By Beth R. Mosenthal, AIA, LEED AP BD+C
In June of 2016 I wrote a column for Colorado Real Estate Journal’s Building Dialogue Magazine entitled, “Why are Women Leaving Architecture? A Look at the AIA’s Equity in Architecture Movement.” It was (and continues to be) an interesting moment for the profession; a time when a meaningful dialogue burst open regarding equity in architecture and the field’s critical need to evolve in order to retain talent that might require—for a multitude of reasons–more flexible models of working.
At the time the article was published, I was expecting a child in October, and trying to figure out what this monumental change might mean for my career as an architect; a pursuit I had dedicated most of adult life to, albeit in many forms and iterations, from interning to licensure to professional practice. While I aspired to have a family at some point, up until reality hit, I admittedly hadn’t reconciled what it might mean to be an architect and a mother.
So, I did some research. I spoke to a handful of sage women architects and interior designers in Denver that also have families, and that continue to serve as personal role models. Fortunately, my mentors were responsive to a fairly-personal line of questioning regarding inquiries related to maternity leave, work schedules with young children and open-ended advice.
The responses were mixed, but the answers that identified an open dialogue with their firm leadership and the courage to ask for accommodations in their schedule and leave that felt right to them also felt right to me.
Fast forward to the present: My daughter will be two years old in October. Life is infinitely different than it was prior to parenthood. While architecture might have stayed the same, my schedule and career aspirations continue to evolve as I try to find a balance that allows me practice at a level that feels appropriate to both my employer and me, given my number of years of experience and role as a project architect, while still being present with and for my family in any and all remaining hours of each day. (“Me” time still remains a mystery I promise myself I will figure out eventually…)
While it may sound inconsequential to the reader, the biggest accomplishment before and after becoming a parent in architecture is that… drumroll… I am still practicing. I never would have believed how challenging it is to love your career and to love a child. While some might argue differently, I believe these types of love are two different passions fueled by different motivations. For me, architecture can keep me awake at night, reveling in time spent exploring different solutions to the same design problem. My daughter can keep me awake at night, but typically it’s because she is in yet another sleep regression phase, which might require an inordinate number of hours of me spent making many different iterations of the sound “shhh.”
Wanting to do your best in two vastly different roles is incredibly challenging, sometimes deflating, rewarding, and often, frankly, exhausting.
Trying to strike a balance, compromising on the number of hours I can realistically practice in order to share my time more fully with my family is something that I have worked hard with my employer, my family and myself to test, and as my age and career stage(s) evolve, will admittedly require continued collaboration to fine tune. Throughout my time upon returning to work, I have worked with my firm’s highly-progressive, open-minded members of leadership to continue practicing architecture while “piloting” different part-time work scenarios, with a goal of finding the best balance for my firm and my family.
At this point, I am working roughly 32 hours a week. I enjoy my days at work and time spent with my colleagues and clients. Busy weeks and meetings that require work travel are manageable thanks to the invaluable support that my partner and mother, who lives nearby, provide. With that said, I look forward to every Friday, which I spend at home with my daughter. Despite the occasional phone call or email, it is our day, and as life moves too quickly, I don’t mind working a few evenings a week as required to ensure that when Friday and the weekend arrive, I am fully present at home.
While every person, family, and firm is different, my general advice to any architects that are primary caregivers or seeking a different type of life balance—in any capacity—is similar to the comments I made in my June 2016 column;
Try to be open with your employer. It’s worth explaining that you are hoping they might empathize with where you are at this snapshot in time. Engage in a dialogue in which they might work with you to find a schedule and staffing scenario that fulfills your needs as well as your employers’ needs, acknowledging the reality that firms have to create staffing models that allow them to remain accessible and viable. Explore what the long view and the short view for you as a caregiver and professional might look like in an ideal scenario.
As life ebbs and flows, I like to think the opportunities to spend a desired amount of time working, solving problems uninterrupted, late into the night, will present itself again. But hours spent cuddling a child or caring for a loved one are also very real responsibilities and should be treated as such. I also like to believe that both of these experiences and perspectives, while different in scope and skill sets, will continually shape your ability to grow as an architect, and perhaps most importantly, as a person.