When most young architects are considering whether or not to take a new position (or leave their present one), they typically look at the job’s benefits- things like salary, location, culture, and how interesting or fulfilling the work is. Often absent from this list of qualities is one key benefit that can significantly make or break the work experience. The firms that “get it” are the ones that are attracting and retaining the best talent.

The Architectural Glass Ceiling

Young architects and designers in their twenties who are just starting out in their careers may not really be thinking about where their present jobs will take them ten years from now. Most people this age are intent to just get a job and look for something better later on.

But this attitude typically changes with employees who are a little further along in both their careers and lives. That’s when some fundamental priorities start to shift.

Every single week I am contacted by numerous Senior Associates and Associate Directors who are not happy with the lack of direction and options their current employers are giving them. These are extremely talented, experienced people. They are typically in their mid to late 30’s or early 40’s, have been with the same firm for several years, have put in a lot of good hard work and a lot of hours, and have risen through the ranks.

Then, bam! They hit a glass ceiling.

It’s a barrier that affects both men and women (though women do have it harder). But it comes at a pivotal time when people are building families and preparing for the future. The Associates who contact me are taking a good, hard look up the organisational ladder. Though the wording may vary a bit from person to person, they inevitably all ask the same question: what’s in it for me in the next 5 years?

Thinking About Tomorrow’s Needs Today

These firms are not giving their best employees hope for the future, and they are not grooming them correctly to move through the upper corporate ranks. The result is that some ambitious young star performers are feeling disgruntled, frustrated, and ultimately not engaged. The firms that are not recognising and acknowledging high performing, high potential talent will continue to lose these people to their competitors.

That’s how it should be.

If a firm’s senior leadership won’t make the effort and investment needed to cultivate their key talent, to prepare for both the future of their employees and of the firm as a whole, then that sends out a very strong message: There is a crack in the foundation, and the employees will be better off taking their talents elsewhere.

That being said, it is a two way street, and the next generation of leaders need to understand that in order to progress to Director level and equity- you have to develop the essential entrepreneurial skills in marketing, business development and commercial acumen, which are imperative to help lead the continued success of the firm.