Woman architect cracks industry’s glass ceiling

KATHYVAN TRAN, Associate Editor

Rosa Alvarado, senior project architect at PMSM Architects, does not let the fact that she is a Mexican woman stop her from pursuing a career in a field that has historically been dominated by white men.

Alvarado is one of the 31 percent of females breaking the glass ceiling in the architecture field, according to a recent study by Equity by Design. Even when she first became pregnant with twins, Alvarado did not let that stop her from continuing her career. She worked from home for the first two years as a new mother.

“There shouldn’t be an obstacle being a woman and or person of color,” Alvarado said. “If it’s your passion, don’t take no for an answer.”

She gave her professional insight at an event entitled “Interior Design & Architecture Employer Panel” on Tuesday, March 7 at Interdisciplinary Center Room 111. The panel was hosted by the Career Center as part of its “How I Made It Series.”

The study found that approximately 45 percent of students in accredited architecture programs are women, yet women make up only 31 percent of staff and 20 percent of principals and partners amongst American Institute for Architecture member firms.

But the gender gap is shrinking. Alvarado, who has worked as an architect for 31 years, said the gender ratio at her company is pretty equal, with approximately half of its architects being women.

“There’s more of us than when I was in school,” said Alvarado, who went to Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

The field is also diversifying, despite the study’s finding that only 21 percent of staff and 11 percent of principals and partners are people of color.

On Friday, two female architects from Mexico were awarded two of the highest accolades from this year’s Women in Architecture awards, including Gabriella Carrillo, who was recognized as Woman Architect of the Year for her work on criminal courts in Pátzcuaro, MX.

Alvarado too was born in Mexico, and came to the United States at the age of 5, where she was raised in Santa Barbara and graduated from Santa Barbara High School.

“It’s really interesting to see how the field has really changed,” drafting major Mariana Contreras said. “It’s really amazing. We’re really coming up in the field.”

Nonetheless, Alvarado said she does her work not so much for the recognition but to please her clients, who include Serenity House, Cottage Health and the Cancer Center of Santa Barbara.

“I don’t strive to be famous. I just strive for happiness,” she said.

The steps to become an architect include completing a professional degree in architecture, gaining relevant experience through a paid internship or job and passing the Architect Registration Examination to become licensed, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Matthew Beausoleil, a project manager with AB Design Studio Inc. in Santa Barbara, obtained his license in November 2016. He is also a City College alum.

“It’s tough. It’s really challenging,” Beausoleil said. “You really have to love doing it.”

The national mean annual wage for architects was $82,850 according to May 2015 occupational employment and wages. In California, 2016 data from the State of California Employment Development Department found that entry level annual wage was $72,120 and mean annual wage was $89,280.

California also has the largest number of licensed architects, with an estimated total of 20,293 reported in 2015, according to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that job growth is rising on a national level by an average 7 percent annually, with 26,300 expected annual job openings. State of California Employment Development Department estimates 400 job openings in California annually.

“I admire the women and men who do the position,” Alvarado said. “In this field, there are endless opportunities.”