The American Institute of Architects reached another membership record in 2019, growing to over 95,000 members. With the strength of these numbers, we’ve never been in a better position to achieve our profession’s most meaningful priorities: increasing sustainability and resiliency; ensuring access to safe, affordable housing; protecting health, safety, and welfare; advancing society’s quality of life; serving as leaders in our communities to build a better future for our cities, and our planet.
Our progress toward each one of these goals depends on one more: attaining greater diversity, equity, and inclusiveness in our profession. Actually, that’s not merely a goal; it’s an imperative. It’s not just the right thing to do, it’s the smart thing to do. To succeed, we need the voice, perspective, and talent of everyone without regard to race, age, socioeconomic background, or gender.
We’re moving in the right direction, but a lot of work remains. The proportion of women enrolled in schools of architecture has jumped from just 25% in 1985 to 46% now.
At the same time, African American and Hispanic architecture student numbers remain far too low. Roughly 19% of new architects identify as nonwhite.
AIA is taking a variety of thoughtful steps to promote equity, diversity, and inclusion.
In 2019, AIA piloted Future Architects Opportunity Grants to fund conference attendance, architecture study, and internship costs for third-year architecture students attending historically black colleges and universities. In partnership with local firms and components, we also launched the “Embracing Our Differences, Changing the World” speaker series held around the country, through which members shared their experiences as diverse architects and designers.
Recognizing the existence of multiple layers of inclusiveness, AIA continues to implement strategies to develop a pathway to leadership for ethnically diverse women, who face a unique set of challenges at the intersection of gender and racial bias. A task force developed following adoption of a resolution in 2018 is taking the next steps, working through state and local components to expand the professional and leadership pipelines, as well as formalize leadership preparation to reduce institutional barriers.
These high-profile projects are important, but prioritizing inclusiveness in our day-to-day work is just as vital. That’s the idea behind our Guides for Equitable Practice, the final three installments of which are now available on AIA’s website. Developed in partnership with the University of Minnesota and University of Washington, the guides draw on the latest research and real-world experiences to develop best practices and tools that architects all along the career continuum can use.
The latest chapters continue the conversation. “Advancing Careers” examines how social, cultural, and economic forces may steer individuals toward or away from certain pathways. The next chapter, “Engaging Community,” addresses how architects can be more informed citizens, lead engagement as professionals, and model equitable practices as we work with our communities to achieve a more equitable built environment.
The guides are meant to spur not just conversation, but action and accountability. That’s why the final chapter, “Measuring Progress,” suggests possible metrics and frameworks to assess effectiveness and keep leaders and employees engaged.
The issues and challenges of our time are too complex to be solved with a narrow set of perspectives and experiences. Fundamentally, we all want the same thing: a better, brighter, and fairer future. To get there, we must make sure we have everyone at the table and in the room. If we do, there is no problem that we can’t solve, and there is no limit to what we can achieve for our communities.