2023 Women's Leadership Summit

10.24.23 | Jeanne Carey + Ami Kurosaki | EventsSocial Justice

William Rawn Associates was well represented the 2023 Women’s Leadership Summit in Boston, with 10 of our 50 employees attending.

The WLS began in Boston in 2006 as a meeting of just a few women architects who were in leadership roles at local firms. It has expanded to become a national event attended by 900 women, with a waiting list of 200. To be in a room with almost a thousand women architects was a palpable demonstration of how the demographics of our profession has evolved in recent years.

This is a unique moment for women in our profession. For the first time there will be three women AIA presidents in succession. Boston’s Emily Grandstaff Rice is serving as the President of the AIA for the year 2023. Kimberly Dowdell is in line to take on the role in 2024, and Evelyn Lee in 2025. We had a chance to hear all three speak at the WLS.

Another prominent speaker was Billie Tsien of Tod Williams Billie Tsien. She introduced us to her work designing the Obama Presidential Center. Her advice to women architects was to be willing to follow the divergent road, instead of the straight one, finding our way as we go. She encouraged us to claim the power of who we are, rather than trying to be like men.

We were all fascinated by a presentation by Melodie Yashar of ICON. As a young architect she entered a NASA design competition for shelters on Mars. She won the competition and what seemed like a hypothetical academic exercise ended up launching her unusual and ground-breaking career. The competition win led her to her current position as the vice president of Building Design and Performance at ICON, working on NASA-funded prototypes using 3D printed concrete. Experimenting with this technology then led to real world 3D printed housing projects in Mexico and Austin. The process is low cost, low waste, and quick.

An array of sessions were offered over the two days of the conference with a focus on leadership training, business development, networking, and gender equity and empowerment. Leaders in the field offered encouraging advice about taking advantage of opportunities, advocating for one’s self, broadening experience and seeking mentors.

WRA was a proud Contributing Sponsor of the AIA WLS. We hosted a well-attended Happy Hour on the last night. We enjoyed the chance to reconnect with former colleagues, meet collaborators who we had previously only met on zoom, and introduce ourselves and the office to some new faces, including Kaylah Lupoe who has since joined WRA as a designer.

The conference was a great place to re-energize, connect with the larger architectural community, and demonstrate our continued commitment to women’s leadership.



Tiffany Chu, chief of staff to Mayor Michelle Wu, called on us to recognize whose voices are not represented – this can be in terms of race, gender, sexual orientation, age, education level, socioeconomic background, etc. 35% of women in the U.S. are women of color, and yet only 6.4% of those in the AEC industry are women of color. This underrepresentation is much more dire for Black women architects, who make up only 0.5% of all architects in the U.S. But, representation alone is not a solution, and artificial impact clouds the systemic issues that continue to be ignored, as Tiara Hughes of SOM warned. Architects must support authentic allyship and eliminate bias. We must ask the question, “Why not her? Why is she not trusted? Why isn’t she ready?”


History is not just “history” for many communities. Architects and planners need to be aggressive about redressing historical inequities and violence – stolen sacred land, red lining, urban renewal, eminent domain, internment. Tamara Eagle Bull calls on us in our land acknowledgements to mindfully think about own involvement and reflect not just ceremoniously but in daily life. Our definition of success should not just be driven by client satisfaction but impact on communities. Melissa R. Daniel of DC Legacy Project encourages us to create architecture that community wants, an architecture that lasts as legacy, not temporary measures that can be painted over and changed. We have the power, right now, to break the chain and we must act intentionally.


Lakisha Ann Woods, CEO of the AIA, repeated her mantra “Intentional acts make change”. Architects are often buried so deep in our work that we can lose sight of intention. But everything we do, every line we draw, every set that is stamped, has consequences. When we set out with intention, and commit to it, we can create positive change that lasts for decades. We can choose to be intentional about where we work, who we work with, and how we work. We need to find our own reasoning behind the things we want, even for things like awards we pursue, and identify what we will do with the power and rewards given to us. We should intentionally connect with people we work with and approach design with empathy. At the same time, we cannot be driven by fear of doing the wrong thing as inaction leads to nothing. As the charismatic Aurora James of Brother Vellies and Fifteen Percent Pledge puts it, “perfection is the energy of good. Just start.” We just need to step back sometimes and pause to ask ourselves the question, “Are we acting intentionally?”


At the last keynote, the presenter looked at the 900+ women in the room and said, “You are what leadership looks like”. This session taught us that leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. It could be that you run your own firm. It could also be a more social leadership at your company. It could look like being a great mentor and role model. We are all responsible for being leaders, we must all share the burden and the reward, we all have a part to play in creating a better place for the divergent and unknown future. We have to value ourselves, our work, and each other in the process and design with a contagious passion.

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