FROM WHERE I SIT: MANAGING PRINCIPAL BECKY WARD
From being told to pursue interior design because architecture wasn’t suitable for women to working tirelessly in the inflexible corporate world as a young mom in the 1980s, much has changed for Becky Ward since she first started her career. Now, as the Managing Principal of tvsdesign, Becky is seeing leaders of all kinds being embraced in favor of a more diverse and equitable industry.
How did an Interior Designer wind up as Managing Principal of an architecture and interiors firm? What’s been your favorite aspect?
Long story – I started my career as in interior designer, working in Nashville then Atlanta for tvsdesign before having twins in 1981 and taking a couple of years off. My client, AT&T Long Lines, went through divestiture in 1983 and ultimately made me an offer to work in the Corporate Real Estate department. As a new mother, I couldn’t turn it down – better hours, better pay, better benefits, you get the picture. What I thought might be a couple of years turned into 13, and during this time I received training in management, real estate and I managed work performed by design firms. With this experience under my belt, I started my own business after my “early retirement” of one month.
Up until this point, all of my work was with one type of client – telecommunications, so when I was approached by a design firm that offered a broader range of practice areas, I jumped on it. This experience solidified for me that I wanted to work for a firm whose priorities were informed quality and design, not by profit and commodity. During my last day, I was coincidentally re-recruited by TVS, where I was hired as Managing Principal of TVS Interiors, working closely with many of our current principals.
Despite the recession hitting hard in 2008, I was able to turn the practice profitable. During this time, the Managing Principal for TVS Architecture was approaching retirement and the firm had downsized firm as a result of the recession, which led to the decision that I should oversee Architecture and Interiors as Managing Principal, a role I still hold today. No day looks the same and I’m always astonished and proud that I get to work alongside so many talented designers.
How has the industry evolved since you first began your career? Have things changed for women over time?
While I was studying at Auburn, I was told by a professor that because I was a woman, I shouldn’t pursue architecture. I’ve enjoyed a long career in interiors and believe it was the right decision – though his reasoning was all wrong.
Work-life balance wasn’t top of mind for leadership at many companies – there used to be a committee because it was virtually non-existent. Things have changed a lot. There used to be no flexible work environments, and the office was certainly not conducive for women and working mothers, who had to work harder and longer hours than their male peers to be taken seriously as a leader, for less pay.
When I was approached by tvsdesign for the second time, I was hesitant to rejoin because it had always felt like a boy’s club – that’s the way business was done for many years across many industries. I was reassured that things had shifted, and I came back to a much different firm. Now, it’s all about flexibility and being okay that your career trajectory might change.
It used to be common that I would attend a meeting and be the only female in the room, and while this has certainly changed, I attended an industry leadership meeting just three years ago and was the only woman at the table. At the cocktail reception the day before the meeting started, I could hear everyone trying to figure out who my husband was – it was automatically assumed that I wasn’t there as a guest, not as part of the meeting itself. Thankfully, the group leaders have changed since this meeting three years ago and there is a more diverse group of age, race and gender. It’s important to cultivate a culture that embraces leaders of all kinds and fosters opportunities for growth. We live in a diverse world, and we’d be missing out if we didn’t have a diverse practice or diverse industry.
What sort of encouragement can you offer new moms trying to balance their careers with their changing home life?
Enjoy every year with the little ones. You can’t go back. They grow up. If you’ve invested the time and energy to growing your leadership skills before starting a family, opportunities are always there for you. You don’t have to give up on your career, but it’s okay to have a couple of years that are not growth years for you professionally while you navigate balancing it all.