Zhanina Boyadzhieva, Assoc. AIA, and Juliet Chun, Assoc. AIA, are designers at Boston-based Leers Weinzapfel Associates (LWA), a firm that was started in the 1980s by two women—Andrea Leers, FAIA, and Jane Weinzapfel, FAIA—and prides itself on being forward-thinking. As such, Boyadzhieva and Chun have leveraged an atmosphere of curiosity and professional support into a project known as Girl UNinterrupted. It’s a chance for the two to engage with emerging professionals in Boston and beyond, shining a light on issues that matter to the next generation of architects and recommending solutions that could help build a more equitable profession.
Boyadzhieva: LWA has always been a candid, collaborative environment. On International Women’s Day in 2017, we had a two-hour office-wide discussion about the issues affecting women in architecture. From that conversation, Juliet and I started wondering what architects and designers from our generation struggle with at work: wage gap, discrimination, sexism, and other major concerns. That led to Girl UNinterrupted.
Chun: The project is broken into three phases. The first was a survey we sent to emerging professionals [EPs] in the Boston area. We were trying to get a sense of the current climate through filters like gender, office size, and years of experience. We received over 500 responses and had the data analyzed by volunteering professionals. The second phase was a conversation series with female leaders in the area, discussing challenges they faced and any advice they might have for EPs. The third phase is a manual, where we’ll have information from the surveys, all our interviews, and tips for both leaders and EPs on how to build a better profession.
Boyadzhieva: We call the project Girl UNinterrupted because we’re young female designers, but we’ve focused from the beginning on representing EPs in general. Both Juliet and I have been lucky to find an open-minded and equitable environment. Yet we’re very aware that we’re in a double bubble— working in Boston at a progressive firm—and we know that’s not the case for others. We felt a responsibility to start something that could make an impact—and step in where many architects and designers can’t—to collect and amplify the voices of others.
Chun: In our research we found that the gender gap increases as you get older. When future architects start school, there’s usually a 50/50 balance of men and women. Then the drop-off begins, which increases as the years go by and ultimately leads to fewer women principals. As EPs, we have the chance to identify the issues affecting us right now, which will make them easier to tackle as we move into more senior positions. The more information that we can compile and put out there now, the better. —As told to Steve Cimino