Designing Women of Acadiana
Architect turns layoff into opportunity for herself and local female designers
After spending 10 years in commercial architecture and being laid off in the spring of 2016, Maureen Dugas-Foster spent the summer mulling over her next career move, and although she decided to remain in the industry, she was still unsure of exactly how to move forward.
While teaching architecture studio courses during the fall at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Dugas-Foster was energized by the creativity of the students and professors she was surrounded by and decided to launch Designing Women of Acadiana.
She determined the purpose of the group would be provide women with the resources they needed to move forward in their design careers through events like networking socials, panel discussions and educational tours.
According to Liv Stevenson, one of the three board members for Designing Women of Acadiana, who specializes in design-build architecture, the need for the group was very apparent.
“Even though approximately 50 percent of architecture school graduates are women, only around 20 percent go through the rigorous process of becoming licensed, and in Lafayette the percentage drops to around 12,” says Stevenson.
Stevenson recently went through the licensing process herself, while taking care of an infant and came face to face with the loneliness of being a woman undergoing the licensing process.
“Even with incredible support from my husband and great job flexibility, it still felt like a very lonely experience,” says Stevenson. “I kept finding myself wishing I had other women to talk to who understood what I was going through.”
Although all three board members, including urban planner Lauren Boring, are architects, Designing Women of Acadiana welcomes women from all areas of design.
“Since we are all designers we can come together and have engaging conversations about design, construction, business and industry-specific issues,” says Boring. “One meeting I could be sitting next to an artist and the next a landscape architect. I believe all of our work will continue to benefit from the relationships we make through the group.”
Specifically, Dugas-Foster hopes the group will lay the ground for women designers in the Acadiana area to work collaboratively on projects that benefit the city and even the state.
“I would like for us to get to the point where we have a certain amount of community projects going, and generally encourage more collaboration within our industry,” says Dugas-Foster. “At a lot of our events, people will tell me they had no idea there was such a large amount of female designers in town.”
The lack of awareness may stem from the lack of women in leadership roles in the field of architecture.
“Although things are certainly changing, women often find themselves with the bulk of the child rearing and household duties, so women in architecture and interior design, in particular, can definitely use additional encouragement to complete the licensing process,” says Stevenson.
In addition to the lack of support, there seem to be lingering ideas that women in a design setting are simply there to assist.
“There also still seems to be a lingering notion that the men at firms are the architects, and the women are there to help with some drafting and decorating,” says Stevenson. “What they do is so much more involved than just ‘shopping for pillows or curtains.’ They have to retain a vast understanding of the varying codes, psychology, human factors, environmental sustainability and computer software, which is crucial to the overall performance of a building.”
Issues like these, make Dugas-Foster even more excited to use the group as a platform to highlight the work of women designers in the area.
“I like highlighting the cool things being done by local women in architecture, says Dugas-Foster. “Design in general turns out better when it’s more collaborative and we have some very talented female architects in town, whose work might get missed if nobody puts a spotlight on it.”
The group has created opportunities not only for local women in design, but also Dugas-Foster, who was hired as a project manager at Longo Architecture Studio in Lafayette in March of 2017.
“I think what's special about our group is that it brings together women from all design industries,” says Boring. “The cross pollination and multi-disciplinary approach Maureen has taken is what makes our group unique and successful.”
For more information about Designing Women of Acadiana or to keep track of their upcoming events visit facebook.com/designingwomenofacadiana or call 504-450-5019.
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