These two young, emerging architects have decided to take the lead in the profession and build a powerful resource that informs and empowers other emerging professionals. Hear what can happen when two women refuse to allow anything to block their way to success.
This week at EntreArchitect Podcast, The Girl UNinterrupted Project with Juliet Chun & Zhanina Boyadzhieva.
With a B.S. and M.Arch from Northeastern University, Juliet, Associate AIA, joined Leers Weinzapfel Associates in 2008 and has worked on a diversity of projects such as Ohio State University East Regional Chilled Water Plant and the UMass Design Building. She has taught at the Boston Architectural College as a studio instructor and thesis advisor and has been a guest critic for various institutions including Wentworth Institute of Technology, Mass Art College of Art and Design, and Pratt University.
Originally from Bulgaria, Zhanina, Associate AIA, received her MArch from Harvard GSD and a BA from Mount Holyoke College. She joined Leers Weinzapfel Associates in 2014 and has worked on variety of academic and infrastructure projects: Condorcet Campus Competition, UMass Design Building and currently Harvard Allston Energy Facility Plant. Zhanina is an active member of WID and Culture NOW. She has taught at Boston Architectural College and has been a guest critic at Harvard GSD, Northeastern, Wentworth, Mount Holyoke College and Kuwait University. Zhanina is an avid world traveler and an occasional writer with work published at TEDx Bulgaria, Metropolis Magazine, Oculus, Dnevnik, Ureport and SciencexArt.
Together, they are the cofounders of The Girl UNInterrupted Project which seeks to bridge the gap between young female designers and leaders in the architectural field.
Juliet’s Origin Story
Juliet didn’t know she wanted to be an architect until she was in college. She grew up in Tampa and attended Northeastern because of her love for the city of Boston. At the end of her freshman year, her advisor encouraged her to pick a major. She decided on architecture and loved everything about her experience through school. Northeastern does a coop program, so Juliet had the opportunity to do a coop with Leers Weinzapfel Associates. There she was able to get her foot in the door to return full time after graduation.
Zhanina’s Origin Story
Zhanina was always interested in the arts and tended to be good at math, systems and organizations. In Bulgaria, when applying for college, you tend to know what you want to study right away because of the technical nature of the programs. She was always searching for a school with a big population of international students and an architecture program. She also works at Leers Weinzapfel Associates, where she connected with Juliet.
Where did the name “Girl UNinterrupted” come from?
The name comes from the unique environments that haven’t interrupted them. Both Juliet and Zhanina have been lucky to be in places that allow them to grow.
How did The Girl UNInterrupted Project start?
Both Juliet and Zhanina work at Leers Weinzapfel Associates Architects, a firm that was started in the 1980s by Andrea Leers and Jane Weinzapfel. Last year, Andrea and Jane were nominated for an award that brought them to London for the ceremony and, when they returned, they brought a copy of the Architecture Review Magazine that focused all about the history of women in architecture.
On Women’s Day, they had an office-wide lunch to discuss any general observations about equity of the architecture field.
Juliet and Zhanina were quite shocked to see the statistics due to the incredible support that they’ve always felt at Leers Weinzapfel Associates, and wanted to learn more about what was happening with the other emerging professionals in Boston. They submitted an application to be a part of the ABX in Boston and were accepted. They launched the project soon after.
What is The Girl UNinterrupted Project?
The project is divided into three phases.
Phase 1 is the Designers Data Survey that they distributed to emerging professionals in Boston. The survey included questions on general info, salary negotiation, work/life balance, and career growth.
All of the data was professionally analyzed and the results were presented at ABX.
Phase 2 was the Conversation Series between Juliet, Zhanina and top leaders in the field like women principles, landscape architects, and human resources associates. What challenged did they face? How did they come up in the field? Do they have any tips for emerging professionals on what to do to jumpstart their carers?
Phase 3 was a manual to publish all of the information that they gathered to promote transparency within the office culture. One side includes tips for emerging professionals and the other side was tips for leaders on small tweaks they could try to maximize and retain the talent they have.
Where have you completed the survey?
After surveying Boston and analyzing the results, they were really encouraged to expand to other cities to compare contents. Currently, it’s now available in Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington DC and New York. If you’re in one of those cities, you can CLICK HERE to complete the survey.
What’s the big picture of what you’re hoping to achieve?
First of all, they’re hoping to bring transparency around certain procedures. Many policies are hidden, and they want to give a voice to people who may not feel supported in their work environments.
Second, they want to understand what emerging professionals are struggling with and and what issues need to be tackled for future progress. A lot of emerging architects may be in a bubble like Julie and Zhanina, where they don’t necessarily recognize many of the issues that other emerging professionals are dealing with.
How have professionals reacted to the project so far?
Often, there’s a disconnected communication where designers assume that leaders know how they feel and leaders assume that they’re being transparent. Girl UNinterrupted is trying to create a dialogue instead of assuming that everyone can read each other’s minds.
They were very surprised on how principles reacted to the project, as they were surprised by the questions that emerging professionals were asking and really sought to make that connection.
Were there any surprises in the data from the Boston survey?
One surprise was when they would ask questions about policies in their office, many emerging professionals responded that they didn’t know. This either meant that those issues weren’t important to the emerging professionals or that there wasn’t transparency with office policies; either way, the two groups needed to communicate more.
When they started asking more questions about how people felt about initiating ideas in the workplace, the percentages drastically dropped. How can the work environment be more open so people can share their ideas?
Another interesting result was in terms of negotiation. When asked if you negotiated, more women than men replied that they had. For those who didn’t negotiate, when asked why, women responded that they did not feel confident doing so whereas men responded that they did not need to negotiate.
What is the one thing that small firm architects can do today to build a better business tomorrow?
“It’s important to have a personal connection with your employees, regardless of the size of your firm. What are their personal struggles and goals? Those connections create a relationship of mutual respect.” – Zhanina Boyadzhieva
“Promote good morale throughout the office to show people they are appreciated. Even a simple ‘thank you’ from time to time can be incredibly encouraging.” – Juliet Chun
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