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There has been much discussion raised about "Why are women leaving Architecture? and more broadly, Why is the profession losing key talent?"  Both women and men practitioners are disillusioned by the myth of work/life balance: Women are grappling with "have it all" expectations of juggling family time with the demands of full-time work.  Men are struggling to support their families solely on an architect's salary and fall back on asking spouses to maintain their jobs. The lack of affordable childcare and high cost of living only magnifies the challenges.  How did we end up in this modern family dilemma? What can we do to improve the situation?

INSPIRE% [7]: Let Go of Fear

By Michael D. Thomas

1. Can you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?  

My name is Michael Thomas.  I am a labor and employment attorney with the law firm Ogletree Deakins in San Francisco.  My practice focuses on class actions and employment litigation.  I am also part of our Pay Equity group and I conduct workplace trainings on implicit bias and diversity. 

2. Why did you choose to study law?  

I grew up a poor, African-American male raised by a single mother.  At a young age, I knew that I was different because of my race and class.  I also know now that people often viewed me and I often viewed myself based on stereotypes and biases inherited through socialization and from prior generations.  

Law is a powerful tool to guide society in changing perceptions and beliefs that are formed by stereotypes and biases.  Examples of this in practice include the legal battles to racially integrate the military and schools and legalize interracial marriage and same sex-marriage.  A more recent example is a set of laws designed to correct pay disparities based on race, gender and ethnicity.  

3. What inspires you on a daily basis?  

I am inspired each day by my ability to be curious about my potential.  I strongly believe that to take a step forward, we often have to step back and unlearn what prevented us from moving forward.

Michael, bottom, with his brother.

Michael, bottom, with his brother.

I grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  My grandfather was one of the first African-Americans to integrate the steel mills.  He had to fight racism to do that.  He was also one of the first African-Americans to purchase a home in a certain part of Pittsburgh.  He had to fight racism to do that too.  He spent so much of his life fighting against racism that he became a hard and unemotional man.  My grandfather expected my father to be the same way in order to function in a predominantly white world.  Influenced by my father’s family, I grew up in the same environment where the expectation was that the world was hostile because of my race and I could not show vulnerability.

I was also socialized to assume that “whiteness” was the norm and the standard to follow and strive towards.  I learned at an early age that if I wanted to function and to succeed in society, I had to learn how not to be seen as “black,” how not to reveal or recognize my authentic self, and how to not show vulnerability.  

This strategy was effective at different points in my life.  However, as an adult, to get feedback on how to grow and mature in career, life, and love, I have to understand my authentic self and my needs.  I have had to step back and let go of false beliefs about myself to step up and step forward.  It all begins with being curious about my potential. Remaining curious inspires me.  

4. What are three of your most influential projects and why?

My three most influential projects: 1) developing a Mindful Mentoring Program that connects adults with youth at risk via a mindfulness practice; 2) working with Inclusion Ventures to develop a comprehensive pay equity audit and implicit bias training; and 3) speaking at Inclusion 2.0 on “Diversity, Inclusion and Intergenerational Trauma.”   Why?  All three are creations of my authentic self.

5. What is the greatest challenge/difficulty that you have had to overcome in your professional career?

Learning to let go of fear and beliefs that are limiting. 

6. What do you believe has been one of your greatest accomplishments to date? Why?  

Michael's depiction of himself, practicing yoga.

Michael's depiction of himself, practicing yoga.

I completed a yoga certification training with the Niroga Institute in Oakland, California. Niroga teaches Raja yoga, the yoga of mindfulness. In Raja practice, yoga poses and breathing techniques come together to prepare your body and mind for focus and moment to moment awareness.

Why do I consider this one of my greatest accomplishments?  During my practice of yoga, I stopped to observe my black skin and the physical and mental harm it receives from stereotypes and bias.  It was the first time I can remember that as I made those observations and my mind went into fight or flight mode and I wanted to escape the discomfort, I could not.  Instead, I had to stay in my posture and focus on my breath without reacting. In that experience I learned acceptance and forgiveness, and how to not respond to false thoughts or beliefs.  At that point I was able to direct my attention inward, without judgment or blame.  

Focusing the mind on breathing and bodily sensations through gentle movement activates the prefrontal cortex, or the noticing part of the brain. The noticing part of the brain, when activated by my yoga practice, allows me to observe that I am not my fears or the biases projected by others and myself. It allows for more self-regulation and conscious decision-making in the moment.

Now, after my training in Raja yoga, I can show vulnerability and empathy towards others without fear.  Empathy and vulnerability allow for greater decision-making out of curiosity instead of fear.  Curiosity leads to discomfort.  Discomfort leads to growth and change.

At some point we have to stop blindly moving forward and stop and make courageous decisions to treat ourselves and each other differently even if it means embracing fear and the unknown.  

7. If you could go back in time, what would you tell your 24 year-old self?

Don’t be afraid.  You belong.

