Despite significant improvements in recent years, my hometown of Kansas City, Mo., remains one of the most segregated cities in America. Accordingly, it may come as no surprise to hear I rarely encountered diversity, of any kind, during my childhood. Upon graduating from high school, I spent a year in the Philippines, where my mother is from, and developed a passion for building community and learning from others.
That passion led me down life-changing paths at Kansas State University, notably joining its NCAA Women’s rowing team and enrolling in its architecture program. In these two ventures, camaraderie is a lifeline. The challenges I faced and successes I had were often shared with others.
I pursue the same sense of allyship in my office and the opportunity to bring inclusion to the forefront in Kansas City, which I still call home. By initiating and destigmatizing conversations about inequity, I have seen—and helped spark—progress since graduating six years ago.
When I started at my current firm, managing partners equally comprised women and men. However, I was the only ethnic minority in the company. By speaking up and participating in recruitment efforts, I helped my company attract new talent and increase our team’s diversity. Today, 15 percent of our 45-plus Kansas City design staff identify as people of color, and our office is burgeoning with new business. Furthermore, the firm makes intentional efforts to support equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI), not just in our marketing but also in practice, through mentorship, flexibility, transparency, biannual reviews, annual pay audits, two-way communication and engagement across all experience levels, equitable access to project opportunities, and creating my role as director of community involvement, diversity & inclusion.
As a visible thought leader on EDI, our firm has deepened its ability to connect with existing clients and has expanded its reach with new clients. By bringing diverse perspectives to the table, our design teams solve challenges with greater empathy, understanding, and innovation. When envisioning the experience of end users in their future spaces and the relationships our projects will have with their neighborhoods, the conversations are more intimate and human-centered.
Through AIA Kansas City, another vital platform and community, I helped develop an educational outreach program, published an internationally distributed journal celebrating women in the profession, initiated a partnership with the Girl Scouts to teach design-thinking skills, developed mentor and allyship programs among members spanning multiple generations, and co-founded the component’s Equity in Architecture committee to lead a membership-wide study on the local EDI condition. The value resulting from these initiatives helped AIA Kansas City become a Big Sibs chapter, blowing by the 1,000-member benchmark to reach 1,400-plus members and counting.
As people begin viewing EDI less as controversy and more as competence, the conversation is sparking interest across industries throughout the city. Barriers are breaking down, and for a fundamental reason: At the core of the EDI conversation is a quest for opportunity—individuals seeking equal access to career growth, firms seeking talent, business developers seeking clients, and designers seeking to better serve our increasingly diverse and globalized society. We all have a story to tell and something to share, and we all have something to learn and to benefit from each other.
In this critical time of visible division on many topic areas, the how significantly affects the what on EDI actions. In my experience, it takes community to succeed in any goal, and personal investment—intentional effort and time—to build that community. As creators charged with improving the world through design and innovation, architects are a community and we thrive when we ally together.
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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.