In honor of Women’s History Month, IA is highlighting female leadership within the firm. Where the conversation around women in architecture has recently bubbled to the surface—AIA’s posthumous Gold Medal award to Julia Morgan in 2014, and the proliferation of advocacy organizations like The Missing 32% and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, for example—IA Interior Architects demonstrates a position unique in the practice of architecture. Approximately half of IA’s offices are managed and operated by female architects and designers.
I became a designer because I was intrigued by how people’s surroundings affected their relationships, and how people then built relationships with their surroundings. I wanted to be a part of making both of those actions a healthy, productive and a beautiful experience, because I love helping people.
I had the fortunate opportunity to wear many hats early on in my career. I was a part of a small and quickly growing group of talented and driven people who expected a lot of me. I found great internal satisfaction rising to the occasion, and great success learning along sharp curves. I learned to reconcile the ups and downs of the job early on.
I am very honored by the advantages of being a woman in leadership. Women connect with people in a different manner, enjoy problem solving in creative ways, and have a knack for entwining human need and design. I have found that women in leadership do all three of these things daily and, when done successfully, it is professionally advantageous.
Gender inequality in our field is only as big an issue as we make it. If we want to be equal we must act as equals and accept where we each are in our individual careers. For men and for women, those are all different stages with different goals. It’s a matter of personal development that does not hinge on gender.
I have worked with amazing women who have mentored me throughout my career. They have all been strong leaders who have not used inequality as an issue. It’s a topic of conversation, the same as what they had for breakfast.
I participate in meetings for The Missing 32%. The conversations led by women in leadership are incredibly positive and supportive, and the men in attendance offer great perspective and balance to the conversation.
Both my husband and I take on the challenge of work/life balance together as we both develop our careers and raise our daughter. I’m not sure who actually balances life with work successfully. I have had my good weeks and bad. My hope is at the end of my life they will somehow have balanced out.
What advice would you give to young women interested in the field of architecture?
Learn all aspects of design and then narrow it down to a few you are great at. Understand what consultants do so you can help them do their jobs better with early design planning. Always listen to your clients so you can understand what they need and can answer their questions and address their needs in a more innovative way. Don’t ever be afraid to say no or push back. Stand for what is right. Never be afraid to fail.
Richelle Nolan, IIDA, ASID, CCIDC
Richelle Nolan holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Academy of Art University; a Japanese Studies and Cultural Design degree from University of Maryland; and completed Business Studies at Louisiana State University. Over the course of her career, she has worked with clients such as Google, Samsung, GE, and Bloomberg. Beyond the world of design, Richelle is passionate about food, photography, and playing in the dirt with her daughter.