Barbara Alfors Coaching and Consulting

Be in choice, be aligned, know your path, know your genius.

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What Can You Do?

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How can you help bridge the gap?

Earlier this year I went to a Women in Architecture AIA event (WiA) that presented the Equity by Design survey results1 from 2016.  This survey enumerated how far people of color (PoC) and women have to go to be treated equally in the workplace.

I was really energized when I heard the enthusiasm that the presenters and attendees had for tackling this issue – they even had the backing of the AIA!  The enthusiasm was contagious and  I made plans to put together workshops and tools for firms to use in combatting these issues in their own offices.

However, when I started researching and digging into it further, I realized how challenging this particular problem can be.  I met with people who do diversity training for firms, and even they said there’s no way to state the issue plainly and expect anything but pushback from firm leadership, regardless of how well that firm is actually doing with diversity issues.  In fact, diversity training often results in poorer outcomes because once the diversity checkbox gets ticked off in people’s heads, they figure they don’t have to focus on it anymore.

In my July post I promised some ideas about what we can do to tackle the pay gap for women and people of color. Most of us are not willing to start any lawsuits, which are costly and notoriously difficult to win.

If not through legal channels, then what?  Start with one small action at a time.

For those of you in leadership positions, encourage your team to consider whether bias is creeping into judgements on performance. Be aware that cultural issues such as hairstyles, clothing styles, or accents may be contributing to judgements about a person’s performance. Encourage the firm leadership to do a salary review.

If there are employees with performance issues, talk to them. Are there any situations in the workplace contributing to the person not performing their best? Constant microagressions can cause major stress and even lead to burnout.  If any of these issues are present in the workplace, they should be addressed.

If you aren’t in a leadership role, use your voice as often as possible.  Support others who speak up.  You may not agree with their message, but it is easy for dominant voices to take over a discussion and women and PoC to be dismissed without much consideration.  Talk to your co-workers about supporting each other, and lead by example wherever you can.

Realize that there are layers of privilege.  Although the pay gap between white women and white men is significant, it’s minor compared to the gap for people of color.  Be mindful that your efforts to promote women’s voices aren’t at the expense of PoC.



If you would like to explore how to brighten your career path, or are just curious about coaching, contact me to schedule a complimentary discovery session.



How well do you know your boundaries?


Setting boundaries is something that comes up frequently with my coaching clients.


Often times when we run into difficulties, it’s because someone is pushing us in a way that makes us react negatively.  When this happens, it’s helpful to try to get some distance on the situation and figure out what exactly caused the negative reaction, and how to define and communicate your boundaries to reduce the chances that you will have the same reaction if the problem comes up again.


I’ve recently run into my own boundaries issue.  I’m volunteering for a non-profit, and I just got some feedback from someone in a position of authority that I’m not doing enough, and I’m not doing it the way he thinks it should be done – despite the fact that fundraising is on target to meet our goals.


Whew!  This pushes my buttons hard.  I have very strong values around work ethic, and doing things right. To be criticized for these particular issues ratchets my anxiety to sky-high levels!  This is a situation where my inner critic – that voice in everyone’s head that’s always telling you you’re doing things wrong – really has a field day.


Now that I have had a couple days to stew reflect, I’m able to put some perspective on the situation.  First, I know that I am putting plenty of time into this project.  I got some brilliant advice from a non-profit expert that we should establish the expected hours of commitment for each volunteer role in the group so that everyone has clarity on what is reasonable.  Armed with this information, it will be easier for me to push back against the doubts of my inner critic, and prevent the anxiety from taking hold.


Second, I need to remember that the fundraising is our responsibility and we need to proceed how we think it should be done.  We cannot give our energy to every suggestion that comes along, especially when the plan we have is already working well. (Hear that, inner critic? We are on track!)


And the third thing: I’m getting help!  I’ve asked for someone else to be this person’s main contact and to keep him in the loop.  Perhaps more frequent updates will be able to convince him that we are on track and head off future clashes.  I’m also going to find someone to split off a few other tasks to so there’s less pressure on me to keep everything going, so that I don’t feel resentful when these kind of challenges arise.


Despite all this, I’m sure it will happen again. All we can do is practice, and when we make mistakes, try to learn from them.  If this stuff was easy, we wouldn’t have to work at it so hard!


Where in your life do you need to find your boundaries?


Why Do We Have So Far to Go?

Working While Woman

I started looking into women’s issues in architecture, and what I found mirrors a lot of the problems in our culture – not just for women, but for people of color (PoC), LGBTQ, disabled, and other people who don’t fit the stereotypical image of successful people in a variety of occupations.

There has been a lot of coverage of the pay gap between average men’s and women’s salaries. People like to diminish the importance of this by suggesting that it’s because women often take maternity leave, or don’t work as many hours after having children and so aren’t at the same experience level. This might explain some of the pay gap in a general population study. However, a San Francisco AIA committee called Equity by Design did a study indicating that in architecture the gap holds true when comparing equal job titles and equal experience levels, and actually increases at greater experience levels.1

In researching further I came across an article claiming that “the pay gap could be closed by 2044 instead of 2080 if we do these three things!”2  I was appalled (2080!?), but also encouraged at the prospect of actually closing the gap.

Until I read it.

Their suggestions:

1. Digital fluency, such as using social media to network and online banking.
2. Women should get jobs in higher-paying fields.
3. Tech immersion: take a coding course!

Huh. None of these seems likely to be the problem for women professionals.

The article was based on the consulting firm Accenture’s study of “developed markets,” so perhaps I’m being unfair trying to look at these suggestions through the lens of professional women. But the reality is that pay gaps and promotion gaps persist in professional and tech fields, for both women and PoC. Issues such as workplace harassment are driving women from tech and science professions, and the cognitive bias that women and PoC just aren’t as good at certain tasks (such as leadership or coding) lead to lower rates of promotion. Unfortunately the fact is that women and PoC have to work harder and never make mistakes, and they still aren’t perceived to be as effective as white men.3

There are so many more issues to unpack here that I couldn’t possibly address them all. But I’ll follow up on this in a future post with some thoughts on what we can start to do about it. Let me know your thoughts or experiences in the comments!

If you would like to explore how to brighten your career path, or are just curious about coaching, contact me to schedule a complimentary discovery session.



Recommended reading: (strong language)

What dreams are still waiting for you?

Where is your path heading?

Here we are, adults living our lives – though if you’re like me, you’re not living the life you envisioned years ago. Where has your path diverged from what you expected when you were young?

Few of us will follow the exact path that we imagined in high school. It makes sense to adjust as we learn and grow, and to adapt to changing circumstances.

The only expectations I had for my adult life were that I would 1) make $30,000, and 2) marry, have two kids, and live in a house.

Those things happened. But I never had much of a vision for the essence of how my life would go. I figured that my education and skills would be valued and I could just be a productive member of society and get by on that. At a certain point I realized that I had to actually take control of the shape and texture of my life, and letting other people’s expectations determine the course wasn’t going to lead me to where I truly wanted to go.

What are your dreams? What contributions do you want to be remembered for?

The decisions you make now can help you find your new path.

If you would like to explore how to rekindle your dreams, or are just curious about coaching, contact me to schedule a complimentary discovery session.

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