RMW Associate Principal, Stephanie Silkwood, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP recently returned from the American Institute of Architects Women’s Leadership Summit, a three-day conference in Minneapolis. We checked in to learn more about the conference and her key takeaways:
What inspired you to attend the AIA Women’s Leadership Summit (WLS)?
I’m a founding member of the AIA Silicon Valley’s Women in Architecture Committee, a group formed in 2015 to promote women in the industry. Our founding team realized that few female architects in Silicon Valley were transitioning to senior leadership positions, especially at the Principal level. The WLS has been the primary venue for addressing these issues at the national scale, so the AIA Silicon Valley and RMW encouraged me to attend this year.
What was the conference about?
“Reframe, Rethink, Refresh.” The Summit was a leadership conference with a particular focus on equity, diversity, and empowerment of women. The general sessions hosted all 750 attendees in one room, the largest gathering of female architects in history! Keynote speakers inspired us all and set a positive tone for the event. Breakout sessions and workshops were more focused, with learning objectives including time management, understanding personality types, and building and sustaining a successful practice.
How has the conference reframed your view on diversity in leadership?
I think the key is recognizing that we are all burdened with unconscious bias. It’s in our nature. At RMW, our team benefits from living in very diverse communities of Northern California, so we have a slight advantage. However, there is always room for improvement. For some firms, there may be value in setting up Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committees to specifically address biases that are hard to pinpoint. The more aware we are of our tendency to judge others, the more opportunities we have to shift our mindset and correct issues as they arise.
How has the empowerment of women impacted the local architecture community?
I see women in Silicon Valley stepping up to grow as stronger leaders and to educate their firms on equity. Many work hard to promote other women, and the group advances collectively. The local Women in Architecture (WIA) Committee, for example, has organized dozens of programs and built a robust network of women. I’m very proud of how far the group has come in just a few years since the committee started.
How do you see your new role as Associate Principal affecting women at RMW?
I’m very proud of our cross-section of leadership, including three new moms in the partnership. The strengths that young women bring to RMW are being celebrated and leveraged to drive the firm forward. In her closing keynote at WLS, Toshiko Mori, FAIA spoke about the nurturing qualities of women as leaders and the incredible value that brings to architects as we shape our built environments. I’m excited to see how that applies to RMW’s new leaders as we grow our influence on the culture of the firm and the work we do.
What advice do you personally do have for women on the leadership track?
Most women are not the greatest at self-promotion, but we need to do it! I like to encourage other women to share their accomplishments. Be thoughtful and modest in the way you promote yourself. Social media can be a great tool. Maintain a strong network of clients, peers, and mentors who can help build your reputation. Build your brand and promote it!