Recognizing BWBR’s effort to create a more equitable environment for employees at the architectural and interior design firm, MNCREW (Minnesota Commercial Real Estate Women) honored BWBR with its Empowering Women Award at its recent annual celebration event.
The award recognizes the impact companies have on the industry and larger community by elevating the status and supporting the advancement of women in the profession.
BWBR began earnest efforts on the issue of gender equity in the workplace more than a year-and-a-half ago. Bringing in an outside consultant, BWBR started a journey to change the lens through which the firm views its work and interactions, shaping a framework meant to effectively create a more open, inclusionary, and supportive environment for everyone, including cisgender women, transgender people, and non-binary individuals.
The effort has put a spotlight on the history and systems that have prevented a large portion of people in the industry from participating or leading the processes that could create more inclusive spaces, facility, and structures.
“The work that we are doing on gender equity at BWBR has been thought provoking, challenging and, at times, painful,” said Stephanie McDaniel, AIA, LEED AP, a principal and director at the firm. “It’s also been truly rewarding, and perhaps the biggest change hasn’t been in the women at all. The men in our office are now fully engaged in this work of gender equity.”
“By contemporary standards, BWBR was a progressive and enlightened organization. However, the gender equity work begun last year was eye-opening,” said Charles Orton, AIA, a senior project manager and long-time veteran in the profession. “As a cisgender white male, I realized that I was largely unaware of the inequities that women and minorities experience daily. The training has heightened male awareness of differences in behavioral norms and standards. “
In developing a gender equity lens to view its work, the firm is focused on systemic and cultural changes that go beyond numbers: altering office hours as a result of an examination of how our systems worked against administrative staff’s ability to enjoy the same life-work balance the rest of the staff enjoyed; changing our dress code to reflect a more equitable environment that empowers employees to dress in a comfortable style appropriate for their daily schedules; and holding each other accountable for actions and language by making it acceptable to call out behavior that does not align with an inclusionary and supportive equity culture.
Putting all employees through the work, the firm has logged more than 4,600 hours in training and on-going homework. A permanent committee also has formed comprised of a cross-section of staff to address the firm’s work, interactions, and efforts creating an equitable and inclusive firm.
“As a female leader, this work has educated, empowered and paved the way for me to be the best leader I can be by teaching me how to get out of my own knowledge and experiences of the workplace,” said Tricia Eiswald, BWBR’s human resources director. “I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of this liberating work for so many women inside and outside of our firm.”