#BreaktheBias: Empowering Women in Design – Veronica Rodriguez
Only 17 per cent of professional architects in Canada are women . In acknowledgement of International Women’s Day and as part of our efforts to #breakthebias, we are showcasing some of the exceptional women architects and designers at Kasian. Throughout the month of March we’ll showcase how these women have overcome obstacles, created impactful designs across Canada, and continue to advocate for gender equity.
Veronica Rodriguez, Senior Project Architect, Associate
Veronica Rodriguez has nearly 25 years of experience in architecture and design. Born and raised in Mexico City, she moved to the Greater Toronto Area with her family at age 15. With an interest in art and desire to make practical contributions in design, she attained her Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Toronto.
Veronica has used her skills and talent to design some of Canada’s most prestigious healthcare facilities including Credit Valley Hospital, and the University Health Network. She’s managed a wide variety of projects from small-scale renovations to complex multi-million-dollar developments. Her passion for designing both the physical and operational aspects of healing spaces has fed her drive for continuous learning and leadership.
Veronica joined Kasian in 2019 and currently works out of our Toronto office.
This is her experience as a woman in architecture.
Q and A
Q: What inspired you to get into architecture and design?
VR: Since I was young, I’ve had an interest in making things and satisfying a creative outlet. Growing up, I loved to draw. Art was one of my favourite subjects in school. I was good at the technical side of things, like math and science, but my heart was in drawing and making. I was always crafting, designing jewelry, making little boxes, and working with my hands.
My dad was a draftsperson. I grew up watching him draft and draw. I remember playing with his drafting tools. My grandfather was a carpenter who built movie sets. I was immersed in a family of hands-on makers from a young age.
It was clear this was my path, and it grew from combining something I loved with something that was more hands on, practical, and technically challenging.
Q: Can you tell me about some of the more meaningful and interesting projects that you’ve had the opportunity to work on in your career?
VR: One of the most impactful projects in my career so far was working on the Credit Valley Hospital in Mississauga. I was part of the team that built the Carlo Fidani Regional Cancer Centre and their first major expansion in the early 2000s. I worked on this project throughout its entire life cycle, and spent five years of my life on the project. It influenced my career in many ways.
Two years after I completed the project, I was hired to work on the hospital’s capital planning team. I got the opportunity to work in the building that we designed for three years.
Healthcare design is fun engaging work. It’s an opportunity to help people. It’s where babies are born, where people are healed, where people die – there’s such a range of crucial moments in people’s lives, and emotions, and decisions that go into healthcare design.
There’s a strong connection between the spaces we design, the way we feel, and the way we heal. Not to mention the technical challenges we consider when creating these spaces. These healing spaces support the human soul. I’m always evolving and learning in this discipline.
Q: There are more women entering the field of architecture and design today, why do you think there are so few women architects in positions of leadership?
VR: I think designers should encourage and mentor other women within firms to move up into positions of leadership. There seems to be an assumption that those roles are held by men.
I think there are a lot of men who recognize that women manage and approach leadership differently. I once worked with a principle at a firm who said to me: “You know, projects that are managed by women always run better.” That has stuck with me. Women have a different touch and having women involved is always better for the project. I wish there were more people like this. A proactive approach to women in leadership is better for the work we do.
We need to break the inertia around thinking it’s normal to have more men in leadership roles. There’s a comfortable status quo that there’s nothing to change, but I think we need more proactivity.
In the hospitals I’ve worked in, most of the senior vice presidents are women who’ve come from nursing backgrounds. These women were amazing leaders. They were confident, they were strong, and they would mentor other women. They were in a position where they knew they could improve things and they walked the talk. That’s something to admire; something we should strive for.
Q: Can you tell me about a time when you experienced bias as a woman in architecture?
VR: This is a male-dominated industry, especially when dealing with construction. I’ve shown up to a job site as a young woman and the first assumption is: ‘Why is this person here? Why didn’t they send the senior guy?’ It was intimidating when I was starting out.
I felt I had to be much more prepared as a woman going on site than some of the men I worked with. I spent time reviewing drawings and when I’d show up to a site, there’d be a questioning look on people’s faces. It became a habit to over-prepare for meetings and do extra work. It’s made me work harder to prove that I know what I’m saying. I don’t think men questioned themselves as much I did.
