Lauren Hartz, a student in her final year at Yale Law School and the 2012-2013 Chair of Yale Law Women came to speak to Architexx in late February, 2013. We invited her with an interest to learn how other disciplines and fields are organizing, creating change and raising awareness about issues they deem relevant since the gender gap is not a problem unique to architecture. Hartz impressed a room of over-achieving, over-time-logging architects, with her 40-hr per week time commitment to Yale Law Women in addition to her own course-load, and outlined the ambitious curricula that Yale Law Women accomplishes each academic year. This includes, but is not limited to, publishing a "Speak Up" Action Kit which demystifies gender dynamics within the classroom and offers guidelines for both instructors and students to encourage increased participation from women in the classroom, matching alumnae mentors and current or recent grad mentees, organizing reunion events which encourage professional networking opportunities, creating academic resources which increase access to institutional knowledge and a "how-to" guide to getting work published as a student, and from our perspective, acting as an informal "watchdog group" for gender related issues. When we asked, how she managed to do it, she confided that she considered it part of her education, as it was her intended future specialty within the field of law. She then shared, in a kind of confession was something that we in ArchiteXX were used to hearing from other architects, how before entering the field of law at Yale, her gender was something she had never been so acutely aware of. As time passes, we are now accustomed to hearing similar experiences from other women professionals in the disciplines of law, medicine, finance, technology, science, etc.
It is obvious that lawyers, who are trained as advocates, already possess the appropriate skill-set to apply towards making measurable improvements related to women's needs within their field. As architects, how can we learn from the efficient methods that YLW utilized, and instead use the skill-sets that we possessed as designers, to advance the status of women within the field of architecture.
Within the field of law, Vault 100 is a rating system that exists within the field of law, which determines the top 100 law firms based on information from approximately 16,000 law firm associates. In an effort to promote positive changes in firm culture, Hartz shared with us the method that YLW used to collect information from the Vault 100 to produce a 54-question confidential survey about the cultural climate of the biggest firms, based on what family-friendly practices they have in place and how those practices are implemented and utilized by its employees. The survey focuses on practices related to part-time work, flex-time work, family care, leadership and promotions. This information is then published in an annual report of the "TOP TEN FAMILY-FRIENDLY FIRMS" for their leadership in developing and implementing family friendly practices and policies. As architects, who do so much data collection in early phases of design, I wondered what our end result would be if we also collected data similar to YLW - how we would VISUALIZE it, diagram it, map it, analyze it and circulate it as architects - trained in design instead of litigation.
Hartz also described another initiative of YLW in relation to the survey, issuing "report cards" to firms who were strong potentials for ranking among future top-ten lists but which still had room for improvement. I thought about the cleverness at play here, in sharing "best-practices" from offices where they had been successfully integrated to offer examples to firms who had less success in doing so. The best part about these initiatives is that according to Hartz, YLW has influence - when they publish their annual report - women from the top tiers of law schools nation-wide apply to firms on the top-ten list, giving firms incentive to make the top ten. Here is an examples of the firm Orrick Herrington + Sutcliffe, publicizing their status of making the top ten list.
By publishing their results online, YLW has democracized this valuable HR-related information by making it accessible to women everywhere online. YLW are using their influence to create change within their field to benefit professional men and women who want to continue to work, and have other priorities too, making family and career a realistic juggling act. We architects need to start wielding this type of influence to transform our field. What are the best practices that apply to architecture firms? Is flex-time trending among top architecture firms? What criteria can we use to determine the top architecture firms? What architecture firms have mentorship/support groups that they provide internally? Is parental leave and childcare availability something that young architects ask about when considering a position? We know that the attrition of women in leadership is very real in the field of architecture, so in addition to collecting data which illustrates that, lets use our creativity to brainstorm HOW we can effectively implement "best practices" in architecture firms, both big and small.
Please see Yale Law Women's official top-ten list here: