Women Uplifting Women to Architectural Triumph with Elizabeth Schneider from Chicago Woman in Architecture(CWA)

Elizabeth Schneider, past president of CWA, demonstrates the importance of empowering resources for career success for Women in Architecture

Women Uplifting Women to Architectural Triumph with Elizabeth Schneider from Chicago Woman in Architecture(CWA)
Elizabeth Schneider, CWA Logo ©Chicago Women in Architecture

Written by Sudhiksha Srinivasan

In the intricate labyrinth of the design world, navigating the path to success often demands an encouraging and supportive community that fosters growth and opportunity. Advocating for that environment is Chicago Women in Architecture(CWA), a formidable force in the design sphere.

Serving as a not-for-profit, member organization, CWA provides a pivotal forum for women in architecture and allied fields to mentor, be mentored, access scholarships, and cultivate invaluable networks.

Within this vibrant world of support and collaboration, Elizabeth Schneider is an example of the transformative impacts of CWA. She is a former CWA president and Senior Associate of Goettsch Partners. I sat down with her to learn more about her professional journey and CWA’s role in it.

Speaker at the Chicago Build Expo 2023 Panel "Building Bridges: Supporting an Inclusive Workplace" ©Elizabeth Schneider

Taking that Significant First Step

Between 2019 to 2020 Liz reached out to the CWA to cohost a panel series to foster community and representation within her workplace. This became a pivotal partnership since her dedication caught the attention of the then-CWA President who later offered Liz the role of Vice President. CWA provided Liz with invaluable networking and mentorship opportunities, such as Speed Mentoring and ARE study groups, that helped Liz keep her career moving forward.

Advocacy Panel at Goettsch Partners ©Elizabeth Schneider

Access to Resources for Success

CWA provides diverse resources to create a holistic career growth. A primary example is CWA’s mentorship programs. As Liz put it, "The easy first-step to learn more about the current fabric of the community is to attend their public board meetings or member meetings; this is also a great opportunity to network among practicing women architects."

CWA also recently launched a Speed Mentoring program which helps facilitate brief one-on-one sessions and networking between mentors and mentees. Additionally, CWA’s initiative of having an ARE study group offers peer mentoring as well an encouraging space to share knowledge for invidious preparing for exams.

Speed Mentoring event by CWA at Perkins+Will, October 2023 ©Chicago Women in Architecture

Success Measures for CWA

Liz highlighted the partnerships with the Chicago Women in Architecture Foundation(CWAF) which focuses on two annual scholarships:  the Gertrude Lempp Kerbis Scholarship which recognizes outstanding design studio projects by women architecture students and the Roula Alakiotou Scholarship for strong women architecture students in their final year of study for academic and leadership achievements.

Liz also mentioned achievement awards recognizing women’s contributions to the industry. Introduced recently, The Making Waves Award is for emerging professionals and the Breaking Glass Award is for mid-career individuals.  These initiatives go beyond just providing financial support but also can offer career advancement ultimately inspiring the newer generation of women architects.

©Chicago Women in Architecture

Engagement from the Grassroots Level

I asked her if women in architecture groups should have a foothold at the grassroots level of an architecture school. Should schools have student chapters similar to American Institute of Architecture Students Chapter (AIAS) or National Organization of Minority Architects Students Chapter (NOMAS)?

Liz agreeably answered how such groups in schools can contribute to success, highlighting the importance of tailoring the group’s focus based on the community’s needs and broader representation.

CAC Girls Build 2022 ©Chicago Women in Architecture

To understand the community’s needs for diverse representation a tool like Engage can help create an interesting yet easier discussion format. It could also help provide a collaborative platform for creative brainstorming sessions and fun team-building exercises.

A Glimpse into an Equitable Future

Liz believes in the potential of the profession to progress towards an equitable workplace. She suggested how support networks, mentors and equitable pay are some of the crucial factors which influence women’s retention and advancement in the architecture profession. Highlighting the impact of disparities in pay, especially in times like the pandemic when childcare responsibilities were increased, she mentioned how this creates an imbalance leading to a tough family decision of the person earning less to opt to leave the workforce.

Understanding the nuanced nature of this issue, she pointed out that legislative measures and accessible childcare can help alleviate these pressures. She also added, that while family responsibilities can affect a woman’s career trajectory, it is not the sole factor, and other barriers to such progress need to be addressed.

Goettsch Partners' Women's Group Panel October 2021 ©Elizabeth Schneider

The Reward of Resilience

Being a part of CWA’s board and collaborating with Industry-leading women is what Liz finds most rewarding. Working with diverse board members who support each other, helps foster a sense of community absent in their daily work. This also creates a co-learning experience from different women’s approaches and successes, which provides an invaluable enriching community outside the traditional office setting.

CWA Board members at 2023 Annual Spring Brunch ©Chicago Women in Architecture

To get involved with Chicago Women in Architecture(CWA), visit their website for upcoming events. Interested individuals can connect with board members, become members or join in the 50th Anniversary Celebrations this year, at the Annual Spring Brunch in April.

Liz’s journey embodies the resilience and camaraderie of women in the architecture field. As she successfully transitions from one milestone to the next, her inspiring story serves as a testament to the power of women empowerment.

Speaker at AIA Third Thursday, March 2023 ©Elizabeth Schneider


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