A throng of local architects, both men and women, will gather wearing pink hard hats and caution tape sashes at this Saturday’s Women’s March on NYC in an effort to raise awareness on the various roles women lead in the architecture, engineering, and construction industries. Organized by Dattner Architects’ Women’s Group, firms across the city are slated to show up in support for what’s dubbed as the “Women BUILD” campaign.

Emily Kotsaftis, an associate architect at Dattner, is helping spearhead the event alongside her colleagues Heather McKinstry, a studio resource leader, and Rebecca McCarthy, an architectural designer. When Kotsaftis started the in-house, grassroots group at the end of 2017, she felt a pressing need to begin a conversation on the different ways women were represented within her own office in light of the then-budding media coverage surrounding gender bias and women in the workplace.

“We’ve mostly been a discussion group up until now with our first meeting held in February,” she said. “As a large firm, we have a strong representation of women at every level. We’ve been focused on establishing our group within the office, but we’re now looking to mobilize a larger community. The effort around the Women’s March has been really eye-opening because we’re connecting the community of women citywide.”

Architects pose together at the Women's March on NYC 2018. (Dattner Architect's Women's Group/Women Build Facebook)

Architects pose together at the Women’s March on NYC 2018. (Courtesy Dattner Architects’ Women’s Group/Women Build Facebook)

The Dattner Women’s Group, led by Kotsaftis and Mary Beth Lardaro, the studio’s human resources director, also includes men within the firm. Theirs is just one of several similar organizations found at AEC companies in New York. Kostaftis said other more-established groups at FXCollaborative, Thornton Tomasetti, and Arup, for example, have helped provide inspiration to her and her colleagues. Last year, Dattner organized a coalition of architects for the Women’s March NYC 2018, which attracted over 70 people from studios such as Handel Architects and BuroHappold Engineering, as well as representatives from the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation.

“Since late 2017, we’ve been thinking about Dattner and how our women’s group operates here,” said Kotsaftis. “Of course, I wanted to communicate with other women’s groups in order to learn about what they were doing, but now we want to become even more far-reaching to include men and women who share this interest across the city. I’m trying not to limit my thinking to my office alone.”

This year’s “Women BUILD” theme was birthed through a December meeting of women’s group’s leaders from CannonDesign, SOM, Howard L. Zimmerman Architects, Marvel Architects, and Perkins Eastman, among others. According to McKinstry, issues such as pay equity, sexual harassment, respect on job sites, and work/life balance led the group to choose a message that communicated the types of responsibilities women take on with their jobs, family, and daily lives as citizens of the world. 

“Women BUILD is a unifying theme both in that it can stand as a sentence on its own,” she said, “or be the start of something else like ‘Women Build Communities,’ or ‘Women Build Skyscrapers.”

Designers across various firms have created “Women BUILD” signs to be printed for Saturday’s march and used to extoll their mission. For McCarthy and the women at Dattner, that mission goes beyond the march. She foresees Dattner helping enact real change across New York firms by developing initiatives in tandem with other women’s groups that will address the issues women face at work every day.

“The last few years we’ve seen a large focus on awareness,” she said. “We’ve focused on reminding the world and those in the design, engineering, and construction fields that we care about these issues and are here to voice those issues. Now we’re ready and want to do more.”

The Women’s March on NYC 2019 is organized by the Women’s March Alliance. To learn more details about Saturday’s meetup with Dattner Architects, visit the Women BUILD Facebook Group.

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