The flurry of diversity, equity, and inclusion statements released in the past year by companies across sectors was arguably overdue. In architecture, a quick glance around many offices, particularly at the leadership suite, would reveal noticeable shortcomings in representation. Industrywide change may seem daunting, but the growing focus on environmental, social, and corporate governance as well as on DEI initiatives by leading firms and institutions is promising.
One attainable and necessary first step is the establishment of baseline metrics, a point from which progress can be measured. Several organizations, including AIA, AIA San Francisco’s Equity by Design committee, and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, have published demographic information for the design profession as a whole. More recently, individual companies are taking that first step, looking at their own head counts and outreach efforts. Notable among these is the world’s largest architecture firm, Gensler.
After announcing a five-part strategic plan to fight racism last June, shortly after the May 25, 2020, murder of George Floyd, the firm got to work. A prolific publisher of everything from workplace trends to design forecasts, Gensler began to assess representation among its own workforce of more than 6,000 employees distributed across 50 offices worldwide, as well as the progress made on its pledged DEI strategies.
This February, the company published its findings in Gensler’s “2020-2021 Diversity Report: Leading by Example,” available online. The report provides an example methodology for other design firms while addressing a common shortfall of corporate DEI initiatives: transparency. “By sharing a story on annual progress, we can hold ourselves accountable,” Gensler co-CEO Andy Cohen, FAIA, tells ARCHITECT.
When researching report precedents, Gensler found few examples that were publicly available, including one by the professional services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers. Within the architecture sector, the road seemed unpaved. “We saw what other people did, but we wanted [the report] to be our story and about our journey,” Gensler co-CEO Diane Hoskins, FAIA, tells ARCHITECT.
By sharing the report, the co-CEOs hope to inspire more firms to evaluate and publish their diversity data. “We want to learn from each other,” Hoskins says. “Also, we want to collectively communicate to the Black community that we want you to join our firms. We want you to be part of this industry and in our firms.” Hoskins herself has a multiracial background—her father is African American and her mother is of Danish ethnicity.
Below are the primary components of Gensler’s diversity and transparency report.
The majority of the report sets a baseline for Gensler’s first strategy to fight racism: increasing racial diversity among its workforce. Using data collected during the employee hiring process, Gensler compares the racial and ethnic makeup of its 3,755 U.S. employees with that of the overall profession and sourced from the 2019 AIA Membership Demographics report.
The report includes employee data on LGBTQ+ identification, gender pronouns, languages, veteran status, and disability status, which the firm collected in an online, voluntary survey of its U.S. workforce. The survey had asked three open-ended questions regarding employees' self-identification of gender; self-identification of pronouns; and accommodation requests for disabled veterans.
Gensler also assessed professional titles by gender identification among its domestic employees. A breakdown of professional titles by race and ethnicity was not collected as part of this survey iteration, the co-CEOs say, but “appointment title data by race and ethnicity is something we are critically reviewing to inform our internal processes around professional development, mentoring, leadership opportunity, and title appointments.”
Men and women are equally represented on the board of directors, who are elected at the firm’s annual principals meeting; 14% of the board are Black.
Firm Leadership and Internal Accountability
Gensler devotes another portion of its report to describing how it will hold itself accountable on its anti-racism efforts. A recently created Anti-Racism and Diversity committee within the firm’s board of directors will help ensure race and diversity remain “a central part of its governance,” according to the report. A 22-member Global Race and Diversity committee will also work with the firm’s 10 Regional Race & Diversity committees “to ensure the impact of our collective actions.”
Staff members typically volunteer themselves to join the committees due to a passion for improving DEI, Cohen says, but the firm also allots a budget to support their time.
Gensler’s inaugural director of DEI, Monica Parker, will also have an active role in accountability. Along with advising the Anti-Racism and Diversity committee, the co-CEOs say she will provide input on community involvement and employee recruitment, training, retention, and engagement.
The report also describes Gensler’s efforts to increase opportunities for Black architecture students. For starters, the firm launched six-week design charrettes at seven historically Black colleges and universities, with a longer term goal of fostering relationships with faculty and students. It also financially contributes to programs aimed at diversifying the talent pool, such as the National Organization of Minority Architects’ Project Pipeline camps for middle and high school students.
The report also describes different ways Gensler is supporting employees to further DEI objectives in cities and communities on independent studies. Since publishing the report, the firm has been approached by clients to collaborate on their own ESG efforts. “The whole conversation about ESG is threading through every single client conversation these days,” Hoskins says.
Publishing a DEI study is only one step in the multiyear journey of improving representation in the design profession. Additionally, an inclusive work culture requires more than a diverse workforce. Being able to express yourself at work, to see leaders and mentors who look like you, and to know that everyone has equitable access to professional opportunities are crucial cornerstones. “This large initiative is about making sure that our firm is not just looking at numbers, but that we really are a place where a diverse community of designers, architects, and people can thrive,” Hoskins says.
Still, the co-CEOs say that assessing their recruitment strategies will be key to improving the firm’s racial diversity. “We can't do anything about diversity today,” Cohen says, “but we certainly can change it tomorrow.”
“I believe strongly that [when we have] more diverse people—and Black individuals in particular—in leadership, then the unintentional blind spots will be less and less likely,” Hoskins says.
An Industry Benchmark
Gensler’s sheer size may make it seem like worlds apart from the majority of architecture firms, but Hoskins and Cohen believe other companies can adapt its transparency report to suit their circumstances and objectives. Several firms are already initiating similar studies. Though some may decide not to share their information publicly, taking that first step of documenting baseline information—including employee demographics, DEI strategies, and goals—to benchmark future progress is a good start.
Even if change does not happen quickly, transparency and accountability will go a long way in showing prospective and current employees, clients, and collaborators that a firm recognizes a problem exists in architecture—and it wants to be a part of the solution.