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Weighing In On Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” – Part I

On Monday, March 11th, Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead was released amid a flurry of discussion on the American workplace; how women can forge ahead in their careers amid continued gender inequality and biases; and the ongoing question of whether (and how) the balance of work and family life can be achieved. These topics also lie at the heart of AWA+D’s vision for supporting women in the architecture and design professions.

While these questions deserve deep introspection and conversation (some of which will be facilitated as part of our Salon series), AWA+D’s Communications Group wanted to open the dialogue among our Board members and leaders in our industry by asking for quick insights, anecdotes or general thoughts on these subjects. Following are excerpts from just a few of the initial responses.

Pam Leone, Interior Designer / AWA+D President

I haven’t had the chance to read Sheryl Sanberg’s book yet so I hesitate to jump to any conclusions regarding her assessment of women in the workplace. I also acknowledge she is a staunch supporter of women in the workplace and we need more women supporting women; so for that she should be commended.

I don’t think any of us want preferential treatment in order to rise to the top of our profession but, there still are inequities that exist by no fault of women not “leaning in” or listening to a voice of insecurity from within them. I have no children and was single for most of my career so there hasn’t been any hesitation on my part to fully commit to a career, no doubt I was very capable and often more qualified than the bulk of both of my male or female counterparts. I lack no confidence in my skills. Yet, at least through the late 90′s I can recall on more than one occasion sitting in a plane (often in the rear cabin) with laptop and documents preparing for our meeting at the intended destination, all the while a couple of men in our leadership were drinking and chatting in the cabin up front and collecting triple my salary. My hard work was evident, I got plenty of kudos, I put in the hours, I spoke up, contributed and yet all things were not close to equal.

Kate Svoboda-Spanbock, Architect / Envoy to AWAF (Association for Women in Architecture Foundation)

I am an architect, interior designer and design instructor. Not counting time worked in construction when I was young, I have been working in the field for a little over twenty years. During that time, I have enjoyed my work and for much of the time have had the good fortune to be able to work a little less than full time in order to be able to be around for my two daughters, thanks to the kindness and insightfulness of various employers, who seemed to realize that one of the things that comes with being a mother is a drive for maximum efficiency.

Nonetheless, my work has not been steady, probably because I always worked for very small firms. This instability has kept us living hand-to-mouth for years. At one point, I interviewed for a position in a somewhat larger firm that did some prestigious work, about which I was excited. Their office hours were 8-7 four days a week and 8-12 on Friday. I asked if it would be possible to work there on a normal 8-5 schedule so that I could make dinner and do homework with my children in the evenings. They were incredulous, explaining that I would have Friday afternoons free most of the time, as though that were a great gift. I thought, “For what? So I can buy a new dress for my hot date Friday night?”

Robin Jaffe, Architect / AWA Member

My decision to become an architect was slow in coming because society did not think of women as architects and I worried about what society would think of me. I have many stories of discrimination from those early years of my career, but I think our society has changed a lot to help women play a larger role in our culture beyond family.

I was supported by my peers in the architectural community of the San Fernando Valley. I think these days, where you go in your career is dependent primarily on your own priorities, rather than the shackles of society. When people focus on limits put on them by society, I no longer have any patience for them, I think they are playing the victim and they should get over it.