I am a professional architect, but I have experienced all sorts of further explanation of simple things than my male peers. Senior people have sat me down to ‘mansplain’ how to manage a contract, change orders, blockers, etc. I had never seen these people explaining this to others, and I’ve had to bite my tongue and refrain from showing them my resume. It’s like they forgot my credentials. I think this is common. I’ve had to let it go and prove myself over time.
Incidents of unconscious bias happen often. About three years ago, my mom told me a story about a woman she met at a baby shower. This woman was around the same age as my mom and they got talking about their children. The woman was talking about her two daughters – one was a lawyer and one worked in healthcare – and how proud she was of them. She then asked my mom if she had children and what they did for a living. My mom responded that she had two kids – one an engineer, one an architect. To which the woman responded: “Oh, so you don‘t have daughters.” This kind of genuine non-malicious comment is the epitome of unconscious bias.
Q: How has Kasian supported you in achieving your career goals?
VR: My direct manager, Ian Sinclair, is a great supporter of anything that I propose or want to pursue. That’s been the biggest asset for me. He’s the reason why I came here. I knew if I was going back to architecture after working in the hospital, I wanted to work with someone I could trust and who could help me through that transition. He’s great at sharing opportunities, or things that he thinks that I might find interesting.
Our whole team is open to helping each other pursue career goals. Recently, Debbie Wadsworth started a mastermind group. We sit down together once a month to discuss our professional and personal goals in our professional lives. It’s been really supportive.
There’s a good vibe in the office. People are willing to help if they can.
Q: Do you have any advice for new grads or women looking to get into the field?
VR: Recognize that there’s still a bit of a bias. There are obstacles. Do your work. Be prepared. Recognize that at the beginning you’ll have to work harder than some of your male peers. Do what it takes, recognize it, and move on. Once people know they can trust you and you’re capable, it’s going to be an easier ride and people will enjoy working with you. In the end you’ll be a better and more confident designer.
Q: What kind of work and advocacy is important for women in design right now? How would you like to see the field evolve over time?
VR: It starts at the university level. Designers need to build their support networks and connections with their peers and professors, so when they’re practicing, they have others they can lean on. If I had this when I started, it might have been easier to maneuver some of the things early in my career. Establishing connections can help designers navigate their careers when things get rough.
Q: What does International Women’s Day mean to you?
VR: It’s great that there’s a day for this. Here in Canada, I think it’s become a positive day to recognize and celebrate women. For women in other countries, it’s not a day to celebrate. It’s a day to reflect on what’s happening to women across the world. It’s not just about giving women flowers and wishing them a ‘Happy Women’s Day.’ It’s more about activism.
It’s to show how much more there is to do around issues of education, safety, security, and violence against women. It should be more focused on this. It’s great that a lot of us are doing well, but let’s be honest about the fact that a lot of us are not doing well, and it’s terrible. Have we achieved everything that we should? Let’s consider what’s happening across the world and focus on that.
Q: What is one thing you wish you could say to your younger self?
VR: Be more confident from the start. Believe in yourself. Share your thoughts and use your voice more openly. It took me a while to find my voice. I’ve come a long way. If I could go back, I would tell myself to snap out of it and do it sooner. Don’t waste time.
Q: What is one thing you would say to the women ahead of you who’ve blazed the trail?
VR: I would ask them to share their challenges more openly. I want to know how they overcame their obstacles. It’s easy to see somebody that’s successful and think that they must’ve had it easy or that it was a smooth ride for them. I want to understand where they went wrong. I want to know what they tried that didn’t work, their challenges, things they weren’t sure about. I want to learn from that.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
VR: At our firm, there’s a good level of openness. I don’t feel that bias here. At the Toronto office is very inclusive and has made me feel very comfortable and supported. We’re doing a good job. I don’t understand why the numbers are off balance. The groundwork is there. There’s a good foundation at the moment. It will be interesting to see what happens in the future with executive positions.
Veronica Rodriguez has worked on the following projects:
Cape Breton Regional Hospital Master Plan
Glace Bay Regional Hospital Master Plan
Hotel Dieu Shaver Health and Rehabilitation Centre Stage 1
New Waterford Hospital Master Plan
North Side Hospital Master Plan
SHN Centenary Emergency Department Stages 2 and 3
SHN Dialysis Care Units at Centenary Hospital and General Hospital- Stages 2 and 3
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