Reflections: Women in Construction



by Amy Vanderhorst
Associate Principal

At the recent Pacific Northwest Regional A4LE conference, I had the opportunity to participate in the ‘Women in Design and Construction’ panel which focused on the role of women architects, especially in institutional design. Six women shared their experiences in the design and construction industry and how we navigate the needs of our clients, bias in the trade, and equity issues.

For me, being a woman architect influences my approach to school design in two ways—emphasizing safety and children-centric thinking.

  • As a woman, I tend to view safety in a different light–more instinctively.
  • As a mother of two kids with different learning styles and scholastic abilities, I understand the importance of providing a variety of learning environments.

Also, as a female in the construction industry, there is a sense one must strive for perfection to get the respect of male peers. As a result, I think a lot about how we bring along the next generation of women architects, designers, and contractors. We often face challenges such as not revealing our fears before contractors on site (i.e. losing balance on a ladder, peering over the ledge of tall structures). Helping create an environment where it is OK to acknowledge those fears is important.

For me, personally, even showing up in a public forum like a conference panel is challenging. I’m naturally an introvert who prefers to listen, think, and then share. As a female architect, I have learned to be assertive (after a lot of hard work, and trial and error) while maintaining an empathetic approach to issues that arise during design and construction.

My advice to fellow women architects—take initiative, be the first to shake hands, demand a seat at the table, be an active part of the conversation. There’s room for all of us in the AEC industry—let’s lift each other up and build not just schools but our community!