When ASLA established a task force on the status of women in Landscape Architecture in 1973, women represented 5% of ASLA’s membership. Today, 35% of ASLA members are female. Despite the growing number of women in the profession, women landscape architects, like women in other professions, are more likely to leave the workforce, or to work less than full-time for at least part of their careers, than are men. Often, women leave work for a period of time to give birth, raise children, or care for aging family members. However, re-entry in this age of fast-changing technology can be a tough road.
In the current difficult economic times, both women and men increasingly face unexpected and unwanted career interruptions, due to layoff or reduction in work hours. Leaving a job, whether voluntarily or involuntarily, naturally makes one wonder: how will this affect my future career? Will I lose my skills, or have trouble getting back into the workforce? What can I do to keep myself marketable, and to continue to feel connected to my profession? If the decision to leave was voluntary, the individual may wonder, will I be seen as lacking dedication to my career? Leaving a job involuntarily, of course, brings a unique set of worries, both financial and psychological.
Without downplaying the concerns and real hardships that often accompany a job hiatus, this can be a period of opportunity. Consider that even though you may be out of the work force, you possess unique skills from which your neighborhood, local school, or larger community can benefit. As students and practitioners, we all learn to listen and problem solve complex issues, whether through workshops, community meetings, or within a multi-disciplinary team. Just think if you put those skills to work solving your neighborhood traffic issues, your school district’s issue with childhood obesity, or your community’s transition to a green community. You could be that neighborhood spokesperson for traffic calming, write a grant for Safe Routes to School funding, or be the activist encouraging your council person to support tree planting and green roofs.
I challenge each of you, whether employed or not, to look for volunteer opportunities and to continue to show your leadership so that you keep current with community issues. Even if you are not in the workforce, you can keep your landscape architecture and problem solving skills sharp. The profession needs your commitment and knowledge to be applied at the local level. And your community needs your critical thinking and problem solving to be applied to making our cities and communities livable.
There’s nothing more fierce and formidable than an informed neighborhood activist or community organizer. You could run for council, or even President of the United States – or of ASLA!
Angela Dye, FASLA, is President of ASLA and principal of A Dye Design Inc. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org