April 2021- Promoting Equality, Growth, and Opportunity: Lessons Learned from the AIA Colorado Firm of the Year
It’s been nine months since the call from AIA Colorado came letting us know that our firm, Rowland+Broughton, had been named 2020 Firm of the Year, and I can still recall my immediate, overwhelming thrill. Seventeen years of work and effort and due diligence, of more than 350 successfully completed projects, of growing and supporting a talented, capable team, had all just paid off in one of the most meaningful ways—recognition by our peers.
Looking back during a recent AIA Colorado Town Hall webinar , with members at varying levels in our careers discussing 2020 AIA awards we received, I had a chance to reflect on what being named Firm of the Year meant.
Certainly, it gave R+B a leg up, but it also humbled and motivated us as a firm to keep pushing the quality of design. It inspired us to continue to be mentors for others in our profession, and to continuously encourage growth, leadership, and opportunity. As AIA Colorado West Director, knowing the criteria—the heavy requirements for the selection—made it even more impactful.
As a woman-led firm (I’m Co-Founding Principal of R+B with my husband, John Rowland, AIA), R+B is proud to support and encourage equality in the architecture profession. When we opened our doors in 2003, the gender topic never entered into the equation. Rather, diversity of all types was encouraged, from people to projects to clientele. Today, with women making up 50 percent of our 38-member team and six in leadership roles (presently the highest number among 2019-2020 award winners), the sentiment still holds true.
It’s clear that R+B’s overriding DNA of promoting growth, opportunity, equality, gender, and beyond is the foundation of R+B’s success on all fronts. John and I agreed that being well-rounded is a huge benefit to our team and, therefore, our projects.
Early in my career, I worked for and with strong women. I attribute strong mentorship during that time to be a big part of enabling me to become founding partner of a firm. There was no heavy glass ceiling in terms of my trajectory, and I believe that’s true for women in architecture today.
At R+B, we invest in leadership coaching with team members across the board. We also practice formal mentorship between team members at different levels that focuses on creating and meeting goals and milestones. Succession planning helping to position rising team leaders to become partners and owners is an integral part of our team culture, as well. Further investment is made through our education benefit that can be used for licensure and continuing education classes.
Sharing her thoughts on team building and opportunity at R+B, Amanda Christianson, AIA, Principal, in our Denver studio, and 10-year R+B team member, noted that, “R+B is a firm where young people looking to learn and work hard and be challenged can put themselves in scenarios where they can accelerate their learning and thrive.” She went on to say that mentoring benefits both mentors and mentees, as they learn from each other’s experiences and perspectives. On a personal note, Amanda shared that having direct contact with Principals and seeing how they represent R+B in the field helps team members “learn by association.” Additionally, Christianson was fully supported during her path to licensure by the mentorship available from R+B’s 11 licensed architects, as well as the benefit offered for paid time off to take exams. She is currently Chair of the AIA Colorado 2021 Business of Architecture Knowledge Community.
Eugenie Provost, Architectural Designer in our Denver studio with two-plus years at R+B, is especially candid about how working directly with a strong female leadership team “from the top down” helped with what she considers a relatively quick trajectory along her path toward Project Architect. (She is currently pursuing licensure). Being exposed to situations, such as male-dominated construction sites where she can grow and develop skillsets, has provided valuable learning experiences. Recently, Provost was selected to run R+B’s weekly design-oriented “Inspiration Meetings,” encouraging the team to think in an innovative way and helping her to build public speaking skills.
Our firm has always supported flexible working and a more entrepreneurial approach to accountability, which allows each team member to have a voice in setting deadlines. This has been especially successful for working parents and students. The goal now is to create healthy work-life balance while flexibly working!
Looking forward, as the 2021 Design + Honor Awards call for entries goes live (May 5!), it’s important for aspiring firms to access not only the design work they have accomplished, but also the internal culture they have established and the opportunities they can afford their firms and their teams. As one of my favorite sayings goes, “A rising tide lifts all boats.”