The Industry Leaders Roundtable Retreat, hosted by the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, was held in Washington, D.C on Thursday March 24th and Friday the 25th. The event proved to be a resounding success. Over the course of the two-day event, 21 leaders representing various industries gathered in person and virtually to reflect on the ever-evolving role of women in professional workspaces. 

The theme of the program was “Flexibility: Chaos, Change, Opportunity”. This involved reflecting on how work life has shifted throughout the two-year on-going pandemic and the ways in which this has changed the workplace for good. According to Cynthia Kracauer, Executive Director at BWAF, the retreat highlighted the complete integration of women into the workplace and the firm-wide benefits. This includes expanding markets, improving recruitment, and retaining key talent. “We talked about the challenges of hybrid work, the specific challenges of women with children, and the anticipated detrimental effects on advancement in a hybrid workforce,” says Kracauer. "We presented commissioned research that began to document the economic effects on the female workforce in architecture and engineering."

Bringing together dynamic individuals from various backgrounds, the retreat’s panel of experts expressed perspectives from fields of psychology, law, sociology, architecture, engineering, finance, and more. Keynote speaker Stephanie Duncan of Stonebridge Associates opened the workshop with an engaging and inspiring talk about women in the workplace, which was followed by sessions on costs and flexibility, the future of work, embracing chaos and other topics from Bolanle Williams-Olley of Mancini Duffy, Angelica Baccon of SHoP Architects, Julie Kantor, Ph.D., PJ Kantor Consulting, and their panelists.

Along with general trading of ideas, the attendees shared research, information, and action-oriented plans for design, architecture, human resources, academia, and other professional fields. The participants also enjoyed a private tour of the orchids at the Smithsonian Gardens, where they learned about the incredible plant species as well as the fifteen women who were essential to the discovery, documentation, and eventual conservation of the orchid. 

This year marked the 12th annual BWAF Roundtable event. While the Roundtable was held virtually in 2020 and 2021, it’s traditionally held in a different location every year, particularly in a city with unique architecture. Previous destinations include San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Miami. Because the program runs two days, the second day includes a tour unique to the individual city. This year in D.C., participants took a private tour through an exhibition at the Smithsonian Gardens, located in the National Portrait Gallery lead by Landscape Architect Marisa Scalera and Horticulturist and Biologist Virginia Thaxton. The exhibition’s theme was “Orchids: Hidden Stories of Groundbreaking Women,” featuring women who were barrier-breaking botanists, cutting-edge conservationists, inspired illustrators, and more. The tour included over thousands species of Orchids, and featured in-depth information about 12 women who changed orchid history forever. The theme of the exhibition was a perfect match for BWAF’s mission. 

BWAF is leading a cultural revolution in the building industry that will acknowledge, cultivate, and value women’s contributions and achievements—past, present, and future.

BWAF advocates for gender equity in leadership and recognition in the architecture, design, landscape, engineering, technology, real estate and construction industries. BWAF achieves its mission by researching and documenting women’s contributions and achievements in the built realm, educating the public, and transforming industry practices. Through exhibitions, websites, media, public and invitation-only programs, BWAF collaborates with museums, universities, professional organizations, and other groups to advance women. We cultivate leaders at all levels.

After the morning garden tour, the group headed back to the Tishman Speyer headquarters to conclude the program with help of Michele O’Connor, a senior principal at Langan. Michele’s topic titled “Calling For Optimism” tackled hard-hitting questions for the new climate of today’s workspace, such as “What are the possibilities in hybridity for combining practices and generating new ideas?” and “In what ways does “this time” allow women to problem solve with hybrid tools + imagine and cultivate new ways of working and belonging?” Michele kept a drawing board to write down and connect everyone’s ideas in order to evolve the conversation. 

BWAF will soon be hosting another program called Emerging Leaders. This program was previously New York-based, however is now held virtually. It’s a selective professional development opportunity for women 5–10 years out of school. In small group format, invitees engage with significant senior women in architecture, engineering, construction, real estate, law, and financial services to advance their own career goals. Participants share common experiences and trade personal strategies for success. Each of the 3 sessions has a different-yet-related theme. The first session will be held on June 14th this summer.