Turning aspiration to action: An AIA equity update

When AIA’s Board of Directors adopted a new Framework to Address Systemic Racial Injustice and Inequity, the plans included a subheading: “Moving Decisively from Aspiration to Action.” A Pulse Survey confirming that members support prioritization of climate action and racial justice further reinforces our commitment. With the acknowledgment that the journey from aspiration to action is a long one, here is a status update outlining progress toward achieving and advancing objectives adopted under the Framework.

Expanding Critical Dialogue

One of the first objectives the Board identified in adopting the Framework focused on expanded coordination with the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA).

NOMA / AIA Boards meet: Our NOMA colleagues generously agreed to share their experience and expertise, leading to a first: a joint strategy meeting of the NOMA and AIA Boards. This unprecedented collaboration in August was quickly followed by a second joint meeting. In a combination of full and break-out sessions, AIA and NOMA leaders covered a wide array of critical issues: education, barriers to licensure, workplace culture, salary, exclusion within prominent AIA initiatives, awards recognition, and many more – including the doubly challenging experiences of Black female architects in firm and studio culture.

NOMA annual meeting: The dialogue continued at NOMA’s annual meeting in October – during which Bill Bates, FAIA; Jane Frederick, FAIA; and Peter Exley, FAIA, all participated in a panel of presidents’ discussion on racial equity alongside 2020 NOMA President Kimberly Dowdell, AIA, and 2021 NOMA President Jason Pugh, AIA. With our past, present, and future presidents joining in the discussion on barriers and opportunities, it was AIA’s most meaningful level of participation ever in NOMA’s most important yearly gathering.

Architecture organizations join forces: Together, AIA, NOMA, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), the American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), and the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) are partnering to advance racial and gender equity in the profession. The organizations are creating a new framework for collaboration and ongoing discourse across academic, student, practitioner, regulatory, and accrediting specialties. Stakeholders with influence over the full spectrum of the profession will be at the same table for twice-yearly meetings and beyond to address the most pervasive hurdles to equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Design justice: Issues surrounding the design of justice facilities –  especially those with spaces designed for prolonged solitary confinement or capital punishment – comprise another critical priority in discussions with NOMA. The Board began discussions over the summer with NOMA leadership, as well as the National Ethics Council (NEC), and the Academy of Architecture Justice (AAJ), a knowledge community of the AIA. After a period of deliberation that drew on consultation with stakeholder groups, the NEC delivered its recommendations to the Board in October. The Board is scheduled to formally consider the recommendations in its December meeting.  

Addressing Barriers in Education, Career Entry, and Professional Development

HBCU support: Expanding our outreach and support to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) is one of the most pressing and effective steps we can take to encourage underrepresented students and communities—most notably Black and African American students – to contribute their talents to the profession.

Last year, following visits by 2019 AIA President Bill Bates, FAIA, to the seven NAAB-accredited programs housed at HBCUs, AIA responded to the needs of these schools with a pilot project. Aimed at supporting student learning beyond the studio, the Future Architects Opportunity Grants supplied financial support for third-year architecture students attending the University of the District of Columbia, Morgan State University, Howard University, and Hampton University.

Building on that foundation in 2020, AIA invited HBCU deans of NAAB-accredited programs to participate in a survey to help determine how AIA might best support their needs in these unprecedented times of COVID, recession, and racial inequities. Based on their responses – which identified technological needs, in addition to student financial support – AIA, under the direction of 2020 President Jane Frederick, provided $10,000 each to seven NAAB-accredited programs housed at HBCUs to support student scholarships, as well as $2,000 each for special resource needs such as publications, software licensing, etc.

The generous, insightful guidance provided by HBCU deans will be instrumental in setting AIA’s course of action going forward. As one dean stated: “We seek your partnership, your leadership, your passion, your commitment, your interest, your resources, and your complicity to make it work. The result will be a more diverse, but also more dynamic profession that is built to support the design needs an increasingly diverse and dynamic world.”  

K-12 Initiatives / Emerging Professionals programs: Of course, barriers also exist before and after college, and AIA has been active in rolling out pandemic-tailored resources for K-12 students and emerging professionals. As part of AIA’s K-12 initiatives, we issued updated lesson guides and other tools for educators and parents and students – all designed to help students learn critical thinking skills and nurture their creativity while gaining a richer understanding of their potential to shape the world around them. On the emerging professionals front, AIA hosted a series of webinars providing expert advice for landing jobs and securing internships during this challenging time. The events also highlighted the resources available to emerging professionals, including free resume review and a period of free access to ArchiPrep®.  

