Over the years, we’ve seen how having a variety of perspectives improves our designs and allows us to deliver greater results for our clients. At ACI Boland, 45 percent of our staff are women. That’s more than 10 percent higher than the industry average reported in a 2016 American Institute of Architects (AIA) survey.
As part of Women in Construction Week, we wanted to celebrate their invaluable contribution, so we asked three members of our firm to tell us about their career and offer advice to those interested in the profession. Representing different stages and roles in the industry, Bailey Ramaekers, Claire Namovich, and Sarah Limbocker provide insight on what it’s like to be a “woman in construction.”
TELL US ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND.
Bailey Ramaekers, Associate | Interior Designer: I’ve been an interior designer for nine years and have a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Interior Design from University of Incarnate Word.
Claire Namovich, Project Designer: I started as an intern at ACI Boland in 2019 and graduated with a Master of Architecture from the University of Kansas in 2020. I’ve been at the firm ever since.
Sarah Limbocker, Architect: I’ve been a licensed architect for two years and have been performing architectural design work for eight years.
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU KNEW ABOUT THE PROFESSION BEFORE YOU GOT STARTED?
Bailey: This profession is not like what you see on HGTV with Chip and Joanna Gaines. Interior design goes beyond pretty homes and décor. There are other spaces that need to be considered for design and functionality, like those in healthcare, public safety, and education. It’s exciting to see how the design of these spaces immediately impacts those using it.
Claire: I wish I knew how challenging, yet fun, school was before I started. I made some of my best friends in architecture school, and now, we still have things to talk about whenever we are together.
Sarah: I wish I had realized how much preconstruction preparation happens before any type of design or documentation work can begin.
HOW SHOULD SOMEONE GET THEIR START IN THE PROFESSION? ANY GREAT TIPS?
Bailey: Intern! An internship is going to be the best opportunity to provide insight into this profession. A summer internship usually offers a longer schedule to work full-time rather than a shorter internship during a winter break. Working full-time as an intern allows you to immerse yourself into projects and will give you a real feeling of what it’s like to work 40 hours a week. As an added bonus, those internships can often create professional connections for a full-time job.
Claire: Tour a lot of schools, find the right one, and then, search around for a great firm that you feel like you’ll fit in!
Sarah: Get exposed to construction at the owner, construction, and architect levels if possible. It takes a massive team to build, and they all have a different focus of the project.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO WOULD LIKE TO BE AN INTERIOR DESIGNER OR ARCHITECT?
Bailey: Keep an open mind. I think we all go into this career with a little bit of an ego in terms of the types of spaces we expect to create. And while we need some of that “go-getter” mindset, it’s also important to be open to experiencing different projects types and clients. These experiences make us more well-rounded designers and ultimately can help us determine what niche we want to work in.
Claire: I would tell someone that it isn’t an easy job, but it is fulfilling. I love being able to see the design work that I did in physical form.
Sarah: There is constant communication between all parties involved on a project. Sometimes, you need to be ready to help all stakeholders find a common language to discuss the project, because they will all have different opinions on what the focus of the work should be.
WHAT KINDS OF THINGS SHOULD THEY LOOK FOR WHEN TRYING TO FIND A FIRM?
Bailey: Look at things like employee size and project types. Larger firms and large client projects tend to mean more man hours, and employees can end up being just a number. Ultimately, it depends on what type of work/life balance someone is looking for. Office culture is everything. A firm that not only brings solutions to problems, but also oozes positivity, is going to shed some light on how they treat their employees. Happy employees that can enjoy a work/life balance are going to be more likely to execute their work proficiently.
Claire: Since I was in an internship program through KU, a lot of firms reached out to me with interviews and offers. Something I did with every firm was take a look at their social media to get a feel for their social events, work ethic, and gain a better understanding of whether or not it would be a good fit for me!
Sarah: I’d start by looking at the type of construction they specialize in and how big the staff is. Then, find out the firm’s approach to live / work balance and see what type of mentorship programs they have in house.
WHAT SURPRISED YOU ABOUT BEING AN ARCHITECT/PROJECT DESIGNER/INTERIOR DESIGNER?
Bailey: The consideration that goes into designing and building a space surprised me. From site work, exterior materials, to finishes, circulation, and equipment coordination, there are so many parties collaborating with one another to make a space work. Going into this profession, I didn’t think I would be reviewing vendor drawings to coordinate equipment going into an operating room, but here I am! Reviewing important information like that has given me a better understanding about how healthcare works. When I meet with clients, I learn what they want and how they work in a room. It’s empowering to take their feedback and create a space that improves and supports how they work.
Claire: What surprised me the most about being in the field is how much I learn on a day-to-day basis. I learn at least one new thing every day, whether it’s using a program, architectural terminology, or aspects of different project phases.
Sarah: I had no idea how many codes, regulations, and guidelines I would be referencing on a daily basis. In school, we discussed IBC heavily, but depending on what type of construction you’re practicing, you might be referring to many other documents for compliance or best practices.
HOW DO YOU THINK WOMEN CAN BEST SUPPORT ONE ANOTHER IN THE WORKFORCE?
Bailey: This field tends to be stereotyped as a male dominated field. But more and more women are becoming involved in STEM related jobs. Supporting each other is more important now than ever. We can start small by providing feedback on a colleague’s project or assisting them in project completion. At some point, the support needs to expand beyond our own firm walls to praising and congratulating other women within the community on their work. Allowing women to feel supported and recognized will help reduce the gender stereotypes in this profession, while encouraging future generations to join.
Claire: Just have fun with each other! You have more things in common than you think.
Sarah: I think we can support one another by asking one another for help. If you have a question, there’s a good chance someone else has had the same question and worked through it. We build off each other’s knowledge, and it’s great to see others find success from your past work.