#ChoosetoChallenge, #IWD, Buildings and Places, ED&I, International Women's Day, Women in Design

In celebration of International Womens Day on March 8, and this years theme #ChooseToChallenge, we have asked a diverse group of leaders and employees to write about their experiences in challenging the status quo and strengthening gender equity and inclusion in the workplace. From March 1 through March 8, follow this conversation on our blog and across our social media handles (TwitterLinkedIn and Facebook).

In a two-part blog series, we are sharing the perspectives of women across our industry, gaining insight from architects, interior designers, urban designers, planners and strategists – women in design at AECOM. How can we work to forge gender quality in the design profession? Where do they find inspiration? How are we contributing to diversity and inclusion through our work? Read the second part below.

Dana Marinzel, Architect, Buildings + Places DC Metro Studio

Why I chose the design profession: I was raised by an artist/high school art teacher and a middle school principal/former math teacher, so going into a field that blends the creative and the rational came pretty naturally to me. I’ve always loved the arts and generally enjoyed and did well in school, especially my math classes. I also like to learn new things, and I really love to figure out puzzles and put the pieces together. For me, architecture blends all of those things.

How my work is contributing to diversity and inclusion in the design profession’s broader society: It still is not uncommon for me to be the only or one of the only females in the room, but those occurrences are happening less often than they were when I began my career. Those who know me know that I’m generally not afraid to speak up. Admittedly, it does get me in trouble from time to time, but I feel that it has served me well over the course of my career. Like many other women in a traditionally male-dominated field, I feel that I have had to fight harder to gain the respect of some of my peers and clients. However, once that respect has been gained, I become a trusted advisor and a resource to my peers. I believe that the more people there are doing good, thoughtful work while mentoring and championing others, the better it is for all of us.

Naoko Oguro, Interiors Design Lead, Buildings + Places New York Studio

Why I chose the design profession: For as long as I can remember, I was always designing spaces. I discovered Legos at my neighbor’s house and I would park myself there for hours putting the random pieces together to build up multi-room spaces even when my friend was outside playing. I remember converting my desk surface into an apartment for my Barbie, making furniture and room dividers with whatever I could find to fit her scale, then explaining to my mom why I can’t do my homework on my desk. I was fortunate enough to grow up in New York City, and was accepted to attend High School of Art and Design in Midtown, where they had all kinds of artistic and creative fields as areas of focus. I chose to study Interior Design and followed that through to a four-year degree at the Fashion Institute of Technology. I struggled quite a bit in choosing between Interior Design and Architecture, but I ultimately decided on Interior Design because I felt like that was more relatable to me as a person.

How my work is contributing to diversity and inclusion in the design profession’s broader society: My team is a female dominant, racially diverse studio! Growing up in Queens, NYC – the most diverse place on earth – made me love and relate to the non-conventional upbringing and richness that diversity brings; I don’t know any other way of living. Though before I moved to NYC, I had spent some of my childhood in Japan, which is completely opposite in diversity. I remember thinking Jimmy Carter was Japanese because his hair was white and when I saw him on the news, they always dubbed over him in Japanese. I didn’t realize there were people that weren’t Asian until I visited NY when I was 7! The diversity of NYC makes me feel more comfortable here.

Ways we can work to forge a gender equal world: Empower women and take the seat at the table where you can be in the position to do so for other women. You have to have it in you to go find that seat, grab it, and make more for others to take at the table and don’t be apologetic about it.

Victoria Watson, Senior Associate, High Performance Buildings & Communities, Buildings + Places Orange Studio

Why I chose the design profession: I had always thought I fell into high performance engineering and the design profession by chance. In retrospect, what I now see is that I followed areas that both spiked my interest and that I showed some aptitude for. As such, I feel that I had sought-out and seized opportunities whenever they presented themselves along the way. I had heard from a female engineer when I was in high school about her enjoyment in the field, which lead me to study relevant topics that interested and challenged me at school. I followed up on connections in the industry while I was a student, seeking out an internship which turned into a sponsorship and then a full-time job. I even jumped at an opportunity to move to another continent for work. These are the things that led me to join, and stay in, the design profession and it was only when looking back that I realized that this is where my passion lies.

How my work is contributing to diversity and inclusion in the design profession’s broader society: Unfortunately, I still sometimes find myself as the only woman in room full of male peers, whether it be for a design project or team-lead gathering. However, I value the benefits of diversity and have had the great pleasure of being a hiring manager for many roles and to also lead a team of exceptional individuals with diverse backgrounds. I am one of our office Inclusivity and Diversity leads as I truly believe everyone should be able to bring their authentic self to work and have equal power to shape and influence.

Ways we can work to forge a gender equal world: I believe in a gender equal world where women and men have equal power to shape society and their own lives. Although more things are the same than different between genders, societal and cultural differences remain.

Jeannette Lenear Peruchini, Managing Principal, Director of Interiors, Buildings + Places Chicago Studio

Why I chose the design profession: As a child, I always enjoyed art and creating things. I loved making crafts, painting, drawing and writing short stories. I still remember how excited I was to get my first Bob Ross paint set for my birthday! However, as I reflect, I realize the connection to my chosen career path. I began my career in landscape architecture based on the recommendation of my high school guidance counselor. She recognized that landscape architecture would allow me to combine my creative thinking and love of horticulture into a meaningful career. While she was right, I don’t think either of us understood what that would actually mean. Now, more than 20 years later, I have leveraged my education in multidisciplinary design and my ability to think and solve problems creatively to pivot into new areas of the design industry. I tell this story because I think it is important to recognize the various opportunities the design industry provides and the potential for those within it.

How my work is contributing to diversity and inclusion in the design profession’s broader society: There is simply no way to develop and deliver great work without having a diverse workforce offering unique perspectives. The best ideas and the best delivery require the inclusion of the very best talents of a diverse team. In addition to seeking to hire and build a diverse workforce, we also maintain strong relationships with minority- and women-owned businesses and work collaboratively to win new work and serve clients. Without question, we can do more when we appreciate the various perspectives provided by a diverse workforce.

Ways we can work to forge a gender equal world:
While the traditional roles of women being the caregiver and homemaker and men being the provider are slowly evolving, I continue to see the majority of career women still playing the primary role in caregiving, specifically as it relates to parenting. This often results in women putting their career aspirations on hold to raise their children and taking a back seat to the men who do not make these same sacrifices. Although many companies have started to embrace more flexible working, which has made it easier for women to balance their career and homelife demands, I think we still need to make the shift culturally to break down the traditional roles for men and women. If we can shift to a society that accepts men and women being the caregiver and homemaker equally, I believe we will begin to see a greater sharing of responsibilities between both genders and more women in leadership positions.

To read the first part of our Women in Design blog, click here.


Originally published Mar 3, 2021

Author: AECOM Editors