Hafer Women Share Their Insights on International Women's Day

The 2022 International Women’s Day theme is #BreakTheBias. The theme encourages the world to imagine a gender-equal world. A world free of bias. A world that is diverse and inclusive. A world that celebrates differences and also values them.

This encompasses our communities, schools, and especially the workplace. We asked our team of women here at Hafer some questions about what it’s like to be a woman in the AEC industry. Here are their answers:


Did you always want to be in this industry? What led you to start a career in AEC?

Jennifer Kissel, AIA: When I was younger my grandmother and I would walk through the houses as they were being built in her subdivision. I loved seeing the houses go together and looking at the design. I have always loved art, design, and being creative. I originally thought that I wanted to be a horse veterinarian. However, I realized early on that I did not like seeing animals that were sick. So I looked for a degree that was a combination of creativity, design, communication, listening, and collaboration and found architecture.

Rebecca Brady, IIDA, NCIDQ: Yes, I did. When I was younger my favorite toy was Legos.

Victoria Wright, IIDA: Originally, I was in AG. I honestly switched majors because I heard several stories about how women have a harder time in that industry, especially in sales. So, I went for my other passion—design. I worked on the newspaper in high school and always loved designing and creating the layouts most of all. Interior Design sounded like it would be something I could love every single day.

Scarlett Bickett: I wanted to be in the industry from the age of 16! The first time I considered it was in high school. Our class was experimenting with SketchUp, and my teacher noticed how quickly I picked it up as well as how much I enjoyed it. He was the first person to ask me if I had ever considered interior design as a career path. Initially, the power of the human environment and aesthetics is what drove me to be in the industry. But working at an A&E firm has allowed me to learn even more about functionality and the construction process.

Hannah Henke: As long as I can remember I have been drawn to the design and layout of interesting spaces. As a little girl, I would rearrange my bedroom every few months. I have always loved creating beautiful and functional things and solving puzzles. Interior design is a good mix of creating beauty and spatial puzzles.

Kirsten Wilson: My mind has always been sharper in the subjects that fall under STEM categories. I can’t say I have always wanted to be an architect, but I knew I would end up in a profession in the STEM field.


What is it like being a woman in the AEC industry?

Jennifer: It can be challenging at times. I like to think that as a woman, mother, and wife, I bring a unique perspective to the table.

Rebecca: Sometimes challenging. I’ve been referred to as a “color picker outer” before and an “interior decorator” by almost all new clients.

Victoria: It is a challenge sometimes and I think it is even harder being a young woman in the industry. I have had comments and I am not always the person people look to first. But I love this industry and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I love to design and create. The obstacles I have to overcome to be here are worth it because of the impact I can make on the community.

Scarlett: Being a woman in this industry, just as being in any male-dominated industry, is challenging yet rewarding. I’m still learning what shapes my experience, whether it’s being a woman, an interior designer surrounded by architects and engineers, or being a young person in an industry that thrives on having years of experience and expertise. Despite those things, I know that I bring something unique to the table, and my coworkers respect and appreciate that. I believe the best way to thrive as a woman in a male-dominated industry is to stay confident, use your voice, and know your worth.

Kirsten: I like being in the “minority” when it comes to gender in the AEC industry because I get to be one of few influences on younger generations to show them that girls can do this too.


What is the biggest challenge you face being a woman in this industry?

Jennifer: Sometimes people will be surprised that I am the architect on a project. They do not expect a woman to be the architect.

Rebecca: Men often go to other men to get their answers instead of me because they can relate to them better.

Scarlett: I believe one of the biggest challenges is the lack of female representation. Although it’s not the same everywhere, my experience has proven underrepresentation. I believe having more female leaders to look up to builds confidence among other aspiring women. When you see a powerful woman establishing a successful career in leadership, it strengthens the belief that you can do that too.

Kirsten: I have had my fair share of men questioning if I knew what I was talking about. I have even had men say that I was wrong and that they knew I was wrong even though I had proof written down sitting right in front of me. In my opinion, the biggest challenge is developing “thick skin” so you don’t get discouraged or upset by people questioning you.


How often are you the only woman in the room?

Jennifer: More often than not, I am the only woman in the room.

Rebecca: About 90% of the time.

Victoria: I’d say 2/3 of the time I am the only one or two women in the room.

Scarlett: I’m the only woman in the room 8 hours a day, 5 days a week!

Hannah: Every day!

Kirsten: Seeing as Hafer has multiple lovely ladies I have the pleasure of calling my coworkers, it is not often in the office that I am the only woman in the room. If I go out to the field on a job site, etc. it is very often I can find myself being the only female or one female out of maybe two or three present at the time.


What resources or industry organizations are you a part of that you feel support women in the industry?

Jennifer: I am a part of ANEW which is A Network of Evansville Women. While this group is not aimed directly at women in construction and architecture, it is a group of successful businesswomen who support each other. I have met many wonderful successful women in this group that has become friends.

Rebecca: IIDA is a great resource for Interior Designers. They support design professionals, advocate for education and design excellence, offer community outreach opportunities. I benefit from the organization tremendously.

Victoria: I think in the design industry a lot of our Interior Design organizations are dominated by women and ran by women. Those spaces are very supportive and are a place where you can share struggles and find solutions.

Scarlett: I’m currently in CYP (Chamber of Young Professionals). This group believes in diversity in gender, race, and age. It’s known in CYP that many thriving communities have multi-generational leadership well as female leaders, and the support for women succeeding is apparent.


What advice do you have for other women starting their careers in AEC?

Jennifer: My advice would be to find a mentor and do not be afraid to ask questions. Learn everything you can about construction, design, the practice, business, and how it all works. Never be afraid to learn, unlearn, and relearn. Don’t let anyone tell you there is a limit to what you can achieve. Once you learn, share your knowledge with the next generation.

Rebecca: Make your work stand out for you, not your mouth.

Victoria: Don’t let anything hold you back from what you truly want to do. There are struggles, but that comes with everything. Being the only woman in the room doesn’t have to be a scary thing. Don’t ever make yourself less. It gives you the opportunity to gain the respect of others, show them what you are made of, and be something truly great.

Scarlett: Don’t be afraid to ask questions and gather all the information that you can. As a young woman that’s new to the industry, it can be intimidating to sit at a table with all men who have up to 40+ years of experience. Fear of coming off as unknowledgeable must be overcome. If I don’t ask, I can’t learn. Knowledge is power!

Kirsten: Don’t get discouraged. Keep your head up and show that you are confident in yourself and your abilities. If you mess up, own it. If you know you are right, prove it. Never let someone tell you that you don’t belong in this field.