8. What is the best advice that you ever received and how does that apply today?

BK Bose is the Executive Director of the Niroga Institute.  He frequently asks the question, “What separates you from freedom?”  I think of that question if I feel I am making decisions out of fear and not love or kindness. It allows for better decision-making.

Speaking at Tech Inclusion 2.0 on "Diversity, Inclusion and Intergenerational Trauma."

Speaking at Tech Inclusion 2.0 on "Diversity, Inclusion and Intergenerational Trauma."

9. How do you see the law profession changing in the next 10 years? What would your role be in the future?  

The most important characteristic for lawyers to cultivate will be empathy.  The practice of law focuses on logic and reason.  Both are important.  Both are also devoid of feelings and emotion.  As a result, lawyers often cause harm and lack creativity because we are not using the creative side of our brain.  Empathy is the pathway to creativity.  Creativity is the pathway to innovation.  Innovation will assist lawyers in being of greater service to our clients and to society.  It all begins with empathy.  

10. We have heard that while the general public respects lawyers, they have little knowledge about what they do. Do you have any thoughts about how we can bridge the gap?  

Law school should be more affordable and accessible.  When there are significant barriers to entry, the legal profession becomes exclusive and accessible only to a small portion of the population.  The law should be more accessible for people to either become a lawyer or for people to know a lawyer.  

About our INSPIRE% Contributor:

Michael D. Thomas was a panelist for our EQxDisruptBias Workshop in February 2017. His work as a Lawyer in equitable practice areas such as pay equity, mitigating bias in hiring and promotion processes and his thoughts on mindfulness and healing led us to ask him to contribute to this series. Even though he is practicing in another field, we value advocates for equitable practice and the lessons that we can learn from their journey as well.

Michael is an Associate with the global law firm Ogletree Deakins in their San Francisco office.  He represents employers in all aspects of employment law.  He also works with employers on diversity and pay equity issues.  Michael has studied mindfulness, meditation and yoga with a focus on healing and self-regulation.  Recent publications include “Preventing Workplace Violence by Examining Trauma and the NFL” which incorporates mindfulness, meditation and body awareness in preventing workplace violence, and “How Employers Can Root Out the Influence of Unconscious Bias in Compensation Decisions.”  Recent speaking engagements include: Inclusion 2.0, “Intergenerational Trauma, Diversity and Inclusion;” Tech Inclusion Conference, “Awakening to Inclusion;” Association of Corporate Counsel event at Google, “Best Practices for Promoting Fair Pay;” Kaiser, Continuing Legal Education, “Implicit Bias” panel and lecturer, Berkley School of Law, “Mindfulness to Disrupt Suffering and Bias.”  He has a B.A. from Bucknell University and a J.D. from Boston College.



Restructuring Structural Engineering for Equity: The 1st SE3 Symposium Builds a Case

by Julia Mandell, AIA - Equity by Design Co-Chair

The inaugural SEAONC/SE3 Symposium, held on Thursday, January 26th, 2017, was invigorating and inspiring - a chance to understand the state of equity and engagement in the profession of structural engineering - through lively panel discussions to get a sense of the possibilities for a different kind of practice.  

Equity is not just an issue in architecture - things are similarly dire in structural engineering. According to 2016 numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 11% of civil engineers (of which structural engineering is a subset) are women. There is also evidence that women leave the profession in greater numbers than men – one in four female engineers leave the field after age 30, compared to only one in 10 male engineers, according to the Society of Women Engineers.

A committee of  the Structural Engineering Association of Northern California (SEAONC) the Structural Engineering, Engagement, and Equity (SE3) Project was created in 2015 to address this state of affairs. In 2016, the SE3 Project conducted a survey to assess conditions in the profession and garner an understanding of factors that contribute to a lack of diversity in the profession and low engagement among all engineers. The group’s first Symposium, entitled ‘Listen, Assess, Change,’ used the survey data to ground and energize a series of discussions about current practice and strategies for change.

Listening to the Evidence

The centerpiece of the event was the presentation of the results from the group’s 2016 survey. These results were illuminating, offering a number of striking findings that shed light on specific conditions getting in the way of increased engagement for all engineers and potentially leading to higher rates of departure for women in the profession. Some key findings:

1.     Those in charge think they’re doing a better job at managing than their staff does.

The survey found that principals were 43% more likely than those in all other positions to “agree” or “strongly agree” that expectations for advancement were clearly communicated and less likely to feel than more management training is needed in their own firms.

2.     Mentorship makes a big difference.

Over half of all respondents indicated that they had at least one mentor who strongly influenced their career. 83% of these respondents reported being either “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their career advancement/trajectory, while of respondents who reported that they did not have a mentor, only 67% reported being either “satisfied” or “very satisfied”.

3.     There is a significant gender pay gap.

The survey found a notable difference in pay between men and women, one that increasingly widened with more years of experience and in more senior positions. The most extreme pay gap was present for principals, with men making $52,000 more on average than women.

