How AIA is helping to build a more diverse profession
The co-chairs of the Equity and Future of Architecture Committee share how architects can further embrace AIA’s values
AIA’s values call for equity and to stand for both human and civil rights, and the Institute’s efforts over the last several months have begun to turn those values into actionable initiatives focused on diversity and inclusion.
In January of 2017, AIA’s Equity in Architecture Commission released 11 recommendations for “expanding and strengthening the profession’s commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion in every practice.” Soon after, the one-year commission ended and its work was assumed by the interim Equity and Future of Architecture Committee. Co-chaired by Emily Grandstaff-Rice, FAIA, and Rosa Sheng, AIA, it was formed by 2017 AIA President Thomas Vonier, FAIA, to further implementation of the recommendations as well as tackle other equity, diversity and inclusion issues facing AIA.
“The committee has been reviewing the recommendations,” Grandstaff-Rice says, “figuring out timelines, budget, and what’s doable right now. We’re producing action plans so that all 11 of them are realized over the next three years.”
In addition, the committee is supporting the upcoming Women’s Leadership Summit, as well as planning for a Design Justice Summit in 2018 and supporting AIA’s K-12 Task Force. They are also working on producing equitable practice guides, which will assist firm leaders in building practices that, according to Sheng, “maximize potential by minimizing barriers.”
“Diversity has been an issue for 50 years,” Grandstaff-Rice says, “ever since Whitney Young gave his speech in 1968. What has changed is that there is an awareness. I’m incredibly encouraged that we are now having frank, open conversations.”
“We’re all at different levels, and we all have to find a way to get engaged,” she adds. “When you have a question or a concern about diversity, commit yourself to doing a little bit better. With every little bit, we move incrementally. I want sustainable change; I want a larger conversation about an open, inclusive profession.”
For architects who want to contribute but aren’t sure how, Grandstaff-Rice says, “Notice and name. Notice the situations around you and ask, ‘Am I contributing to equity and inclusion?’ And name the problem, if there is one. Also, understand that it’s not just about racial diversity or gender diversity; it can mean religious diversity, welcoming people with physical disabilities. It’s not about checking boxes; it’s about asking, ‘Am I creating an environment that allows all voices to participate?’”
“Step one is self-awareness,” Sheng adds. “What are your values? Then, it’s important to talk as a group or local chapter: What are our values?”
“There are common values that I think we all share: dignity, respect, developing empathy for others,” she says. “We can disagree about certain things, but these commonalities should form the culture of our firms, local chapters, state chapters, and AIA National.”
If the data in NCARB’s recent By the Numbers report and AIA membership data are any indication, the profession appears to finally be on the right track: gender equity improved in regard to both newly licensed architects and AXP participants, and the percentage of AXP participants and ARE candidates who are non-white increased as well. It will be up to AIA leadership, the Equity and Future of Architecture Committee, and architects and designers everywhere to keep that needle moving in the right direction.
Steve Cimino is a digital content consultant with AIA.