This article is a response to the June 2018 article "Opinion: Beverly Willis on Sexual Misconduct in Architecture," by Beverly Willis, FAIA, and Julia Donoho, AIA.
We honor Beverly Willis, FAIA, for her tireless advocacy for women in our profession. Justifiably, she holds strong views on the long-overdue conversation about sexual misconduct underway in our country and culture today.
So does the AIA.
Long before I entered architecture school more than 20 years ago, there was a growing advocacy for gender equity in our profession, starting in the 1970s. This included AIA Women in Architecture committees formed to develop policies and programs designed to address equity and diversity issues in architecture. A decade ago, the Institute hosted the first Women’s Leadership Summit, and the AIA adopted a sexual harassment policy for all AIA leadership and others in authority in 2014. More recently, the AIA formed the Equity in Architecture Commission to further the strong momentum we’ve established as a response to a member resolution.
Today, the AIA requires all components to comply with AIA National’s harassment policy and to adopt its equity, diversity, and inclusion statements by early 2019. Further, in light of recent events, the National Ethics Council is examining whether sexual harassment needs to be more explicitly addressed within the Code of Ethics.
We are determined to drive progress and stimulate change via education, the exchange of best practices, and leading by example. Accordingly, we’re putting as much emphasis on creating exemplary corporate cultures as we do on the buildings we design, providing the training and tools required to design safe, healthy, equitable work environments. We’re also taking our best practices to colleagues in the engineering and construction industries.
What has changed in the last 40 years is that there are more options and communication channels through which to seek remedies than ever before. But the vulnerabilities—for both accusers and the accused—have increased as a result. Accordingly, the AIA approaches this topic methodically and deliberately. We believe such sensitivity is warranted.
Further, when the AIA issues statements, advocates for policy change, and develops tools for the profession, we must be scrupulous about ensuring that our content recommendations are informed by hard data. For example, it is intuitive to conclude that some or, indeed, many women leave the profession as result of pay inequity, bias, or harassment. The AIA tested this hypothesis in 2015, when it commissioned its comprehensive “Diversity in the Profession of Architecture” study. A key finding: The main reason women gave for leaving the architecture and design field was dissatisfaction with work–life balance and flexibility.
Grateful as I am for the past year’s massive uptick in awareness about sexual harassment, I think it’s important we grant ourselves permission, on occasion, to pause and recognize the progress made. Women today are hardly immune from workplace harassment, but men are on notice that the Mad Men behaviors Beverly and other trailblazers were forced to endure for decades won’t be tolerated any longer.
Women have also made numerical gains in our profession. In 1970, 1.5 percent of the members of our profession were female; today it’s 21 percent. By 2030, women’s representation is expected to approach 30 percent. We see similar gains reflected in gender diversity in university enrollment: Female students at architecture schools account for 46 percent of the mix. It is not lost on me that this has occurred within my lifetime.
Has architecture reached gender equity yet? No. And we won’t and shouldn’t be satisfied until women are fully part of our profession. We have made progress—especially compared with many other industries. For example, a 2016 Bureau of Labor Statistics report indicates that the profession of architecture leads other STEM professions in terms of gender diversity.
We will continue to achieve progress when we recognize that everyone—regardless of gender identity—will drive change by embracing efforts to improve diversity and inclusion within our ranks, by confronting workplace harassers and abusers, by giving voice to victims, and by providing justice to those who, historically, feared retaliation.
This article is a response to the article "Opinion: Beverly Willis on Sexual Misconduct in Architecture," by Beverly Willis, FAIA, and Julia Donoho, AIA; both articles appeared in the June 2018 issue of ARCHITECT. Read the follow-up response by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards' CEO, Michael J. Armstrong, entitled "Here's How Architectural Licensing Boards Can Uphold Ethical Practice."
Editor's note: We regularly publish opinion columns that we think would be of service to our readers. The views and conclusions from these authors are not necessarily those of ARCHITECT magazine nor of the American Institute of Architects.