The architecture profession in the United States is—slowly—becoming more diverse, as shown in recent reports, such as one by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. However, a lack of equity among design professionals still remains: Women and minorities are still less likely to hold leadership positions or receive equal pay for equal work in design firms, as revealed in the AIA’s “Diversity in the Profession of Architecture” survey and AIA San Francisco Equity by Design committee’s detailed “Equity and Architecture” survey.
Equity and diversity are becoming more common topics of discussion among practitioners as it grapples with talent retention and remaining relevant in an increasingly technology-driven, globalized economy. At a time when dialogue and action are needed perhaps more than ever in recent history, the AIA is contributing to the conversation with clear calls to action and measurable goals. In a Jan. 30 press release, it announced the Institute’s “Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Commission Executive Summary,” an eight-page document of “recommendations for expanding and strengthening the profession’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) in every practice.”
The impetus for the report stems from the organization’s “Resolution 15-1: Equity in Architecture,” passed at the 2015 AIA National Convention, which called for the creation of an Equity in Architecture commission “to address concerns about disproportionate demographics among those in the profession … identify the root causes for the lack of diversity and inclusion and [offer] recommendations on how to address those issues,” the press release states.
The commission comprised 17 members, each of whom was handpicked by 2015 AIA president Elizabeth Chu Richter, FAIA, for “what we brought to the commission,” says commission chair Emily Grandstaff-Rice, FAIA. Specifically, the members represented a range of backgrounds, industry expertise, and personal experiences, which helped them grasp “the larger problem in totality, [frame] what the future could look like and would look like, and then … get pretty deep into what we wanted the profession to be,” she says.
The process required diligence and introspection among the commission members, who took the full year they were allocated to identify meaningful, but realizable, steps that the AIA could take to start an industry-transforming movement whose effects may not be realized for generations. One overarching notion that the commission embraced was that “with greater equity, diversity, and inclusion, we would have better architecture,” Grandstaff-Rice says. “And because [architecture] would be a more impactful and aesthetic profession that responded to all parts of society, it would also celebrate and recognize cultural nuances, and lead to greater success within the workforce because it would create opportunity for all.”
In the report, the commission identifies five keystone areas of focus and, within those areas, 11 action items for the AIA to implement over the next three years. These five keystones are leadership development; firm, workplace, and studio culture; excellence in architecture; education and career development; and marketing, branding, public awareness, and outreach.
Small breakout group within the commission studied the future implications within each of the five keystones, working backwards, and asking, “What would we need to do today to get to that?” Grandstaff-Rice says. Simultaneously, the commission also sought to embed “EDI into the DNA of the AIA,” which led to four questions: "How can the AIA create a culture that champions EDI? How can the AIA help its members create a culture that champions EDI? How can the AIA be a thought leader in EDI? How can the AIA develop future talent with EDI?"
One recommendation is to “create customized EDI training for AIA volunteers and leadership,” which the commission writes could be through a combination of “in-person sessions … materials and guides for interested groups to facilitate local sessions, and on-demand learning.”
The commission also calls for the AIA to contract an “academic study to document and research the impact of EDI in architecture,” with input from the Institute’s existing data on demographic trends within the profession. “We’re looking for something similar to the Boyer report,” Grandstaff-Rice says, citing the landmark 1996 study “Building Community: A New Future for Architecture Education and Practice.” Commissioned by the AIA and its affiliate organizations, the Boyer report offered eye-opening assessments of contemporary architectural education and practice and proposals for what they could be in the future.
The report also calls for the AIA to require EDI data as part of the submission process for its awards. This does not, Grandstaff-Rice stresses, mean that the data would be used as criteria or as an “overlay” for the awards. Rather, she says, the commission wants to collect data to see whether “a connection between award-winning architecture and more diverse and inclusive teams” exists.
Two of the report’s recommendations focus on architecture education. The committee suggest incorporating EDI into the ongoing work of the AIA 2016 K–12 Education subcommittee, and enlisting architects to volunteer in communities to “engage and expose kids and family to architecture through K–12 programs.” The report also calls for strengthening and increasing the number of bridge programs for architecture students enrolled in two- and four-year programs to enter programs accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board to increase “the number of underrepresented individuals.”
The remaining six recommendations center on emphasizing EDI values and practices within the AIA leadership and among design firms; creating tools to measure and assess progress; and ensuring that EDI is conveyed in marketing and outreach initiatives, including AIA public relations campaigns and chapter publications. “It’s important to show a range of architects because it reinforces that we are a diverse profession of culture, practice areas, thought leadership, and creativity,” Grandstaff-Rice says.
The need to encourage underrepresented groups to become involved in STEM-related fields spans multiple disciplines, Grandstaff-Rice adds. (The American Institute of Graphic Arts recently published survey results finding that 73 percent of its respondents are white.) The Equity in Architecture commission and its report was “an opportunity for the AIA and the profession to think about the EDI issues in a creative way that other professions maybe could not," she says. "We solve physical problems every day [as architects]. … We can also provide direction and a pathway for other professions in the way in which we approach this.”
The January report also debuts the AIA’s 2017 diversity statement: “The American Institute of Architects, as part of the global community, champions a culture of equity, diversity, and inclusion within the profession of architecture to create a better environment for all. Achieving this vision has a direct impact on the relevance of our profession and the world’s prosperity, health, and future.”
In the Jan. 30 press release, 2017 AIA president Thomas Vonier, FAIA, stated, “This report gives the AIA a solid framework to move closer to a more equitable and inclusive profession. In the months ahead, we look forward to implementing some of the recommendations put forth.”
Vonier has already taken a step in ensuring the Institute is held accountable to its report. He recently named Grandstaff-Rice and Rosa Sheng, AIA, as co-chairs of the newly created Equity and the Future of Architecture committee, which will be dedicated to moving the report’s calls to action forward. Sheng, who co-authored Resolution 15-1 and was also a member of the Equity in Architecture commission, says that the new commission is in the early stages of formation, and that she is “excited for this opportunity and AIA’s affirmation of the movement for equitable practice.”