Zhanina Boyadzhieva and Juliet Chun
Langer Hsu Zhanina Boyadzhieva and Juliet Chun

In architecture, having 10 years under your belt can still mean you’re a newbie in the industry. If you are an emerging professional in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C., wondering how your experience stacks up against others—or if you want to contribute to the conversation of how firms can retain talent (such as yourself)—the Girl Uninterrupted Project wants you to take its Designers Data 2018 survey by March 31. Open to designers of all genders with up to a decade of experience, the six- to 10-minute survey asks about 40 questions about negotiation, self-confidence, career growth, and work–life balance.

Zhanina Boyadzhieva, Assoc. AIA, and Juliet Chun, Assoc. AIA, both designers at Leers Weinzapfel Associates, in Boston, conceived the initiative last year on International Women’s Day, March 8, following an office-wide lunch discussion on the topic of equity in architecture around the world. “We were interested in understanding the local context a bit more, what emerging professionals struggle with,” and whether those concerns vary by gender, firm size, and other parameters, Boyadzhieva says. She adds that what distinguishes their survey from others, such as that administered by the AIA San Francisco Equity by Design committee, is its focus on “bridging the gap between emerging professionals and leaders in the field.”

With the help of marketing and social sciences experts from several organizations and institutions, including Cambridge, Mass.–based HubSpot, Boston College, and Northeastern University, Girl Uninterrupted distributed its first survey to nascent designers in Boston last June. In the two months that the inaugural Boston survey was open, Boyadzhieva and Chun received 533 responses from designers who heard about the project through their grassroots efforts: reaching out to design networks, professional organizations such as the Boston Society of Architects, and cold-emailing leaders of Boston firms during “every lunch break,” Chun says.

Zhanina Boyadzhieva
Langer Hsu Zhanina Boyadzhieva
Juliet Chun
Langer Hsu Juliet Chun

After presenting their survey at the ArchitectureBoston Expo last November, Boyadzhieva and Chun were approached by other designers who volunteered to help conduct the survey in other metropolitan areas across the nation. “We selected as many cities as we could handle,” Boyadzhieva says.

The 2017 Boston survey results will be available on the Girl Uninterrupted website after the current survey period closes this month. As a preview, the co-founders offered a couple surprising findings. For one thing, while many of the Boston respondents said that they were comfortable asking questions in the office, they were significantly less enthused about “initiating ideas,” Boyadzhieva says. “How can we change that?”

For another, an open-ended question about ideal office perks resulted in a number of participants picking several of the provided choices related to professional development but also wrote in a desire for a better work–life balance, Chun says: “Emerging professionals want not just to build their career, but also to have a life outside that career.”

And nascent designers aren’t the only ones who want to learn more about the incoming generation of future architects—firm leaders and principals do too. “We've heard people wonder why licensure isn’t as important to emerging professionals, why the culture is different, what people are struggling with these days, and what's important to them,” Chun says.

As such, the co-founders are creating a manual “with action tips based on our data and the conversations we've had [with design principals in Boston],” Boyadzhieva says. These tips will help aspiring architects “jump-start their careers” as well as offer firm leaders “small office tweaks they can do to maximize and retain talent.”

Change must come from both the top and the bottom, Chun adds. “We're trying to tackle this issue on both sides so there's more of an open dialogue between these two parties.”

While Girl Uninterrupted has not yet committed to conducting the survey in more cities, Boyadzhieva says hearing from designers located in more parts of the country would be interesting.