“Women are the real architects of society.” – Cher
Although women and men now enroll in architecture school in roughly equal numbers, it’s still a vastly male-dominated profession, with women representing only about one in five licensed professionals.
For International Women’s Day 2021, we wanted to recognize three women of architecture at Chmiel Architects for their incredible talent, determination, positivity, as well as demonstrating the value of diversity for our firm.
The fields of architecture, urban planning, and engineering have evolved considerably since their inception, but there are still considerable challenges on the path to achieving gender equity.
We are so proud of these three women helping pave the way.
Elaine Yee, B.Arch, OAA, LEED AP ID+C, MRAIC
How did you know you wanted to be an architect?
“I didn’t really know I ever wanted to be an architect. In fact, after a particularly boring grade 8 career day session with an architect (he literally flipped through a thick set of working drawings and narrated in monotone, “These are the architectural drawings, these are the structural drawings, these are the mechanical drawings, these are the electrical drawings”), I swore I would never become an architect. But, as high school was drawing to a close, I had to pick something. As I was both artistically and mathematically inclined, everyone around me told me I should study architecture. I told myself I would see how school was, and much to my surprise, found it to be mind-blowing, incredibly challenging, and life changing. I think I cried at some point every semester. And here I am, several decades later still working, and not bored. Incidentally, I had the opportunity to do a couple of career days since, and was determined to improve upon my predecessor!”
How have you coped with being a woman in a male-dominated profession?
“I never had any trepidation on entering a male-dominated profession, in large part due to my upbringing. My parents instilled in me the confidence that I could achieve anything I wanted, and that my being female was not an impediment. That being said, once I entered the workforce, I did encounter some normalized behaviours which I felt were discriminatory (e.g. being called a girl instead of a woman) and I always made a point to make corrections when observed. I think education is key to improving the work environment, with the goal to make it more inclusive, collaborative, and supportive. At the end of the day, I let my work speak for itself, and eventually, any negative preconceived notions simply went away. While this profession is male dominated, it’s becoming less so, but there still needs a lot of work done at the upper management and executive levels – that really is part of a larger issue at hand, including overcoming unconscious biases, and of course the additional demands when parenting or caregiving comes into the equation.”
Elzbieta Chylinska, M. Arch
How did you know you wanted to be an architect?
“When I started thinking about career options in high school, all I knew was that I was good in math and that I also had a talent for art, so I began to search for studies and careers that might cater to one element or the other. I learned that the university I was applying to was offering weekend preparation courses toward the architecture program – which luckily seemed to speak to both of my interests – but these courses were 3 hours away from my home town. I remember taking those little road trips with my dad. I thought, even if this architecture thing didn’t pan out, I’ll always have these great memories of our time together. I’m so grateful for parents that gave me the freedom and support to find my own path. Before I started my university studies, I travelled abroad to France and Italy. It was so inspiring to see the dazzling mix of heritage and modern architecture. My horizons were broadening. I knew I wanted this to be part of my life. My work in architecture has reaffirmed what these early steps hinted at. This is a career that inspires creativity and lets me look at the world with curiosity and imagination.”
Anna Preiss, B.A.S., M.Arch, OAA
Do you find it difficult to earn peer or public respect as a woman in architecture?
“In the 10 years since I’ve graduated, I’ve seen and experienced a significant cultural change in the industry. While it does seem like sexism in general, and harassment in particular, tend to hit younger women in their early twenties a bit harder than, say, a woman in her 30s, I am optimistic that there has been a major social shift in how we see and think of women professionally. Part of this can be attributed to the cultural awakening caused by the #MeToo movement, but generationally speaking, I see the upcoming cohort as much more progressive than my own, (and for the record I consider millennials to be quite progressive!) I am very hopeful that by the time the next generation of women get their license, they will have less sexism to navigate, and further, will be able to command more respect earlier in their careers – from both their peers and the public at large.”