Featured Member - Monica Bettendorf Hartberg, AIA
As the president at 57-person Miller Dunwiddie in Minneapolis, Monica Bettendorf Hartberg is furthering the legacy of a firm that encourages diversity and a strong work-life balance.
Growing up, Monica Bettendorf Hartberg, AIA, briefly considered a medical career but recognized that she wanted to find a way to explore the science of human nature in a way that combined the analytical math and science with the artistic and creative endeavors of the built environment: architecture. Today, she’s the president at Miller Dunwiddie in Minneapolis, a 57-person firm that emphasizes diversity and encourages its employees to have a life outside of the office. “When you talk to employees who’ve worked here for 20-plus years,” she says, “you really see how much a commitment to people matters.”
I didn’t have an ah-ha moment that turned me on to architecture. I do remember, in my youth, being fascinated with the built environment and how it affected the people around me. You walk into a church and everyone hushes; you’re in a sports facility and everyone gets excited. I couldn’t get enough of the interplay between human activity and the built environment -- how they meld and mesh and can impact one another.
As I moved forward in my career, my thoughts on diversity were, “This is what I’m doing with my life; no matter what happens, I’m going to push through to be in the profession I’ve chosen.” I recognized that the numbers were skewed gender-wise, but it wasn’t my primary focus.
But now, as I’ve come into a place of leadership, I’ve become far more aware of how we’re mentoring the next generation of architects. We need to be more intentional in pressing for diversity across the board, making sure that there are multiple voices at the table who can speak to their own unique experiences. We’re designing for a greater community, not people just like me with my life experiences. Equally as important is the knowledge that we’re not only employing a diverse group of people but designing for them, too.
"We need to be more intentional in pressing for diversity across the board, making sure that there are multiple voices at the table who can speak to their own unique experiences."
That said, it’s still striking that people are surprised to see a woman at the table in a construction meeting. Of course we’re at the table. We should be at the table. But these are situations that people continue to face every day. It’s these little moments that remind us how thoughtful we need to be, that help us remember the need to be inclusive in so many small but important ways.
I am very proud to be part of an office that is almost 50/50 men and women, and has been that way for a long time. Miller Dunwiddie has always supported individuals and lifestyle needs; unlike so many other firms across the profession, we’re not seeing that loss of women as they end up having to choose between their personal and professional lives. We’ve encouraged people to live their lives while working for us; as such, we don’t see the turnover that other firms have experienced.
The leadership at Miller Dunwiddie has always been very focused on hiring the right person for the job. We really look at the culture here and consider how every potential hire aligns with where we’re heading as a firm. Over the years, we’ve created an environment where we’re both challenged and supported as designers; it really puts an emphasis on who we all are as people and how we put people first. We strive to recognize the individuals, their specific strengths, and the power that each person brings to each project and the overall office. —As told to Steve Cimino