International Women’s Day 2021 | Marla Ushijima

What attracted you to work in architecture?

I’ve always liked to figure out how things go together, and how to make things better. I like to see the future.

Describe a typical working day for you…

Covid life is certainly not typical of my career, but in general, as a project manager I’m on the phone, in meetings, or email-ing most of the day, squeezing in drawing reviews and – if I’m lucky – get a chance to do some detailing in Revit.

Can you tell us about 1-2 challenges you faced throughout the course of your career, and how you overcame them?

Being laid off during the great recession. I took the opportunity to spend time with my sons, as my husband had been their primary caregiver up to that point. While that was immensely rewarding and I did do some work on my own during that time, I prefer working within a larger work environment and found it more difficult than expected to get back into that.

Mixed-Use Project Sunnyvale, California

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I identify three projects as crucial in shaping my career:

  • A very high-end single-family residence fairly early in my career. I developed the design with the principal of the firm and had the opportunity to work out the details of some very complex custom elements – a dream design project.
  • A large entertainment and shopping complex mid-career. I led a team for multiple phases and scopes of work for a demanding client. I earned my project management chops on that one.
  • A mixed-use project in Sunnyvale, the largest and most complex project I have managed to date. It was a dream design project as well as a challenging project management opportunity.

What do you see as some of the challenges facing women in architecture?

Rising to leadership positions, especially if a parent. Gaps in employment history can hinder career momentum and women remain the most likely to have those gaps due to primary caregiving for children. I’m hopeful that current societal trends toward more equitable sharing of parental responsibilities will help to balance the scales.

What advice would you give to young women aspiring to a similar career path?

Go for it! Don’t let any old-school expectations you might run across in the construction industry distract you from claiming your rightful place in the profession.

Lastly, what three skills do you think are essential to be a great leader?

Appreciation and respect for other people, a macro view balanced with an understanding of the specifics needed to accomplish a goal, and a positive spirit.

Interview with: Marla Ushijima, Senior Associate and Project Manager

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