Remember your first design office experience? Remember being excited that you were finally going to work at a job that didn’t involve wearing an apron? Happily enough, my first office experience was great! However, now that I’m on office number six, I can honestly say there are plenty of ego-deflating, morally questionable, uncomfortable, and stressful office experiences to be had.
I started out with the idea that I would write about the best and worst office experiences. But I realized quickly that many of us remember the worst far better than the best. When I asked several of my landscape architecture women friends what their best and worst experiences were, I got an overwhelming response! The following is just a snapshot:
“I once worked at an office filled with fresh-out-of-school, young landscape architecture professionals who thought working from 8 to 7 was just what they had to do to remain employed. There wasn’t compensation for the overtime either. I’ve always been a big proponent of equal pay for hours worked and made sure to share my opinion with everyone. Soon they were working from 9 to 6 and not feeling the least bit guilty about it.”
“I moved from a relatively mediocre firm to a firm that had been published in Landscape Architecture magazine. I thought that it would be a great experience working with such a talented principal. One night, I was asked to produce a rendering that was given to me at the end of the day. I slept two hours that night and the next morning she yelled at me saying that she could have done a much better job in less than two hours and that my work was horrible. Sleep deprived as I was, I went to the restroom and cried while she complained about me to my project manager.”
“I had a boss that complimented me by telling me that I ‘sure am a fine woman. Yep, I guess sexual harassment’s still going strong!”
“My boss constantly fought with his partner. The office was tense way more than it should have been.”
“When I first started working there (right about when Jerry started too and Carl had been there only 3 months or so), anytime [my bosses] left and the secretary wasn’t around, [my boss] would ask me specifically to answer the phones.”
“To this day, [my ex-boss] thinks I left the firm because I wanted to be a housewife.”
So, What Lessons Can We Learn from This?
1. We can learn that overtime without compensation is not something you have to stand for and that you should always be clear before signing a contract with a new firm what their policies are. If they expect you to work overtime for free, move on because there are better companies out there.
2. Don’t put up with verbal abuse.
3. Sexual harassment can come in even the smallest “compliment.” Stand up for yourself and tell your harasser that although you know he might have meant well, his comment was too demeaning for your taste and he needs to stop.
4. A negative work environment can cause you unnecessary stress even if it doesn’t include you directly. Tell them to take their problems outside or you quit!
5. If your boss uses you as a secretary consistently above a male coworker with equal qualifications, tell your boss that you’ll happily share the responsibility but that you’re feeling targeted because of your sex.
6. There are plenty of jerks out there, and if they want to believe you’re only use in life is to become a housewife, then get back at them by becoming the next National President of the ASLA!
Lastly, I’d like to leave you with this; there are plenty of successful and wonderful women landscape architects out there who are happy to share some insight with you about all sorts of office problems. Seek them out. They could be your best allies!
Jessica Green is an associate with SFE Design in San Ramon, California. She has a BS in landscape architecture from the California Polytechnic State University and an Architecture Certificate from L’ Ecole des Beaux Arts Fountainebleau, France. Green is also a lecturer for the National Garden Club in Modesto, California, and is the current editor for the ASLA Northern California Chapter Newsletter.