What attracted you to work in architecture?
I went to a technical public high school in Queens, NY where I studied engineering, and truthfully, I didn’t like it. However, my summer internship after my sophomore year of high school was at an all-women architecture firm. Being exposed to that environment and being part of their studio, which was the right combination of creativity and problem solving, catered to my interest and encouraged me to pursue the profession.
Describe a typical working day for you…
The day doesn’t officially start until after my second cup of coffee in the morning. At SB Architects, I am currently leading the construction documents for a residential estate in Rio Grande, Puerto Rico. After work, I’ll usually wind down with a spinning class before I end the evening studying for my last few AREs.
Can you tell us about 1-2 challenges you faced throughout the course of your career, and how you overcame them?
I think very early on in my career, I naively thought that prejudices against women, and further WOC (Women of Color), would not be something I would endure in my career to the degree that those before me did. However, a few years back, while working in New York, I had the opportunity to work as the construction administrator on-site every day for nearly a year. While the experience was vital to my professional development, far too often I was mistaken or assumed to be someone’s personal assistant/secretary versus being the architectural representative. At times it was discouraging, however, I come from a lineage of very independent, take-no-nonsense women who taught me that as an individual, the obstacles I face will contribute to my resilience.
What are you most proud of doing?
I enjoy participating in days of service as a volunteer. Last Thanksgiving, I decided I was going to use the day to organize a supply drive and fundraise for a local women/youth shelter. It was incredibly last minute, and I was intimidated by the task, so in turn, my expectation was not very high. However, in a week and a half, we were able to raise close to $2,600 which helped purchase urgent need items for the shelter and supplies for their community distributions.
What do you see as some of the challenges facing women in Architecture?
First, I believe that women in the workforce, regardless of profession, are being constantly challenged to work in a system that was not designed with women in consideration. Whether it’s pay gaps, unfair standards, or lack of flexible working hours, women’s resiliency is constantly being tested and it’s exhausting.
The second, and perhaps the most important, is that architecture needs a more effective strategy for mentorship and sponsorship for women. Providing the necessary support, opportunities, and environment for professional growth is crucial for equitable workplace practice.
How important is it for women to lift each other up and what does that mean to you?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by remarkable women in every single milestone, in all aspects of my life. I couldn’t imagine crossing these markers without their support. One of my mentors told me “Always be the person you needed when you were in their situation” and it’s words I carry with me and hope that I’m currently living by and will for the rest of my life.
The theme this year is #ChoosetoChallenge; as one of the people spearheading Diversity + Inclusion within SB Architects, how does the firm address gender imbalances in its work?
Having conversations about inequity in all facets of its existence is not an easy task. So often we’re taught that these types of conversations are “inappropriate” and “uncomfortable”. And yes, they can be tough, however, change and growth never come from a place of comfort. Being part of SB Architects means also being part of an environment of professionals who are willing to listen, educate, and create obtainable actions towards these “uncomfortable” topics. While our gender equity from a statistical perspective may be above the professional average, we are working towards making sure that our various minority communities within our office are supported and elevated to their best potential.
Interview with: Tiffany Montañez, Associate and Job Captain