by Katherine Sampson

I am a mother and an architect. I work amongst knowledgeable, skilled, respectful, empathetic and supportive women – women who understand the demands of working in the architecture profession whilst raising a family.

The norm in our workplace is women in practice who balance career with mother hood, studies, teaching and other various commitments.

I began working with Cathi Colla Architects in 2016. My daughter was 8 months old at the time. Cathi Colla Architects is a female-led, all-female studio. We also share our studio space with another all-female team.

When I became pregnant with my daughter, I thought my architecture career would be on hold for at least a few years. At the time I found it difficult to see how I could sustain the hours I was used to working. I knew that I wanted to learn to be a great mother – giving my daughter the time and attention that she would need!

Knowing the hectic pace of traditional office culture prevalent in architecture practices I was resigned to my career to be on hold for a number of years. This would mean that obtaining my professional registration would be years away (if at all) and, like many others, I would need to work hard at getting back into the profession once my daughter was at school. This was looking to be probably 5 years away.

Cathi and I had met about 6 years ago through a mutual architecture colleague. I approached Cathi as a prospect for work back in 2013 as I was interested in women in practices who work while raising kids.

Our design approach - designing for the future

It was refreshing to see Cathi running her practice, maintaining connections within the industry, and having a family.

I have always been involved in volunteering and teaching while working, so was interested in women juggling different aspects of life with their career.

Cathi was very responsive and interested in my career trajectory. We remained in touch having the occasional coffee to touch base and update each other on our work and life balancing acts.  While I was on maternity leave, Cathi approached me to see if I was interested in assisting on a project in her office, to “dip my toes” back into work, while looking after my daughter.

I jumped at the opportunity to get back to work with someone who was open to supporting this transition.

Working at Cathi Colla Architects has demonstrated first hand that cultural change to support women in architecture must come from within architectural practices. Providing flexibility, understanding and support for women returning to work.

In changing the professional culture of architecture to provide an inclusive place for working mothers, it is important to see the benefits of having mothers in the workforce. The benefits to our children are many: we provide our kids with a positive role model and we raise more independent kids.

But what are the benefits of having working mothers on a design project?

How could a client benefit from having a working mother as their architect?

As for the benefits to the practice in which we work – what are the benefits to the profession?

The culture in the architecture profession is traditionally male dominated and a culture of unrealistic expectations and deadlines. Being a working mum increases the personal demands on women as we juggle child care pick-ups and drops offs. This can be seen as negative, restricting availability and time on a project or to our clients; putting limitations on accessibility, and having a reduced commitment to a project.

However, since becoming a mother and an architect, I have more belief in myself, I make better choices and I feel a sense of purpose that I didn’t have before having a child.

As an architect, this translates to better decision making.

Clear work hours defined by childcare availability means managing time more efficiently. As a working mother, I have an embedded understanding of the home and the demands and needs of the different users in the home.

Women, especially mothers, are inherently good listeners. This is definitely an advantageous trait for an architect. As mothers we are nurturing, creative and empathic. As an architect, getting to know our clients and their needs is the hallmark of a successful project. It means we can use our skills to translate these client and project needs into a successful built outcome.

By putting ourselves in our clients shoes we can better understand how to interpret their needs and aspirations. These are well-practiced attributes that architects who are working mothers can bring to a project.

The benefits to the architecture profession of having mothers represented is the increase of diversity of practicing architects. With diversity comes different points of views and varied experiences, both of which are of great benefit to projects and architectural outcomes overall.

I undertook the professional registration exam to become registered as an Architect in 2017 with Cathi’s support. At the time I was working part time with Cathi and juggling being a mother of a 1 year old.

Working at Cathi Colla Architects is a supportive and understanding studio culture. Cathi and the team have enabled me to develop as a mother AND develop my career. Having people in the industry who support women getting back into work after having kids makes all the difference and is the place to begin in changing the culture of the profession.

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