Sept 2017: AIA Women's Leadership Summit

The AIA Women’s Leadership Summit is a two-day event focused on supporting women architects, creating new paths to leadership, and providing a forum to recognize and champion their work.

What began as a grassroots effort in Boston is now a biannual sold-out event that influences the national conversation around gender and diversity in the architecture profession.

Summit goals include:

  • Raising the profile of women principals and leaders in the profession
  • Sharing and promoting the design work of women
  • Exploring new paths to leadership
  • Learning from each other regarding issues and challenges
Anne-Michael Sustman, Nicole Seekely, Lauren Sherman, Carmen Stan, Cheryl McAfee, Rosa Sheng!

Anne-Michael Sustman, Nicole Seekely, Lauren Sherman, Carmen Stan, Cheryl McAfee, Rosa Sheng!

EQiA at WLS!

This year, AIA Georgia and Equity in Architecture were able to send several outstanding Georgia architects to theSummit, from September 14-16 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Washington, DC.

Below, please find their personal thoughts and takeaways:

Lauren Sherman

As a first-time attendee of the Women’s Leadership Summit, I was impressed at the stage that was set for why this two-day conference was so important to women in the field of architecture. The conference presented research, generated conversation among what our profession is doing to advance women into leadership, how women can create tailwinds in their fields to propel them forward.

Rosa Sheng opened the conference with metrics from the 2016 Equity in Architecture survey, which led to an understanding of the current experience of women in the field. The survey will be released at the end of 2017. Susan Colantuono, CEO of Leading Women, guided the group into to make up the missing 33% in the leadership of companies. Information about what career advice women typically do not receive.

These conversations haven't stopped at the conference, because equity is for everyone. The more equitable of a professional we are, the more we are able to mirror our clients and the communities we serve. For AIA Georgia, the Equity in Architecture committee aims to ensure we continue the conversation throughout our state.

Tanya Richards

The WLS was an inspiring and empowering experience.  The friendships we made will be lifelong, and the knowledge we gained encourages us daily.  Learning and sharing with other women in the same profession was eye-opening.  The trials, tribulations but mostly the accomplishments of this amazing group of women is inspiring.

My main goal for this summit was to be able to explain why diversity is important.  I came away with a better understanding and statistics to support that as well as shared Leadership and Negotiation skills.  Below are the highlights:

Diversity is needed in a firm – Change is Difficult.  Not changing is fatal. 

Why? To get the best talent.  If they don’t see themselves at the top of an organization, they won’t work there, because they believe there is no opportunity.

Diverse firms have more opportunities and statistically are more profitable.

  • They make culturally relevant work.
  • Clients want diversity.

The Goal is for your firm to look like your community: the community you serve and the community that is graduating and getting registered.

Leadership Skills:

  • Use the greatness in you to engage the greatness in others to achieve and sustain extraordinary outcomes.
  • Be able to tell the impact we have on cash/growth/return

Negotiation Tips:

  • We are selling a relationship, not a service.
  • If you lower your fee reduce your scope.
  • A cut service could put them at risk.  Explain how.
  • The contract should outline the services & values.
  • Know what you are good at.
  • You can say, "If we cut the fee then you can’t have me. We will need to provide a less-experienced person."

Carmen Stan

This year I was lucky to attend the AIA Women Leadership Summit in Washington, DC. What an inspiring two days and what an amazing group of women. I learned so much and I was inspired to do more for me and for my career. We met women from different backgrounds, races, ages, professions, women who work for small companies, for themselves, for large companies, and also women who started and/or run very large companies. All different, but all the same in the sense that we all strive for the same purpose in life: to create a better environment and a better future.

What follows are my top 3 architects / quotes / thoughts from the convention sessions:

  1. Women under fire: 
    • Angela O’Byrne taught me to continue fighting for me, for my daughter and for all the women out there, but never to forget to be grateful for the opportunities we have and the lives we live. By appreciating that we can strive to do more. We all need to be more involved in our communities and outside and to become mentors for future generations.
  2. In-situ with Suzane Reatig: 
    • Suzane’s architectural studio and life story were amazing, but what I admired most was her philosophy that you ALWAYS have to create good design and to consider how that will impact the lives of the people. Her determination to design the Metropolitan Community Church and her perseverance got the job that started her career and put her newly founded practice on the map. Stand behind your design and fight for it.  Don’t just do architecture; create good design, design to be proud of.
  3. “Get used to being tired.” No comment...


The AIA Women’s Leadership Summit was a fantastic way to get inspired by hearing from some truly incredible women about what they are doing to make a difference in our field across the country and around the globe.  From building secure dormitories that allow women to attend university in Afghanistan while their teams literally face attacks from the Taliban, to helping densify & re-engergize the once nearly deserted urban landscape of Detroit by getting it named a UNESCO City of Design (the only one in North America), to leading the EDGE Certified Foundation of Switzerland which helps qualifying companies understand how to institute outstanding gender equity practices; these women are affecting unprecedented change in the field of architecture and beyond.

The breakout session that I found most interesting focused on the taking “A Business Approach” to equity.  It highlighted what the AIA National’s Equity in Architecture Commission is aiming to achieve in the coming years and discussed how some large firms are tackling the equity question.  While the research that has been done around the topic is a fantastic tool for beginning to address the problems of equity in the field of architecture, I don’t think enough emphasis is being placed on the fact that improving the profession for the minority will improve it for the majority.  The most disheartening and poignant statistic that was shared from the most recent Equity in Architecture survey, stated that 54% of both men and women, of all races & ethnicities surveyed, were not satisfied with their jobs.  This is a staggering percentage that we should do more to emphasize could be improved by a number of Equity in Architecture’s main initiatives.  Achieving better work-life and flex time policies within our field, curbing unpaid overtime expectations, providing more opportunities for mentorship and establishing more transparent processes for promotion within firms will benefit ALL employees not just those in the gender, racial or ethnic minorities.  Various studies in recent years have shown that companies who have more diverse senior leadership and more accurately reflect the demographics of those that they serve, are more profitable by every measurable metric.  We need to be underscoring these aspects of equitable practice to increase support, broaden buy-in, and let our colleagues know that an argument for equity fights for an improved culture for all of us in the field. 

Nicole Seekely

When I received support both from my firm Smith Dalia Architects and Equity in Architecture to attend the AIA Women’s Leadership Summit, I couldn’t have been more elated to register for what was going to be an inspiring, educational, and motivational summit.  However, one small part of me did reflect and regret the fact that in 2017 we even still need a Women’s Leadership Summit.  I can only hope that these summits are encouraging and training women so that at some point in my career (hopefully in the earlier rather than later part of my career), we have need for only a Leadership Summit.  Keeping that in mind, I sought out distinct moments of clarity that I could take with me to advance my career and share with other women leaders-to-be.

  1. We are already leaders.  When your firm hired you – they expected you to lead in whatever you do. 
  2. To be taken seriously, you need to be serious.  Develop your business and financial acumen - show investment and understanding in your firm’s financial operations and stability as well as understand the business aspects of your company.
  3. Get inspired.  Two women that particularly impacted me at the summit were Angela O’Byrne, President of Perez and Suzane Reatig, Principal at Suzane Reatig Architecture.  They both had incredible stories of obstacles, mistakes, triumphs, and fortitude that inspire me to gain the courage, strength, and knowledge that they possess so that I one day can reach the same level of success and purpose that they have attained.