By Elizabeth Holland
Elizabeth started at Weber Thompson in 2002 as the PR Director. She subsequently earned her MBA from the University of Washington and took over office operations focusing on analyzing the processes, business strategies and firm financials. Elizabeth was promoted to Associate in 2006, then Principal in 2007. In 2015 she became an owner in the firm, a highly unusual position for a non-architect in the architecture industry.
We’re proud to have been recognized as one of AIA Northwest and Pacific (NW+P) Emerging Professional Friendly Firm Award winners! This awards program showcases the best NW+P AIA firms who offer great support and opportunities to the Emerging Professionals (EP) on their staff. But, what exactly is an Emerging Professional, and what policies does WT have in place that helped us achieve this award? We had a chat with Senior Partner, Elizabeth Holland to find out more about this award win.
Who is considered an Emerging Professional and how many do we have at WT?
The AIA defines EPs as professionals who have completed their academic studies up to the point of licensure or up to 10 years after completion of their academic studies. At WT we have seven EPs.
What are some ways we celebrate major professional milestones as a firm?
The best way we like to celebrate major professional accomplishments is at our biweekly All Office Meetings that everyone attends, either remotely or in person. It’s an opportunity to gather, celebrate and cheer for our staff as a team. These accomplishments are also recognized through our external newsletter, social media accounts, and often a press release.
Community involvement is engrained in WT’s culture – how does WT work to encourage participation in and/or provide opportunities for community engagement, professional group, or design organizations?
We really encourage all our employees to be involved in the greater community. For our EPs, getting involved in organizations such as AIA, Seattle Architecture Foundation, and others can provide great opportunities for them to grow their network, learn and bring their voice and passion to these groups. To facilitate this, we provide everyone 16 hours annually of paid time to volunteer in the community, and many people exceed that. Members in our firm are involved in a wide variety of design, affordable housing, and sustainable professional organizations including AIA Seattle, AIA National, Seattle Design Festival, Seattle Architecture Foundation, Urban Land Institute, NAIOP, Housing Development Consortium, Passive House Northwest, NOMA NW, etc. We support these professional organization memberships by covering dues and paid time to participate in meetings and events.
How does WT include EPs in all phases of design, documentation, and construction? Are there opportunities for EPs to be involved in practice management?
Our ultimate goal for everyone in the firm is for them to join a project as early in the process as possible and carry it all the way through construction. Depending on the experience and role of the EP that can mean through the Construction Administration phase, which we believe is critical experience for everyone in our profession. If there are specific areas where EPs need hours for their AXE requirements, we try to accommodate them as soon as practical.
For practice management exposure, anyone in the firm can participate in a wide variety of groups that effect firm management whether that is our EDI (Equity, Diversity, Inclusion) Group, the Sustainabiliteam (sustainability group), Postcards from the Field (our construction administration roundtable), Design Origins, etc.
In what ways do emerging professionals inform the general values and culture of your firm?
We focus on hiring a diverse group of EPs, who bring their varied backgrounds, ideas and viewpoints to every conversation. Our efforts are to harness their ideas and see how they can effect change within our firm. There are several forums for this, though we keep the number of non-project related groups in the office limited, so we can focus efforts to have the biggest impact. Anyone is free to join these groups if they actively participate. For example, our EDI (Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) group has been facilitating focused conversations on equity in a hybrid environment. They are running workshops that the entire office attends, are gathering information gleaned from those conversations and presenting strategies to the partners for changes that can be implemented. Last year, through the EDI conversations the firm changed its holiday policy to reflect a more inclusive holiday schedule. The work of EPs in these groups is driving these changes.
How does WT track progress regarding diversity in the firm (gender, ethnic, etc)?
We track this through our JUST Label, “a nutrition label for socially just and equitable organizations,” from the International Living Future Institute. Every other year we analyze our staff, actions, and policies to achieve the JUST Label. The categories that are reviewed include Diversity & Inclusion, Employee Benefits, Equity, Stewardship, Employee Health and Purchasing and Supply Chain.
In general, we actively work to hire diverse candidates, through advertising our open positions in local minority-focused architecture job boards, or LGBTQIA+ job boards. Diverse employees have also found us through the work other team members do at local minority organizations such as NOMA NW, or Lambert House.