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Event Recap - Negotiating Compensation with Confidence

Speakers: Mani A. Farhadi and Laurie Dreyer
Location: Biltmore Apartment, 10159 South Blaney Ave, Cupertino, CA
Date: June 30, 2018
Time: 9.30am-12.30pm
Sponsor: AIA Silicon Valley, Women in Architecture Committee
Blog By: Dasha Ortenberg, Mani Farhadi, and Leah Bayer


Note: Valuable resources related to salary negotiation and this event are attached at the end of this article - be sure to check them out!


Negotiating Compensation with Confidence” featured two speakers from opposite sides of the table relaying strategies for salary negotiation in a collection of earnest, considered, and open conversations. One year prior, Mani A. Farhadi had negotiated her position as Project Director at Taylor Design, where Laurie Dreyer is the current Director of Development. Each explored and exposed dynamic, behind-the-scenes elements that contribute to negotiation including differences and decisions in career trajectories, business development, and communication modes. By the end, it was evident to participants that salary is more than just a number; it is an expression of complex fiscal, personal, and career considerations at a given moment in one’s life and in the context of socio-economic developments.

Due to uncanny timing, the event coincided with Farhadi’s announcement of her departure from Taylor Design to a position at Stanford University. This led to a particularly unique structure for the presentation, as well as demonstrated to the audience that one must remain professional at all times, regardless of adjustments and transitions in one’s career.



PART I – CASE STUDY : My Negotiation Story - Mani A. Farhadi

Chapter A

In 2017, Mani Farhadi found herself looking for a new position for the first time in sixteen years. As she began by defining her personal goals, Farhadi’s search focused on philosophical firm alignment, human-centered rather than image-oriented design, evidence of women in leadership, a supportive environment, and an ability to leverage her 30 years in the education market.

Farhadi then ventured where she hadn’t before; she started responding to recruiters and headhunters. This gave her an inside track to unadvertised positions at leading Bay Area firms, and she received two promising offers; one as Studio Director at a branch office for a national Interior Design firm, the other as Project Director at Taylor Design, with a focus on building up an education practice.

Farhadi now wondered: “What is an appropriate salary to ask for?” In her research, she referred to numerous online resources, including the AIA Salary Calculator, Glassdoor, Compensation Reports, Equity by Design, and Archinect. She also spoke to her recruiter about recent hires. Here again, Farhadi tried something new - she reached out to her network, including the WIA, to ask them what Director-level leaders at her colleagues’ firms earned.

Using this research, Farhadi was able to discuss compensation packages with both firms. She then evaluated the offers against the criteria she had established at the outset. Taylor Design’s offer increasingly stood out. It would be a new position, created for Farhadi based on her experience, where she would develop a new market for the firm – education – in the Bay Area. Additionally, the offer was attractive to Farhadi because Taylor is a firm founded by a woman, with a strong commitment to an equitable culture. Moreover, what completed the package was her successful negotiation for a 40% higher salary than prior. She started as Project Director at Taylor Design in 2017.

Chapter B

While negotiating with Taylor Design, Farhadi and the firm leadership discussed business development goals for the education market, which were explicitly ambitious, citing a quota. Given the novelty of the enterprise, after one year, Taylor Design reconsidered their continued investment in this market. Meanwhile, Farhadi had been approached by a potential client she had pursued for Taylor Design. Considering the scenario, she interviewed there and accepted an offer at Stanford University. After 30 years of working with educational clients, she will now be pursuing her dream of working for such an institution from the inside. Her departure from Taylor Design remains amicable, as evidenced by her cordial relationship with Laurie Dreyer and their collaborative presentation.  Farhadi has now started as the Senior Facilities Planner in School of Medicine at Stanford University.


Lessons Learned

Farhadi’s career and associated salary trajectory over the past year emerged from factors including clarity of purpose and a current portfolio of work, forthcoming communication with employers, positive and supportive relationships within professional networks, and earnest dialogue with client connections. Farhadi is now being compensated according to industry standard and working in the position of her dreams. Stanford School of Medicine has gained an industry leader who spent the past year developing a broad understanding of best practices among market clients; and Taylor Design has successfully expanded their visibility, opened new, doors and evaluated their expansion into the educational market. This case study stands as strong evidence that positive relationships and honest communication yield desired outcomes for everyone involved.




