This month we’re celebrating women with drive, vision, and leadership. The field of architecture and design has been transformed by women who refused to let obstacles regarding their identity stop them from sharing their gifts with the world. As a company, we consider ourselves fortunate to have relationships with women in the business whose careers are the fruits of the labor of the trail-blazing women who came before them.
In this series, we’re covering successful, working women in the Design Industry to provide guidance for others. Below we start by digging deep with Gale Doby of the interior design consultancy firm Pearl Collective and Founder and Principal Designer Zoe Feldman of Zoe Feldman Design about their journeys leading them to entrepreneurship in this creative industry.
We’ve all heard the age-old “hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard,” but let’s be clear, these ladies had talent. Both Gayle and Zoe relate to their start in the field stemming from their early interests and personal talents. Gayle Doby explains that her beginnings were not so intentional. She’d done such an impressive job decorating her own home that her friends began commissioning her for design services. In Gayle’s earlier years, she was surrounded by a family of creative individuals who nurtured her talents in painting, design, and playing multiple instruments. Before starting her business venture, Doby obtained her education in Finance and banking. She took her credentials to work for a Fortune 500 company in the Home Furnishings industry.
Zoe Feldman credits early exposure to art and design by way of her family for her talents. Feldman’s parents and grandparents had an affinity for mid-century modern furniture in addition to operating their art galleries. Naturally, Zoe’s genuine passion for the business of her family led her to pursue an education in interior design at Parsons. Soon after, she went on to work for AD 100 designer, Alexa Hampton before starting her own business.
Obstacles That Came With Womanhood
Unfortunately, being a woman in male-dominated spaces often comes with some degree of discomfort. Whether that be feeling overlooked, disrespected, or discredited. The major takeaway from these ladies’ experiences is not to let the actions of others deter you from your own goals. Studying successful people from all demographics, it is easy to see that the one thing they all have in common is that they did not allow anyone to tell them where they did or did not belong. They let their accreditations speak for them.
“You need really thick skin and to stay steadfast in your values and career goals.” – Zoe Feldman
Before developing her confidence and finding her voice, Gayle expresses that her early years in the industry were the most difficult. She was challenged with having to train a group of twelve men who were difficult to win over despite some of them being former classmates of hers and also recalls that they displayed resentment towards her for her success in college. Doby previously graduated at the top of her class. The extent of disrespect that she endured even went as far as enduring sexual advances from her manager. “It wasn’t easy,” she expresses, but she’s taken her experience as one to learn from.
Changes for the Better
When we asked Zoe Feldman about changes she’s seen in the industry over time, she expressed pleasure in seeing the rise of women-owned contracting and architecture firms. However, we still have a ways to go and plenty to address before we can truly say that all workplaces are made to be comfortable, equal environments for everyone. However, hope is on the horizon as we watch misogyny continue to be checked due to women feeling comfortable speaking up. According to Gayle, since her time as an entry-level designer, she’s witnessed more rules implemented regarding sexual harassment. The idea of women being capable businesspeople doesn’t seem to be a far-fetched idea.
“Sadly, I still see women not reaching their potential because their husbands believe that they can’t be great moms and run a great business. It’s so untrue. Women can do a lot.” – Gayle Doby
The large majority of women are in the workforce as opposed to opting out of work and staying home to tend to the family. This gives the impression that society has progressed past, designating women to the role of homemaker and disqualifying them from fulfilling their personal goals.
Patterns and statistics concerning women’s experience in the workplace while planning a family contradict this belief. In fact, a study conducted by Shelley Correll, noted in the Harvard business review, found that women with children were 79% less likely to be hired than ones without children. Another shocking find in the same survey revealed that a mother was half as likely to be promoted as a woman without children and offered a salary of about $11,000 less. These are direct ways in which women are being systematically pushed out. Women often face discrimination from employers and are seen as risky candidates when they have or are planning to have children. It’s often assumed that conflicts will arise in their work even when there is a husband or another active parent present. Until we tackle this bias, there will always be women who aren’t realizing their dreams and living up to their fullest potential because they believe it’s simply impossible. Women all over the world who run businesses and are successful professionals have managed to have both.
The Rewards of Entrepreneurship
Although it’s unideal for women at work to feel pressure to choose between family and their passion, the beauty of entrepreneurship is that there is no one to make that decision for you but yourself. We were curious as to what these two successful women loved the most about running their businesses, and they both expressed feeling immense gratification with the paths that they’ve chosen.
Gayle explains that the process of starting and running her own business is to credit for many positive personal attributes she’s developed over time. She’s learned to become more resourceful, a better leader and mentor… She found the most rewarding part to be how her work has helped the growth of other people. The work Doby has done with her consulting firm has resulted in her clients growing their businesses exponentially, developing leadership skills, and expanding their streams of revenue.
Zoe loves that she’s been able to create a lane for herself within the industry. Entrepreneurship has granted her the freedom to work with people in the field she respects, including her husband, who played an instrumental role in the operational side of the business.
A Word of Advice to Young Female Entrepreneurs
We wanted to know what Gale Doby and Zoe Feldman would do differently if they had the chance. Gayle gained a lot from being such a voracious reader and wishes it was a habit she started sooner in life. She also stresses the importance of having coaches and advisors for career guidance. The best way to learn how to be great at what you do is by surrounding yourself and watching others who are also great at what they do. Lastly, if you have a particular goal in mind, you must write out a strategic plan that includes a financial model before starting your business.
“Work on your confidence every day. Be a better human every day. Develop great listening skills – especially empathy.” – Gayle Doby
Zoe Feldman endearingly admits that her naivety regarding the complexities of operating a business gave her the freedom to leap into starting her business without fear holding her back. What we take from her experience is that if you have the passion for design and the technical skill required for your field, then you should not let overthinking about the rest stop you from taking a risk. Feldman closes with her final word of advice for young women to be resilient, learn everything they can and surround themselves with expertise in the areas they don’t.”
“Surrounding yourself with smart people that you trust gives you the confidence to speak to many different aspects of the business.” – Zoe Feldman