Path to Partnership: Q&A with Nicole Nathan, Partner at JNS Architecture + Interior Design

Nicole Nathan, partner at JNS Architecture + Interior Design, has more than 20 years of experience as a design architect creating some of the most dynamic spaces in Denver and across the country, including the recent award-winning renovation of the Downtown Denver Sheraton. Nicole leads the firm’s architectural and interior design studios, focusing on hospitality, urban mixed-use and housing projects. Her leadership throughout her 15 years with the firm has helped grow JNS into a top architecture and interior design firm in the region.

What makes the diverse makeup of JNS stand out among other architecture firms?

Women make up 67% of our firm. This is huge considering the AIA lists the percentage of female registered architects at just 17%. I am proud of the fact that 70% of leadership roles in our firm are held by women. We did not look to build a firm of mostly women, but we have made room for women to be successful and valued, which has led to our continued success as a firm.

What do you think is the best way the industry can work to promote the inclusion and participation of women in a male-dominated field?

Recognizing the value women bring to the field is critically important. Men and women do not always think alike, and the best teams value the assets that each individual brings to the table. This goes beyond just gender—diverse perspectives come from different lived experiences. We’ve grown organically into a firm that values individuals for their contributions regardless of gender, race, ethnicity or background. Our firm makeup includes 24% of team members born outside of the U.S., including one of our partners, Tobias Strohe, who is a German national.

Fostering a supportive environment for all working parents needs to be a priority. At JNS, we provide personalized flexibility that allows working mothers, who still tend to carry the majority of child-raising responsibilities – to continue in their career growth and maintain their valued position within the firm.

Providing and promoting women role models is also critically important. Seeing women in positions of leadership sets a powerful example for younger women. Even if these women are not in the same firm, seeing them and watching their impact within the industry at large has tremendous value in keeping women in the workforce and providing opportunities for advancement.

What have been some of the biggest challenges in your career and how did you overcome them? 

Finding balance and setting boundaries was a big challenge for me, but an important skill I learned to develop later on in my career. In the beginning, I wish I had found the voice to ask for things that would have helped me become more successful earlier without being stretched too thin. There are inevitably times in life that are more full than others – like caring for young children or aging parents – and women need to feel comfortable communicating their needs in order to continue contributing at a high level.

Architecture is a time-demanding sport and can seem like a war of attrition. Keeping the faith, remembering why I love it, and having a strong support system is what helped me get through to the next level.

How has mentorship played a role in your career trajectory?

Witnessing friends navigate their male-dominated professions, seeing their successes, and sharing that experience has been incredibly helpful. Having mentors who championed my work was also a critical part of the equation.

Every story is different, and every leader faces different challenges, so my advice to women looking for a seat at the table is to surround yourself with a variety of leadership styles. Take bits and pieces of your role models and mentors and piece together what speaks most to you.

What is the best way male counterparts can participate in ensuring women have a seat at the table?

Recognizing the value of a female colleague’s contributions and seeking out her perspective in important discussions is critical. In my early days at the firm, I was lucky enough to find an advocate in Jim Johnson. It was his belief in me, his openness to my ideas, and his boundless enthusiasm to take on each new challenge that ultimately guided my path to partnership. My continued success is bolstered by the support and advocacy of my business partner, Tobias Strohe. Both of these men have been critical in getting me to the place that I am today.

What advice do you have for emerging female professionals in this profession?

Seek out those who respect your contributions. Use your voice—don’t hesitate to speak up, ask questions and communicate what you need to perform at your highest level. Seek out women in positions of power and ask them for advice and mentorship. Never underestimate your contributions, and don’t negotiate against yourself. Keep your head held high with your eye on the bigger picture and steer your own ship.

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