Dreyer opened her presentation by remarking on an ironic aspect of architects’ communication: architects are constantly negotiating on behalf of other people (clients, contractors, sub-consultants, user-groups, inspectors, agencies with jurisdiction, stakeholders, boards, etc), but how often do we negotiate on our own behalf? In particular, one of the questions asked by Equity by Design is “Why do so many women drop out of architecture?” Dreyer addressed three elements that are critical to salary negotiation : 

  1. Understanding different styles of negotiation
  2. Knowing ones value
  3. Cultural biases particular to women

Negotiation (Personality/Soft Skills)

She continued to explain that one of the keys to changing this pattern is understanding that the tools that we have at our disposal for any type of negotiation can also be applied to our own salary negotiations. Critical to this is an ability to identify and understand styles of communication - one’s own as well as that of one’s interlocuters. This can yield positive outcomes for everyone involved and result in collaboration over confrontation.

Dreyer illustrated this with one method for articulating styles of communication: the Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Management Instrument. According to this instrument, there are five conflict-handling modes:

  • Accommodating
  • Avoiding
  • Competing
  • Compromising
  • Collaborating

Ideally, Dreyer noted, people working together would communicate in the “collaborating” mode, even when negotiating salary. Collaborating takes more time as it requires careful consideration, asking questions, trusting others, and integrating complex ideas. She explained that even disciplines traditionally moored in the competing mode, such as law, are shifting towards greater collaboration. In that profession, this has resulted in a greater emphasis on mediation and arbitration over litigation.


Meanwhile, it is important for those with the goal of achieving agreement to understand how to communicate with those who are more closely aligned with other modes. Strategies for this include asking questions and incorporating opposing arguments into your own. It is also critical to feel confident in presenting and speaking - consider taking a course such as Toastmasters for practice. Also, always stay calm and give yourself time to consider questions. 

And know your facts.

Knowing and Articulating your value (Hard Skills)

Among the facts you should know as you enter a negotiation setting are your value, company values, and the current economic state of the country, region, and city where you work. These negotiation settings include preliminary salary negotiations as well as performance reviews. Always ask for specific feedback about both positive and negative comments: What are the expectations? What are the evaluation criteria? What do I do that others don’t?

Reflections on the Minnesota AIA meeting

Women are subject to deep cultural biases which result in the double burden of prejudice and lack of opportunities for growth. However, they also tend to excel in a number of traits critical to management. Understanding and articulating the lacking opportunities is the first step to filling the gaps. Therefore, in addition to knowing how to talk to other people and knowing how to articulate one’s value, it is also important to identify goals in career development. With this information, a discussion about salary can produce not only a number, but also an experience that simultaneously leverages existing skill sets and contributes to further growth. 



  • Look at the full package
  • Practice Public Speaking
  • Understand the context of your negotiation
  • Know your company
  • Know your economy
  • Look in the mirror and practice
  • Negotiate from a position of strength
  • Be you, everyone else is taken
  • Communicate Clearly
  • Maintain your network
  • Maintain your portfolio
  • Know your resources
  • Understand Communication Styles
  • Ask questions
  • Don’t react immediately



“Negotiating Compensation with Confidence” included the presentations summarized above as well as breakout conversations, comments, and remarkable stories from an audience of approximately twenty-five people. This audience was composed of architects, interior designers, HR managers, office managers, landscape architects, and receptionists working in the field of architecture. Their motivations for attending were as diverse as their titles. Underlying these many differences, however, was the common goal of sharing information and learning from one another to facilitate collective growth and development. 

We cannot take for granted that we will be paid what we deserve and we need to find venues in which we feel comfortable discussing and learning how to work through conversations that address this, which are often considered awkward or even taboo. The desired outcome and goal of this event, and (by extension) this blog, is to empower ourselves and others around us to move towards greater (salary) equity through strategies, knowledge, and numbers. 

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