Next2Lead: The new program to promote ethnically diverse women into leadership positions within the AIA is underway. Next2Lead will provide leadership and experiential education, mentoring and experiences for 16 AIA members who have a minimum of five years of experience in the architecture field. The program will include individual and group projects as well as conferences.  

The pilot program is the first of its kind for the AIA. Following a process throughout the fall to develop curriculum design, communications, evaluation, and other aspects of the program, the submission process is set to launch in March 2021. Next2Lead was initiated by AIA Resolution 18-3, which was intended to ensure that the AIA is developing education, systems and processes that are inclusive for the short and long term.

Women’s Leadership Series: Following last year’s successful Women’s Leadership Summit in Minneapolis, the 2020 program was always intended to be virtual. And this year’s webinar series has proved especially relevant and timely – with new challenges to address. This series of three virtual sessions brought women together to explore issues like work-life balance, gender-based assumptions, glass ceilings, and other obstacles to finding right-fit roles, upward mobility, and workplace fair play. The third and final session is set for Nov. 19.

Re-evaluating Honors and Awards

Honors and Awards audit: Following Board approval in late August, AIA is in the process of engaging an expert external partner to help identify unwitting systemic racial biases in the prestigious AIA Honors & Awards (H&A) programs and to recommend solutions for eliminating barriers for submission, nomination, selection, and recognition.

This comprehensive audit will culminate in a report with recommendations on observations of internal policies in the selection of jurors, nominations, application process, management of awards and honors, external communications, and organizational practices as they pertain to goals of racial equity. The review will inform the development of countermeasures meant to increase the diversity of H&A nominees and recipients as well as future members of the College of Fellows.

AIA Education, Accountability, and Communications

NAACP Report Card/AIA Demographics Report: As we announced in June, AIA has accepted an invitation from the NAACP to participate in its 2020 Diversity & Opportunity Report Card for the Sustainable Building Sector. Slated for release in 2021, the audit will evaluate equitable practices within the AIA, including: staffing (composition and perceptions), programs and services, procurement, and governance. While our participation in the process is ongoing, the NAACP has been forced to delay its announcement of findings. We anticipate the report will be available in the first half of 2021, and we’ll share the information as soon as it’s available. In the meantime, AIA is set to release its own report in mid-December – a first-ever examination outlining key demographic trends for AIA’s membership, Board of Directors, Strategic Council, and national staff.

New senior executive positions: AIA’s comprehensive efforts are bolstered by the expansion of the executive leadership ranks to include proven leaders experienced in advancing AIA’s priorities surrounding equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI). Larry Robertson and Renée Byng Yancey were both promoted to Senior Vice President, and they will oversee these efforts in collaboration with the CEO and Senior Leadership Team. In addition to Larry’s oversight of internal Human Resource, Talent and Technology Services and Solutions’ areas, Larry will also oversee AIA’s internal Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging efforts.  Renée will oversee External Workforce and EDI Strategies, working in collaboration with Larry to advance internal efforts for AIA staff, as well as externally facing EDI and Belonging strategic priorities. Renée’s talented team will be staying with her, with Del Ruff and Erin Murphy, AIA, deepening the focus on workforce in addition to their work in K-12 and higher education, emerging professionals, EDI, and women in architecture.

Future Forward initiative: AIA launched a new initiative and resource page in June to give our members the tools and information needed to fully participate in the profession’s racial equity efforts. The site features educational resources from outside organizations – including the National Museum of African American History and Culture, National Museum of the American Indian, Smithsonian Latino Center, Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center, and National Museum of American History resources on LGBTQ History and the Disability Rights Movement. Additionally, it includes a section spotlighting the voices of AIA members sharing their own perspectives and experiences, a Take Action menu, and a tab devoted to workplace culture resources – including AIA’s Guides to Equitable Practice, which are being updated. Harnessing the passion of our members and the broader design community, Future Forward is designed to help bridge the gap between complacency and knowledge, between knowledge and action, and between action and progress. It’s updated regularly with new resources, including updates like this one.

Expanding equity focus in Blueprint for Better, other messaging: Launched in October, the Blueprint for Better campaign features expanded content underlining that, when it comes to building a better future, sustainability and equity go hand in hand. Through a variety of inspiring features, Blueprint for Better shows architects in action, building the healthy, resilient, equitable, sustainable communities everyone deserves. With features like "Improving Racial Equity Through Greener Design," and "Renovating Buildings to Protect the Climate and Rejuvenate Communities," Blueprint for Better illustrates the connection between AIA’s top priorities – climate and equity – in concrete ways. That same message is a conscious focus throughout AIA’s editorial content, which now benefits from the talents of a diversified pool of writers and contributors to more fully reflect racial and ethnic diversity.

Look for our next quarterly progress update on the Future Forward page, and in upcoming issues of AIA Architect.

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