AIA Women Leaders: We're in good hands!

The Women’s Leadership Summit (WLS) is an annual event organized by the American Institute of Architects (AIA). It brings together diverse women in architecture, design, and related fields with the goal of supporting and empowering them in the AEC industry, helping them shape their careers positively while making an impact.

This year, the AIA WLS was held at the Sheraton Boston Hotel from September 12-14, 2023. With a dynamic lineup of activities, speakers, and insightful workshops tailored to support women in the industry, it was a major success, drawing over 900 attendees!

All 900 attendees of WLS at the Grand Ballroom, Sheraton Boston Hotel

As a first-time attendee, I was determined to make the most of it, soak in the experience, and connect with more people in the industry. While I enjoyed every aspect of the summit, meeting the three lady presidents of the AIA—Emily Grandstaff-Rice, Kimberly Dowdell, and Evelyn Lee—was a standout moment.

Dinner with Kimberly Dowdell- 100th AIA President

I had the opportunity to attend the Firm Happy Hour hosted by MASS Design Group, where I was invited to dinner afterward by Amber La Croix from LA Croix Communications. The dinner took place at a cozy Mexican restaurant and included Katie Swenson, Senior Principal at Mass, Jing Lauengco-Brand Strategist, and Eman Bermani-Architect. To my pleasant surprise, Kimberly Dowdell was also present at the restaurant.

L-R. Me, Amber La Croix, Katie Swenson, Kimberly Dowdell, Jing Lauengco, and Eman Bermani

Upon meeting Kimberly, my first impression was that she exuded a calm, composed, and incredibly friendly demeanor. She had an aura that was both impressive and welcoming. My friend Jing perfectly described her as “Unflappable, Unstoppable, and Undeniable,” and I couldn’t agree more. Kimberly spoke with depth, and her presence conveyed a sense of passion and authority that was truly remarkable.

Currently, Kimberly serves as the 2023 First Vice President of the AIA and will be the 100th AIA President for the 2024 term. Her platform focuses on supporting the business of design, making architecture accessible to all, addressing climate action for future generations, and navigating the future of design work with technological advancements.

Breakfast with Emily Grandstaff-Rice- 99th AIA President

I returned to the hotel after a walk, still in my workout clothes and without any makeup on. Since I wanted a quick breakfast at the venue, I intentionally chose a table on the far side of the hall because everyone else was already dressed up.

Our breakfast table with Emily Grandstaff-Rice

Coincidentally, Emily arrived at the venue and decided to join our table, sitting right next to me! Everyone at the table seemed delighted that she joined us. We started asking her questions about her leadership, and I was genuinely impressed by her passion and dedication to serving the AEC industry through the AIA community.

Emily is incredibly passionate about her role as the current president of AIA and the purpose behind it. Her goal is to ensure that architects and regular citizens can understand and connect with the work of the AIA. She is also determined to make architecture a more accessible profession for everyone and works tirelessly every day to provide opportunities for anyone who wants to be an architect.

Emily’s warmth, kindness, and approachability are genuine. Having breakfast with her felt surreal, and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation that morning.

Bumped into Evelyn Lee– 101st AIA President

Evelyn Lee (rightmost) on stage during the first WLS keynote

On the summit’s final day, I bumped into Evelyn Lee in the elevator right after her keynote session. I’ve known Evelyn since 2020 through LinkedIn. She was a guest on the Architect My Life Podcast and I also met her at last year’s EntreArchitect Conference in Austin, where she co-hosted a session with Je’Nen Chastain. I’m glad I had a chance to catch up with her and give her the photo I took of her, Kimberly, and Emily on stage.

Evelyn is a wealth of knowledge and passion in the field of architecture. Even though she transitioned from architecture to tech, she continues to bridge the gap between these two industries. Her podcast, Practice Disrupted, provides valuable insights to the architecture community, especially architects exploring alternative career paths.

She is all about reshaping how we practice architecture and reimagining how we contribute value beyond traditional practice. This means redefining what it means to be an architect and getting those on different career paths involved as advocates for architecture, all while expanding our influence to the world.

Evelyn will be AIA’s 2024 First VP and soon to be the 101st AIA president, serving in 2025.

Women Who Lead

For the first time in 166 years of AIA, we have three consecutive women as Presidents!
For the first time in 166 years of AIA, we have three consecutive women as Presidents!

These three women leaders are poised to make a significant impact. They not only prioritize innovation and passion but also actively address the gender pay gap and elevate the value of architects. Their dynamic approach ensures that everyone’s contributions are recognized and valued. It’s exciting to anticipate the positive changes they will bring to our industry!

I am truly excited about the next three years with these phenomenal women leading the AIA. Their dedication to making architecture more accessible, relevant, and sustainable is promising for our profession and the communities we serve. They give me hope for the future of architecture and inspire me to contribute more to the industry.

Parting Thoughts

  • Lakisha Woods, the 15th EVP/CEO of the American Institute of Architects, made a significant impact with her words during the opening ceremony. Her strong message, urging us to “see our value and highlight our success,” deeply resonated with me. I believe that’s what the WLS was all about – providing a space for important conversations, mutual support, recognition of our value, and collective celebration of our achievements.
  • The AIA Women’s Leadership Summit was truly remarkable. While I have attended a few conferences in the past, this one stood out because it left me feeling empowered and more connected to the industry, especially with the inspiring women in this field. The impact of this summit will continue to shape my career and inspire me to contribute to the progress of women in the industry. I am already looking forward to next year’s WLS!

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