CREW NETWORK | January 31, 2018 by Paula DeLiso
While the title might imply an agenda, MBH Architects’ Women in the Workplace Committee was formed out of the idea that inclusivity fosters a culture of collaboration that pushes forward innovation in design. Open to all employees regardless of gender or any other characteristic, the committee hosts monthly lunchtime roundtable discussions that promote interdepartmental conversation on a variety of topics ranging from “What is Executive Presence?” to “The Confidence Gap” to “The Whys of Goodbyes: How to Retain Top Talent.” Colleagues can share experiences and varying viewpoints, and discussions often focus on how issues and ideas directly affect or relate to being female in today’s workplace.
The committee was founded in 2013 by three female leaders in the firm: now-Principal Dimple Manghani and Senior Associates Monica Jamlang and Vivian Kwok. Delving deep into scientific research about workplace behavior, the three found that many of the behaviors they had observed throughout their careers carried through to other industries, such as:
Why do women tend to apologize at work more than men?
Why do women often feel less comfortable taking up space with their bodies than men?
Is there a confidence gap between men and women in the workplace?
They saw a need for conversation regarding women’s issues in the workplace and recognized that the dialogue would be stronger if it incorporated all perspectives.
“We wanted to start a dialogue to encourage the development of our staff,” says Jamlang. “Mentorship comes in all forms, and sometimes the most meaningful interactions come in an informal setting. While empowerment is the ultimate goal, we also see the way lunchtime forums have allowed our staff to get to know one another better, learn from each other and have that energy translate back to the entire office.”
Respect for one another plays a large part in the success of the discussions. The climate is that of a corporate family where all opinions have a place, and anyone in the firm can propose a topic. MBH’s entire staff typically receives a handful of questions and related media to consider ahead of time so that discussion flows naturally. Colleagues gather around a table in a large conference room and share experiences, opinions and ideas over lunch.
The committee has also provided a forum for senior leadership and younger designers to interact and ask questions. Principal Andres Grechi sat in one of the roundtables in the committee’s early days for a no-holds-barred question and answer session, where topics ranged from his professional background to how he balances his hectic work schedule with family and fun. After her promotion to Principal, Manghani led a similar roundtable, where questions focused on advice to achieving similar success in a male-dominated industry to how the transition to the new position has fared. Two staffers co-hosted a meeting that focused on each of their experiences as successful people married to even more successful women, wherein each detailed how proud they were to support these women in their endeavors.
In addition to providing avenues for communication at all levels of the firm, the committee also helps employees share their passions and provide information on work/life issues such as coping with stress and planning for retirement. The September 2017 forum featured antioxidant-rich snacks and facts about food’s effect on stress and related health conditions. Another recent seminar titled “All the Single Ladies: Women and Finance” was inspired by Senior Associate Rachel Baber’s research on how changes in marriage and family trends affect women’s abilities to plan for the future. The seminar also took a look at the firm’s compensation structure and 401K plan. Human resources allowed the committee to look for unintentional biases in salaries and share findings with the entire company. No inequality existed.
“I’m very proud to be a part of a firm that doesn’t have a wage gap,” said Founding Principal John McNulty. “At MBH, we’ve always supported, promoted and compensated people based on talent alone.”
MBH strives to provide an environment where passions and interests are explored and ideas blossom. It was the firm’s equal-opportunity culture that allowed for the formation of the committee and subsequent dialogue many years before the global conversation gained momentum.