Women in the Workplace: Lessons Learned, Advice and What’s Next

Women’s History Month is an opportunity to spotlight the many achievements of women around the world. Across our firm, female architects, engineers and interior designers have played an integral role in building our reputation as an industry leader. As experts in their respective fields, they have changed, and continue to challenge, common preconceptions about women in architecture, engineering and interior design.

We caught up with a few of our female employees in our Life and Work Places, Industrial and Healthcare markets to learn more about their experiences as women in the workforce, find out what led them to pursue their career path and what organizations have helped shape them, and hear their advice for other women in our industry.


What led you to become an architect?

I decided to pursue architecture at an early age, 11 years old to be exact. My mother was a practicing interior designer and always encouraged me to follow my dreams. My father wanted me to be a doctor, but my passion for designing buildings remained undeterred. I was steadfast in my career selection and didn’t deviate from my chosen path, despite other opportunities that were presented. My mother would travel locally and internationally to work on projects and was always driven to incorporate practicality and aesthetics into her designs. Her determination amazed me and hearing her tell stories about her clients’ gratitude pushed me to pursue architecture. I wanted to make a difference with my designs and impact people’s day to day lives by creating spaces that were meaningful. I owe it to my mother for encouraging me to follow my passion and my father for teaching me to stay hungry for knowledge and never be complacent.


What advice would you give to a woman who is considering a career in architecture?

Born and raised in India, I have witnessed the challenges women face in their personal and professional lives. Those firsthand experiences, coupled with the love and support of my mother, have laid the foundation for my belief that women need to pave their own paths to success. During my career as an architect, I have witnessed women shying away from leadership roles because of professional obstacles and personal circumstances, such as childbirth and marriage. In my opinion, we hold ourselves back through self-doubt. There’s nothing we can’t accomplish if we set our minds to it. There will be challenges along the way, but every encounter makes you strong, wiser and more experienced. My advice is to set goals, push straight ahead to the finish line, and welcome challenges with open arms. Above all, support other women. Learn from them and stand up for them.


What organizations have helped you grow personally and professionally?

I am a founding member of the Jacksonville American Institute of Architects (AIA) Women in Architecture (WIA) group, and it has played a key role in my career. We encourage our peers to “lead by example.” Our chapter also encourages women to achieve their highest potential by learning from the successes and challenges of fellow female designers. Architecture has historically been a male-dominated industry, and young female architects often find it difficult to find women in senior leadership roles to learn from. WIA helps bridge this gap and creates an environment for learning, sharing and mentoring.

Nilanjana Bandyopadhyay, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP
Senior Architect
Jacksonville, FL

What led you to become an interior designer?

I grew up living in a small apartment with my family. We moved every few years, bringing all our belongings with us. No one likes to move that often; but for me, every new place meant I could be creative and strategic about how to utilize the space. I think that’s when I fell in love with interior design. It’s a good feeling when you create something that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but also functional and ends up enhancing the human experience!


What is the greatest achievement of your career?

Definitely becoming a Registered Interior Designer!

What are the most effective ways to counteract gender bias in the workplace?

I think addressing bias head-on works well. Whether your delivery style is addressing the comment in the moment while coworkers are around or addressing it in private after thinking it over, there is no wrong way. People often don’t realize that what they said or did was biased. So, the more we talk about it and have open conversations, the closer we get to overcoming gender bias in the workplace.

Hanjoo Kim, RID, NCIDQ, LEED Green Association, IIDA
Interior Designer
Tampa, FL

What led you to become an engineer?

In school, I really enjoyed math and science, especially chemistry. Back then, I had no idea how to translate those passions into a career until I attended a college fair held at my high school. I spoke with representatives from the University of Kentucky College of Engineering and quickly became fascinated with chemical engineering. After that, I enrolled in UK’s engineering program and loved it. Given my positive experience at the career fair, I now volunteer my time at local career fairs to help students better understand the engineering field. If I hadn’t met with the UK College of Engineering reps, I would not have known what I wanted to do with my life. That conversation provided clarity for me, and I hope to do the same for future female engineers.


What is the greatest achievement of your career?

Whether it was obtaining my Professional Engineer certification, working on high-profile projects, or working my way up the ladder, I have had a lot of great achievements throughout my career. But my greatest personal achievement is how I have handled my career. Engineering is a dynamic industry and staying relevant is important. Realizing the importance of staying relevant, growing my skillsets to adapt to my employer’s needs, and staying true to my personal passions have been my greatest achievements. In difficult economic times, it kept me employed. In the prime of my career, it forced me to stretch beyond what I was comfortable doing and gave me a diverse base of knowledge to make me the engineer I am today.


What is the most important piece of advice you would give to women considering a career in engineering?

Finding what motivates you will align your career in a way that is truly unique to what you enjoy, so find your true passion and lean into it. You’ll be wildly successful if you do what you love. Also, don’t be afraid to explore different career paths. There are many opportunities in engineering, and I encourage you to find what resonates with you. Finally, don’t focus on your weaknesses. Instead, realize that each of us has unique gifts we that we bring to the table. Embrace your own perspective and share it with others. We need diversity in thought to solve complex engineering problems.

Michelle Wright, P.E.
Market Vice President
Nashville, TN

What led you to become an interior designer?

Funny enough, I chose my profession by accident. I had always gravitated towards all things creative; however, my parents really wanted me to pursue a more lucrative career in the medical, business or technology fields. In college, I started out as a computer science major, but eventually became a business major with an interior design minor before deciding to pursue interior design as my career. I knew it wasn’t what my parents had envisioned, nor would it make me a millionaire, but I selected it with the mindset that doing something I loved would eventually bring along the success I dreamed of. Turns out, I was right!


What organizations have helped you grow personally and professionally?

Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) has been a great women’s network for me to lean on in my professional career. They are focused on promoting and developing women in the real estate industry. Not only has the group led me to opportunities in my career, but I’ve been lucky enough to make some friends along the way. I would recommend that any woman working in interior design join CREW and get involved with one of their committees. It’s a great way to meet people and truly get the most out of your membership.


What is the most important piece of advice you would give to women considering a career in interior design?

When I began my career, I quickly learned that it’s okay to not know everything. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and use the resources you are surrounded with for inspiration. We can all learn from each other.

Sivilay Xayasaene, NCIDQ, CDT
Interior Designer
Charlotte, NC