Why Muslim Women Need to Flourish as Career Professionals

Why Muslim Women Need to Flourish as Career Professionals


As a career-oriented & progressive Pakistani Muslim, I am perhaps considered liberal: defiant of the traditional cultural stigma that comes with not being married and ‘settling down’ in my early to mid-twenties. However, I decided early on that I would never be happy in a relationship until I was satisfied with myself.

To me, being happy individually meant affording the opportunity to push myself out of my comfort zone, and achieving milestones I had only once dreamed of. Leaping to that level meant a time commitment, and personal sacrifices that marriage would not allow. I knew I could not be selfish with my goals in a marriage. I was hungry. I wanted to be selfish and grow as an individual. Finding myself, defining both my professional and personal goals, and discovering what it is I want to accomplish in future years to come, have all been the footings for a foundation I have built in my twenties, to set myself up for future decades to come, inshAllah. And so, I’ve spent my twenties working solidly towards career goals, traveling, and experiencing a myriad of cultures, whilst fostering relationships with people from different walks of life, and improving myself as a practicing Muslim.

I don’t think I would have experienced quite as much as I have had I “settled down” earlier, and bent to the pressures of society.

I encourage young women to feel the same empowerment when working hard towards discovering themselves. I have survived my twenties thus far, and can now say confidently that it is perfectly okay to be greedy with a thirst for life! I don’t think I would have experienced quite as much as I have had I “settled down” earlier, and bent to the pressures of society.

As a licensed female, as a Muslim, and as a Pakistani-American, I represent a very narrow demographic in the profession of architecture. Too often, I have walked into an industry seminar or meeting, to find very few racial and ethnic connections. As a profession that largely impacts our built environment, and consequently our neighborhoods and communities, the representation of minorities is vital to foster diverse growth! Moreover, as our nation continues to grow in diversity, it needs a voice that is equally as broad.

Firstly, why are women so underrepresented? According to the 2017 NCARB By the Numbers report, conducted by the national registration board for the profession, “nearly 2 in 5 new architects are women.”  Why has this number been consistently low in the profession? I struggle to grasp this fact.

Growing up with a father who is an engineering professional and construction project manager, I visited construction sites, and accompanied my father to the office on several occasions. I admittedly remember meeting an overwhelming majority of male engineers, and contractors back in the late 90s and early 2000s. However, years later, during my own experience at architecture school within the last decade, the number of female and male students were roughly equal! So why, per widely reported national statistics, do women fail to actively continue on in the profession? Having worked in city government for over six years, I can state for a fact that I have worked with, and observed many women who serve at senior-level positions. My current, and many of my former supervisors are females! There are PLENTY of shining examples, so I know it is possible for women to work their way towards the top.

My very first architecture professor, also a female of Southeast Asian descent, was incredibly discouraging. She encouraged a handful of young students, including myself, to withdraw from pursuing architecture, citing that we were not meant for the profession, despite having only been in school for a few weeks!

Secondly, why are women mistreated in the profession? Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, female architects earn less than their male counterparts! Additionally, per an Architectural Record and Engineering News-Record survey, a disturbingly high number of female respondents indicate they have experienced harassment in the field of design, engineering, or construction. Per personal experience, and from stories of colleagues on construction sites, there does exist discrimination amongst males who believe women may not be as technically-savvy.

I faced my own personal struggles during my first semester of architecture school. My very first architecture professor, also a woman of Southeast Asian descent, was incredibly discouraging. She encouraged a handful of young students, including myself, to withdraw from pursuing architecture, citing that we were not meant for the profession, despite having only been in school for a few weeks! Women must mentor other women, not abuse their power of authority. By raising awareness of this issue, I hope to encourage more women to enter what has traditionally been a man’s job, and conquer the statistics. Fight the fight. Keep your heads up – women now account for 36% of newly licensed architects, and NCARB’s trends indicate that women have consistently completed licensure in less time than their male counterparts.

And now I come to another demographic. Per NCARB’s report, less than 1 in 5 new architects identify as a racial or ethnic minority! Furthermore, the Diversity in the Profession of Architecture: Executive Summary, released in 2016 by the American Institute of Architects, reveals that both white and people of color perceived that people of color are very underrepresented in the profession. The same report also indicates that both women and people of color believe that they are less likely to receive employment promotions. There is some hope, as NCARB indicates there has been a slight increase in this demographic for licensure candidates: 30% of new exam candidates identify as a racial, or ethnic minority.

Particularly in an American climate that has been torn with open racism, only exacerbated by the current political administration, we need to expose the profession to more diversity.

I am here to encourage you despite these demographic statistics. I believe the task of becoming an architect can appear daunting – it takes an average of 12.5 years to become an architect! However, know that the amount of time to complete the path to licensure continues to shorten, and that NCARB continues to ease the education, experience, and examination divisions of achieving licensure by streamlining the process. Both the number of exams, and the number of hours you are required to produce to demonstrate your work experience has decreased. The time at which you can start testing can be done at an earlier age, and the experience types you can report have diversified.

Another hypothesis I have is that there could be a lack of female mentors in the profession. I am here to help you if you need guidance! Having studied architecture and having worked in New York City,  I have been surrounded by an environment with many diverse challenges: I have seen and heard it all. However, understand that there are plenty of organizations and supplemental resources that can put you on the track to becoming a registered architect. Visit your local AIA chapter; many have a Women in Architecture committee, committed to bolstering relationships between female architects in the industry and aspiring students/emerging professionals. NOMA, the National Organization of Minority Architects, creates a community for minority professionals to speak their minds. So yes, there is a place for you in this profession.

I hope that, in authoring this piece, I can help demystify the profession and encourage more women, and particularly minorities, to tackle the challenge of completing the path to licensure – if I could begin and complete this process as an intimated student of architecture, so can you! Particularly in an American climate that has been torn with open racism, only exacerbated by the current political administration, we need to expose the profession to more diversity. I want to see more Muslim women embrace becoming an architect, to continue churning the statistics.

Twitter: @farah_arch
Instagram: @renewablefarah





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