Building bridges - architecture's generations at work
To circumvent an obstacle and help people get safely from point to point, architects help design bridges to carry their own weight and support the loads of those who rely on their foundation, all while sustaining unpredictable elements of nature. So why is connecting multi-generational professionals one of the most challenging opportunities of the modern workforce?
A workforce where five generations are represented creates a complicated divide, said Kim Lear, a generational change researcher who will give a keynote address at the 2023 AIA Leadership Summitt.
“What people expect out of work changes. What people want from their leaders evolves,” said Lear. “The types of skills people need adapts all the time based on the marketplace.”
Millennials, people born between 1981 - 1996, are the generation holding the bulk of jobs spanning the marketplace. Since 2016, a third of American workers are Millennials, according to Pew Research. As members of Generation Y earn more leadership roles, they become the decision-makers shaping office operations and culture, potentially managing significantly younger and older colleagues for whom work experiences and expectations are vastly different.
Architecture’s Generations at Work is the theme Leadership Summit attendees will explore as they work to improve leadership skills and learn how to advocate for issues impacting the profession. Lear and other workforce experts will provide a platform guiding AIA members on how to reduce points of friction around issues like technology and communication and more clearly frame the responsibilities of mentors and mentees. The goal: Link skills from colleagues at every stage to produce productive and inclusive teams.
AIA’s First vice president Kimberly Nicole Dowdell, AIA, is the 2023 Leadership Summit Chair. She chose the theme to help architects value the perspectives that make the industry unique and support its diverse growth. “My thinking was really grounded in the idea of helping us establish a greater understanding of not just the different experiences from Gen Z to Millennials to Gen X to Boomers,” said Dowdell, a Millennial, “but more importantly, what we have in common as architects.”
"Architecture, says Lear, is a unique profession to examine through a generational lens because the job demands architects “understand how the world changes and what people need out of their space and their communities.”
The average architect is a Gen X-er (born from 1965 to 1980), age 45, according to Zappia, an online job recruitment platform, but the profession’s reliance on advancing technology and its response to evolving communities creates space for emerging professionals to make significant contributions, Lear says. “Architects have to be so in tune to the culture, to the mood, to the ethos because they are creating the living spaces, the places where we gather, worship and learn.”
Lear’s best advice for leaders at any age is to always explore points of view different from you own. “Ask yourself, ‘If I were born into a different time, would I see this differently?’ “That question is valid for any type of diversity - color, gender, socioeconomic bracket.”
If given the proper tools, Dowdell believes architects can circumvent workplace obstacles and “build bridges between our experiences to foster a greater overall sense of belonging in the profession.”