In light of International Women’s Day, we spoke with RAMSA Partner, Meghan McDermott, exploring her experiences coming up in a largely male dominated sphere, how diversity leads to better design and what the industry can do to help usher in greater gender equality.
Listen to our conversation by clicking below or scroll down to read more.
Phoebe Train (PT): Megan, thank you for joining me today. Can I begin by asking you to introduce yourself and RAMSA?
Meghan McDermott (MM): Absolutely, and it’s a pleasure to be speaking with you today, Phoebe. I am Megan McDermott. I am a partner with RAMSA, a 200 person firm in New York City. We work globally in over 30 countries around the world on a variety of project types and I lead the design of large scale commercial and mixed use developments throughout the United States and in South America, Europe and Asia.
PT: Can you tell us a bit about your experience coming up in a largely male dominated sphere?
MM: I think the key for me, first of all, was finding great mentors, both male and female, early in my career. I was fortunate to work with a woman who is an extraordinary structural engineer and having an example is powerful. I learned a tremendous amount by observing her communication and leadership skills with large teams, when she and I were the only female design professionals in the room sometimes. So, it’s really important to seek out professional women within and outside of the industry. To have male colleagues as mentors to gender equity is not about pitting one gender against the other, it’s really a collaborative effort. We can only make progress if we have everyone working together. Something else that I learned is to speak up and assume that you belong at the table. Don’t wait for others to ask you, ask for more responsibility and don’t allow yourself to be typecast in certain roles; really know your worth. Don’t question your role as a leader, be confident in that.
PT: How do you think a more diverse design team leads to better designs?
MM: Buildings are used by a diverse spectrum of people of different race, gender, ethnicity, ability, socioeconomic background, and so forth. The most successful buildings serve all citizens well, whether it be an office building or a university classroom building or a museum or a shopping centre. In other words, our buildings must reflect the people that we’re designing for. So, when the group of individuals who are making vital contributions to the design of buildings is more diverse, the types of conversations we have change, and by leading with an open mind and listening to each other, it opens up more opportunities for design.
PT: So, what do you think the industry can do to help usher in a greater gender equality?
MM: Well, for example at RAMSA, we very aggressively seek out top talent and try to provide mentorship and guidance to women every step of the way, particularly as people enter their mid careers. It’s really important to mentor women through different phases of their careers and to ensure that they remain on track to assume leadership roles in the same way that men do. Pre COVID statistics in the architectural profession show us that the percentage of women in Principle or Partner roles is just 17% and only 2% of licensed architects in the United States are Black and only 0.2% are black women. So, there’s so much work to do and we need to understand where we are. We need to ensure that there’s a network of support in place to allow women to elevate and remain in leadership roles. This is something that we track in our firm and worked very hard to retain and promote women and other things that that we can do at RAMSA. For example, we have a Women’s Leadership Initiative Group which is extremely active. It’s our longest standing committee and what’s great is that we get a lot of participation across the firm from both men and women at many of our events. And it goes back to that goal of a collaborative effort.
Coming out of the COVID pandemic, this notion of hybrid flexible work is here to stay, and we’ve learned that many aspects of our work can be done successfully while working remotely, so I’m optimistic that this will open up a lot of opportunities for both women and men. That it will help create a better work life balance which is especially important for people who have caregiving roles. So, I think that this can be a really positive thing for our industry.
PT: Can you tell us a bit about some of the New York City initiatives that you’re a part of which is ushering in change?
MM: Yes, one of them has to do with external mentorship. I’m a member of a group in New York City of real estate executives called WX, and we reach out to mentor young women early in their career in architecture, engineering, construction, all of the different disciplines that comprise our industry, so that they can develop a network of professional women and we can help them with their careers as they get started. They have a network of people that they can come to with challenges as young professionals in this industry. I am also the Co-Chair of the DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) Committee for the Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH). As a global organization, we think that we have a tremendous opportunity as stewards of this industry to globally champion our recognized and emerging women leaders and to bring them front and centre so that their voices and experiences can inspire us all. We’re really interested in learning from our colleagues in other countries and regions of the world; what challenges they’re facing and sharing success stories. So, we can all learn from each other in terms of strategies going forward.