILA Walk.

The WILA PPN meeting took place on Saturday, November 22 in the Colorado Convention Center Expo Hall. We had an amazing turnout, stretching the capacity of the PPN meeting room with over 30 attendees ranging from students in landscape architecture to practitioners entering retirement. Although “ice breaker” questions were provided, the group had no problem jumping right into sharing their experiences in landscape architecture. Discussions covered all aspects of landscape architecture practice, from entering practice for the first time to starting a landscape architecture firm, on to ownership transition and retirement.

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