USC Women in Architecture

School News

USC Women in Architecture

April 21, 2015


On March 25, a group of USC School of Architecture alumnae ranging from the ‘60s through the late ‘90s gathered for the final “100-year” event: a panel discussion titled “USC Women in Architecture.” The panel presented the legacy of women at the School of Architecture and how alumnae have gone on to impact the profession across a spectrum of career paths including working in large corporate firms, running their own practices, or in related fields such as heritage conservation.


The panel was introduced by Trudi Sandmeier, Director, Heritage Conservation and moderated by Ruth Wallach (MHC 2013), Director of Arts and Humanities Libraries. Panelists included:


Ena Dubnoff (B.Arch. 1960), founder of Ena Dubnoff Architects and founding partner of ONE Company, a partnership of four women focused on developing affordable housing.


Therese M. Gain (B.S. Arch. 1974), Director of Facilities for the Fremont Unified School District.


Christine M. Lampert, AIA, NCARB (B.S. Arch. 1974), founder and principal of Lampert Dias Architects, Inc, and Senior Associate Director of Architecture for Hong Kong-based UDP International LLC, an international master planning firm.


Kelly Sutherlin McLeod, FAIA (B.Arch. 1983), founder of Kelly Southerlin McLeod Architecture, Inc.


Jenna Knudsen, AIA, LEED AP BD+C (B.Arch. 1997), associate principal with CO Architects.


The panelists, while sharing their own unique educational experiences and professional trajectories, perfectly symbolized the changing dynamics in the profession that have occurred over the past decades. Though significant progress has been made (more women entering the profession, achieving leadership positions, starting their own firms, or succeeding in alternative career tracks like heritage conservation), they all shared stories of challenges they had to overcome in an historically male-dominated profession.


When asked if architecture school prepared them for the challenges of the workplace, Dubnoff responded, “I was prepared in every way but politically. As a woman you just didn’t get mentored like the men.” In Lampert’s view, school can only do so much. “Architecture is still based on an apprenticeship system,” she said. “One thing USC did very well was prepare us to be leaders.” While all the women on the panel have achieved leadership positions in the field, statistically they are part of a minority.


A 2014 article published by the ACSA, “Where are the Women?: Measuring Progress on Gender in Architecture,” citing statistics from NAAB, NCARB, the AIA, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics, painted a clear picture of gender imbalance in the profession. Despite the rising numbers of women entering architecture schools and making up 42 percent of recent architecture school graduates, the numbers drop off dramatically when looking at positions of leadership and receiving top honors such as AIA Awards and the Pritzker Prize. Despite accounting for nearly half of all graduates, women make up a mere 15-18 percent of all AIA members, licensed architects, and senior firm leadership. Moreover, between 2010-2014, men received 82 percent of top awards, while their female counterparts received 18 percent.


“When I graduated and started working, the ratio between men and women seemed pretty equal,” said Knudson. “But as I’ve risen through the ranks, you see fewer and fewer women.” She added that The Missing 32% statistics were “sobering” and that they have sparked an on-going discussion about gender. “Firms are now looking at how they create leaders,” she says.


The Missing 32% Project is, according to their mission statement, “a call to action for both women and men to realize the goal of equitable practice, advance architecture, sustain the profession and communicate the value of design to society. Our mission is to understand the pinch points and promote the strategic execution of best practices in the recruitment, retention, and promotion of our profession's best talent at every level of architectural practice.”


This discussion of gender in architecture has not only propelled the issue of women in leadership roles, but has also advanced the discussion on work-life balance in a profession known for its all-consuming demands and long hours.


When the conversation turned to “pinch points,” those critical career and life milestones at which women are more likely to leave the profession (licensure, promotions, having children), the responses were varied. “I solved the problem by not going the corporate route and starting my own firm,” said Lampert. Dubnoff made the decision not to have children. “I didn’t have to follow the money and had the freedom to do a lot of different types of work,” she said. “I’m navigating a pinch point right now,” said Knudson, who recently became a mother and now has to find a balance with her demanding responsibilities as an associate principal. She noted that her husband, who is also an architect, is also struggling along with her.


“It’s not just a problem for women,” said Lampert. “This is about men, too. We need to promote balanced lives and all sorts of diversity. Diversity makes things more interesting and maybe more profitable.” She adds that in her firm they encourage people to spend time with family. “In corporate architecture, I couldn’t talk about my children,” she said. McLeod added that she tries to lead by example in her twelve-person firm. Having started her practice before having children, she had the advantage of being able to bring her kids to the office. “In our office we talk about family and having lives outside of work.”


“People need more support to achieve this balance,” said Dubnoff. And while it is true, as McLeod noted, that “We all have a lot of balancing to do,” the pinch points still disproportionately impact women. This is the challenge moving forward. “We still have a long way to go,” stated Lampert.