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2022 Women’s Leadership Summit

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This year’s Women’s Leadership Summit promised insightful tales from the frontlines told by industry leaders. Tales of breaking down barriers and manifesting the careers they want while making a difference in the world. This event delivered on its promise to empower women through leadership, knowledge, community, belonging and so much more.

The first keynote speaker, Zainab Salbi, kicked off the summit with a vision of “following the heartbeat.” She talked about putting her ear to the earth and feeling Mother Nature’s heart. She rejoiced, “the Earth is alive!”, and she felt called upon to nurture Nature. This “heartbeat” theme reappeared throughout the conference. For other people, they heard the heartbeat of Indigenous people or of migratory birds. Different women heard their own versions of this heartbeat – a calling – to dedicate themselves to a greater cause. It was inspiring to see so many women light up with purpose and share that passion with us.

When you see so many women in one room, you forget that you’re the minority in architecture. We had to be reminded that only 25% of architects are women! This definitely gave cause for celebration, as we are pushing the boundaries of what architecture should be, however, celebration quickly gave way to more pressing concerns in our industry.

Seeing so many women in architecture in one room was cause for celebration! However, as we are pushing the boundaries of what architecture should be, celebration quickly gave way to more pressing concerns as minorities in our industry.

Image of 2022 Women’s Leadership Summit Meghana Prabhune and Chelzea Forster of Watry Design

Almost every speaker had a story about sexism or discrimination, about being undervalued and overlooked and about being told to shrink themselves to fit “societal expectations” of what a woman should be. This event shined light on these injustices and called for action! If a firm won’t listen to you, leave! If you don’t see people like you in leadership, fill that role! We may be the minority, but we are not small. It was inspiring to see so many women come together and take up space – to stand tall and let their hair down! You could feel the comradery in the room. It was remarkable.

Creating inclusion and acknowledging bias were also addressed throughout the conference. We often fail to realize that bias is an inherent quality amongst all of us and that it is not limited to gender or race. As Jeannie Gang from Gang Studios shared, “Good ideas come from everywhere. It is more important to recognize a good idea than to author it,” which is a great reminder to keep the ears and mind open towards good ideas, regardless of their source and to acknowledge them. This quote reinforces how important it is to make an intentional effort towards inclusion.

Another stand out experience from the conference was a session titled Identity: Powerful Stories of Women Designing with Purpose. In a discussion led by Tamarah Begay, the panel, Tiara Hughes, Alicia Ponce and April DeSimone, shared how they overcame a plethora of obstacles in order to achieve their goals. The session inspired and empowered 750 minds in the audience to do the same!

There was also a rallying discussion about mental health in architecture. It reminded us that the body has basic needs like food, water, and sleep, and that taking care of those needs above our careers actually improves our performance. And with that foundation in place, we can go beyond our basic needs and take on wellness in the work place. We can ensure our teams are self-confident and feel safe enough to ask for help when their plate is running over. Referred to as “psychological safety,” we look forward to nurturing that in our own firm while advocating for it in others.

About the Authors

As an Assistant Project Manager with Watry Design, Meghana has experience throughout the parking lifecycle from early parking planning on projects such as the City of Santa Clara Civic Center Parking Concept Design to full parking structure design on projects such as the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center Behavioral Health Services Center Parking Structure. 

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Chelzea has worked exclusively in parking design for over three years and has experience on landmark projects such as the University of Nevada, Reno Gateway Parking Structure.

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