Patricia Ramallo, AIA, is assistant vice president of innovation at NCARB. She served on a panel at AIA’s 2023 Conference on Architecture addressing the many challenges in the licensure process for women, minorities, and immigrants—a topic that particularly resonates with Ramallo, who was born in Argentina and started her architecture career there. We chatted with her about NCARB’s efforts to remove unnecessary barriers for those seeking to become licensed, as well as her own challenges and triumphs on the way to licensure.

Becoming an architect is certainly not easy. It requires intention and perseverance. I’m sure everyone who has gone through [the process] can attest to that. There are challenges to overcome at every step, from selecting the right school to finding a supportive firm to gain some experience—one that is also mindful of your time and the amount of money it costs to go through the exams—not to mention the support you need from your own family.

This is something that NCARB has been looking at in more detail. We want to understand and identify, “What are the areas that require additional support? Where can we do something?” There’s a study that [the National Organization of Minority Architects] and NCARB collaborated on in 2020 called “Baseline on Belonging.” We found that age is one of the most significant factors in relation to experience [with licensure]. Younger candidates are reporting fewer challenges than older peers. If you’re between 18 and 29, it takes a little bit less time to complete the experience that’s required for licensure than if you’re on the older side, like me.

Women, people of color, minorities—each of these communities faces common, and also specific, challenges. Some I experienced myself. A big factor, of course, is firm culture. According to our study, Black and African American candidates, when compared to white candidates, are less likely to say that they “belong” in a firm, that their firms value diversity or inclusion, or that they feel valued. Women and people of color, especially African Americans, are much more likely to have faced discrimination or witnessed it. If that is your day-to-day life, it really impacts the licensure process. It’s not surprising that these are the groups that also consider leaving the field, and this is where we’re having attrition.

The more we talk about these things, the more likely we are to find solutions. The simple fact is that you are not alone—you have your individual obstacles and challenges, but at the same time there is a whole community out there that is going through the same thing. It really helps, understanding that.

Licensure is a challenge, but it’s so rewarding. That is the other side: the sense of achievement and the opportunities, the doors that it opens, that make it worth it.