Cynthia Bowen, APA President, on Being a Woman in Urban Planning

Full article published online at The Global Grid:

“As President of APA, and as a woman, I have a responsibility with the bully pulpit, if you will, to promote women’s issues and promote fair and equitable policies. We’ve made significant strides within APA. The APA Board and AICP Commission have 50% or more women in the leadership. Our divisions and chapters are not far behind. The issues that women face trying to balance work and family are very real. Women are often the primary caregivers for themselves, their children, husband, partners, and parents. But, still in 2018, we are fighting for equal pay, and to achieve the same status and the same titles as other male colleagues. Women, in their own right, have their own aspirations and their own goals. There is nothing wrong with being determined and driven to seek your higher purpose in life. While we have made cracks in the glass ceiling we have not broken through it yet. But we can, and we must continue to chip away at it. As a woman, my perspective and approach is slightly different than my male counterparts. I believe it is these differences that have made me successful both personally and professionally.

Taking a different perspective has helped me in my travels overseas. I have done a lot of work in the Middle East. What was difficult for me, initially, was that I was going to an area where women were viewed as the property of husbands. As a free woman in the US, I could be easily outraged by this, especially someone as independent as myself. But what I came to understand, is that as a planner, I cannot judge the value systems of another society, but only plan for that value system. So, I became familiar with their laws and policies and even tried to dress the part when I went to Saudi Arabia. We also had a very experienced male colleague who could back me up if the client was uncomfortable with a women running the job. Surprisingly to me, I was embraced, as a western woman, to lead and facilitate face-to-face meetings for my project. This allowed me to uphold my planning principles and ensure that the appropriate levels of services were provided for women and children within their communities.