A Woman’s World? A Landscape Architect’s Perspective
by Allyson Humphries, Affiliate ASLA

My Personal and Professional Story

I feel like I have a pretty common perspective on the “Mommy Wars” that are being waged in our collective professions. After graduating from Loyola University, I began work in graphic design and writing. While it paid median wages, it enabled me to travel all over the country.  After a few years, I happened to fall for and marry a man who was very intelligent but was sadly lacking in my values and principles. After a tumultuous year of marriage, he left on my 30th birthday. As with any good and nasty divorce, I got thin—really thin.

Despite my education, my growing economic independence and my increasing work experience, I was focused mainly on how desirable I was to the opposite sex. My primary quest was to stay skinny and look good at parties and at work. Two years after the divorce, I met and married a really supportive man who encouraged me to continue developing my professional life in landscaping and architectural stone. My husband’s faith in the goodness of life allowed me to start imagining what our lives would look like with babies. So at the ripe old age of 35, I started preparing to become a mom. Like many in my generation, I thought I could attack this plan just like a new project. I gathered my to-do list and started checking off items. Although I experienced a nasty divorce, I had a very optimistic view of child conception and rearing, and spent the next year trying to conceive “naturally.” When that produced no results, I ended up in the office of a respected reproductive endocrinologist. After a year of treatment and six failed attempts at intrauterine insemination, I escalated up the medical food chain to in vitro fertilization (IVF).  Three failed IVF cycles left me pretty desperate and unable to focus on work.

Then on March 23, 2009, the earth moved. After a year of paperwork, we brought home our gorgeous son from Russia.

I notified my firm that, in addition to the six weeks I needed to spend in Russia, I had to transition to part time work so I could stay home with my new baby. The demands of motherhood made me feel like an unprepared intern whose Power Point presentation had crashed in front of a large audience. This 13 month old baby was totally dependent on me. So many colleagues and clients had smiled when they found out we were adopting and said “motherhood changes everything.” I naïvely laughed them off and thought I could balance it all. But I have learned over the last two years that—no—I can’t balance it all.

I now rely on a very understanding workplace, supportive colleagues, clients, husband, mother, Montessori preschool, and 3 babysitters on speed dial. And even then I need a Plan B. I have to schedule conferences months in advance to insure that I have coverage at work, and that my now 3 year old’s day runs as seamlessly as possible. I am also very fortunate to count a large number of women landscape architects as friends, many of whom own their own design firms. When polled informally about whether their careers influenced their desire for children, almost all said yes. But interestingly enough the majority of them are childless.  

These reflections led me to explore how the dynamics of careers impact the child care decisions of the three generations currently working in the field.  Here are my observations.

Baby Boomers (born 1946-64)

“The first 10 years of motherhood, childcare took 50% of my pay or 25% of my family’s income. I had a job that included 45% travel the first 6 years, so the dependability of childcare was critical,” recalls Pat Loheed, ASLA, Distinguished Faculty/Past Head School of Landscape Architecture at Boston Architectural College. Pat started out in Michigan and is one of those rare breed of Mid-Westerners who put her husband through school to earn both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees. She earned her own master’s degree while he was serving in Vietnam. Pat’s story also echoes many of her generation: less than 5% of landscape architects before 1970 were women. Conversely, by 1982, over 50% of landscape architecture students were women. Our mothers were on the front lines of earning the respect of contractors and paving the way for my generation.

Generation X (born 1965-79)

Earlier this year, for the first time in American history, the balance of the workforce tipped toward women, who now hold a majority of the nation’s jobs. The working class, which has long defined our notions of masculinity, is slowly turning into a matriarchy, with men increasingly absent from the home and women making all the decisions. Women dominate today’s colleges and professional schools—for every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same. Indeed, the U.S. economy is in some ways becoming a kind of traveling sisterhood: upper-class women leave home and enter the workforce, creating domestic jobs for other women to fill. Three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men. The worst-hit industries were overwhelmingly male: construction, manufacturing, high finance. Some of these jobs will come back, but the overall pattern of dislocation is neither temporary nor random. The recession merely revealed—and accelerated—a profound economic shift that has been going on for at least 30 years, and in some respects even longer.

Rosin, Hannah. “The End of Men.” The Atlantic, July-August 2010.

So much has changed yet so much remains the same. “Childcare takes up to 35% of my pay and 25% of my family’s income,“ notes Joy Albregts, of Accounts Payable for Larry’s Cap Rock & Stone in Homestead, Florida, an architectural stone fabricator for landscape architects.

Generation Y (born 1980-95)

The terms of marriage have also changed radically since 1970. Typically, women’s income has been the main factor in determining whether a family moves up the class ladder or stays stagnant. And increasing numbers of women—unable to find men with a similar income and education—are forgoing marriage altogether. In 1970, 84 percent of women ages 30 to 44 were married; now 60 percent are.

Rosin (2010).

And as the demographics change, so do the needs of the woman employees in landscape architecture.  According to Ashley Hagan of Raymond Jungles Inc in Miami, Florida,

Six months ago I was offered a job in Miami and relocated from New Orleans, Louisiana. In a competitive job market, being single, and mobile, can offer a critical leg up when it comes to landing a job. Young, single professionals are much more willing to relocate for work.

For young professionals in their late 20s and early 30s, this point in their career is all about working hard [and playing hard!] and gaining as much experience as possible. Design is an incredibly demanding profession. The job market is extremely competitive and young professionals feel pressure to stay up to date with the latest technologies and gain professional credentials early in their career.

I work alongside talented designers on world renowned projects. My job is extremely demanding of my time and energy, but it is exciting, fast paced, and I genuinely like it.

I plan on having children in the future, but right now my focus is on developing my career and enjoying my 20s. Until I do decide to have children, about 5% of my salary goes to dog daycare for my “child,” Salty Dog.

While these are only a few examples of women in each age group, I believe they provide an interesting perspective for those of us who are a part of each of these generations. It would be great if we could share thoughts in the future that may add to the discussion.

Allyson Humphries is the Director of Marketing and Administration at Larry’s Cap Rock and Stone in Homestead, Florida, and the President of Miami-Dade Chapter of the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association. She can be reached at: allyson@larryscaprockandstone.com.

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