At the end of March 2017, CannonDesign brought on Hilda Espinal to fill a position that never before existed at the international architecture firm. She became their first chief technology officer.
“Having a CTO gives us a dedicated individual to build a comprehensive strategy around the implementation of technology,” said Thomas Bergmann, Executive Director of Practice Integration at CannonDesign. “Many firms dabble in technology but often don’t have the bandwidth to fully commit and explore the possibilities. Hilda is our dedicated technology leader.”
For the technology and architecture fields, dedicating a woman to a leadership position is quite rare.
According to a report produced by the World Economic Forum, women make up 11% of the architecture field and 24% of information and computing tech. When looking at senior roles in technology, 11% of those positions are held by women.
Espinal never thought about the numbers before getting a B.S. in architecture and M.S. in information technology and project management. “When I had my mind set in this is what I want to do, this is what I love, this is where I see bringing value, I wasn’t necessarily searching to see how many women were in the field,” she said.
And, despite feeling as though she had to work three times harder than her male counterparts, she remained unfazed. “I didn’t think about the odds being against me — I just did it,” she explained.
It wasn’t until after Espinal entered the field that she began recognizing areas where women are not treated equally. One area in particular. “A very real issue is that we don’t necessarily get paid the same,” she said. “We are usually at a disadvantage from our male counterparts in our pay, even if we’re doing the exact same work.”
Because Espinal “became increasingly more aware of that,” she now serves as a director of the National Board for Women for Economic Leadership and Development (WELD). “I [decided] to get involved and do something to pay it forward to help other women chip away at that glass ceiling.”
Espinal promotes and defends equality in the workforce for women, and that’s where she wants to stop. “I never want to use the gender card, and I never want us to do reverse discrimination either because that’s just as bad, if not worse,” she said.
Reverse discrimination doesn’t seemed to have played a role in Espinal landing her new position at CannonDesign. When asked on the topic, Bergmann said, “Honestly, our goal was to find the best person to lead our digital design practice into the future. As a leader in our industry, Hilda is that person. Her resume speaks for itself.”
Espinal looks forward to helping CannonDesign grow their strategy around technology. “This is an excellent opportunity to be at the strategic level of how we move forward as a firm — how we add value to our clients — so I want to place us at the forefront of how we leverage technology for the benefit of architecture,” she said.
Bergmann shares that same vision. “Already, our design practice and virtual teams are leading some exciting projects and efforts across CannonDesign. I hope Hilda can help us connect these pockets of innovation, build a strategy for the future around them, and be a catalyst for our firm leading the industry in digital design.”