4.     There is a stigma towards those who care for children and take advantage of flexibility benefits.

Although 51% of respondents had children, the survey indicated a stigma associated with employees who care for children and a disinclination to use flexibility benefits. For example, only 19% of respondents reported that they had taken time off for parental leave.

This data creates a strong argument for making changes to practice in order to increase engagement and correct for gender inequities. As part of their survey presentation, the SE3 group offered a set of best practices that included more management training, increased programming to foster mentorship, annual pay audits to correct for pay discrepancies between genders, and initiatives to empower staff to use flexibility benefits.

Much of the SE3 findings dovetailed productively with the results of the 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey. I shared this relevant data at the SE3 Symposium as part of a presentation on the work of Equity by Design. Like the SE3 survey, the 2016 EQiA survey found that mentorship had positive correlations with  the satisfaction and career success of architects, especially women. The EQiA survey findings also indicated a significant gender pay gap across all levels of practice, like the SE3 survey, and bolstered this finding with data about negotiation practices: equal numbers of male and female respondents reported negotiating over salary. This result makes it clear that the pay gap data cannot be explained simply by saying that women don’t negotiate.

These similar results from two allied fields begin to create a broader picture of the conditions of practice within the AEC industry, and illustrate the need for change in both fields to achieve equity.

Assessing Practice and Envisioning Change

At the Symposium, panel discussions and presentations enriched as well as enlarged the picture of current practice offered by the SE3 data. The opening keynote speaker, Maryann Phipps, President of Estructure, spoke about her own experience as a pioneering woman in structural engineering and offered some thoughts about the future of the profession. 

A panel entitled ‘Assess’ focused on the experiences of four practicing professionals. Many of their stories spoke to the need for more flexibility in practice and the challenges of balancing personal life and career, whether as a parent or as a single person. Joel Villamil, Senior Associate at Marx Okubo Associates, spoke about his decision to leave traditional practice for a more flexible position in development consulting that would allow him and his wife to more easily co-parent their three small children. Janiele Maffei, Chief Mitigation Officer of the California Earthquake Authority, recounted her decision to work as a sole practitioner while her children were young. Meanwhile, Emily Guglielmo, Principal at Martin/Martin, Inc., related her thoughts on work-life balance as a managing principal and mother of three children under ten. Taryn Williams, Senior Project Manager at Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, shared her experience taking a three month sabbatical to recover from burn-out and reassess her career goals and trajectory.

The closing panel, entitled ‘Change’, offered a way forward: Three change makers shared their expertise and offered strategies that attendees could implement at the firm level to move towards increased equity and engagement. Krista Looza, Associate Principal and Regional Office Manager at Buehler & Buehler, Inc. spoke about empowering her junior staff to contribute to management decisions. Saska Dennis van-Dijl, Principal Consultant at Cameron MacAllister and member of the Equity by Design core team, emphasized the importance of making the business case for diversity to firm leaders and clients. Emily Loper, Policy Manager at the Bay Area Council, shared workplace policies that can increase equity, like pay audits to correct for gendered discrepancies in pay.

Together, the SE3 survey data, the stories shared by current practitioners, and the strategies for change relayed by experts resulted in an inspiring event that offered a variety of ideas to both individual and firms who want to work to increase engagement and equity in structural engineering. More work is needed, but the SE3 Project has offered an inaugural vision and strategy to assist structural engineers in moving forward with that work.

EQxD Curated Collection for A'17 Orlando - What's in it for me?

By Rosa Sheng, AIA

Why should I attend A'17 AIA Conference on Architecture in Orlando?

I have been in many conversations the last few months with Architects, AIA Members, and the AEC community at large on this very question. There have been many critiques about the "EVENT" (formerly known as the "AIA Convention" nearly since it's original inception). The Keynote line up has been inconsistent from year to year and most recently under scrutiny for the sequence and representation of presenters. The continuing education programs are still predominately driven vendor content at the prime hours of the event while member authored seminars are relegated to the earliest and latest slots of the day. The Expo floor itself is an overwhelming scale of products, services, and more programming - at times bordering on information overload. 

At a point where there are many conferences and learning opportunities to attend, what is the value proposition for AIA members and professionals working in the built environment to attend A'17? In short many have asked, What's in it for me?

Equity by Design Convention Programs - Year 3

I have attended a few "AIA Conventions" in my early professional career. They weren't memorable, except for perhaps a few Keynote speakers that I was interested in hearing; or keeping up with my continuing education in a "one stop shop" mode; or perhaps experiencing the architecture/urban design of the host city.

However, in recent years, since the formation of Equity by Design, the AIA annual gathering has transformed into an entirely different opportunity with greater meaning and intent. We realized that in order to get our message out to a greater audience about Equity's importance to the future of Architecture, we needed to be present and engaged with members in a physical setting. We saw the need, so we submitted continuing education workshops and seminars with content of relevance to today's member needs at multiple levels. The AIA National (former Convention) Conference became a unique opportunity to interact with fellow members about the issues that mattered the most - talent retention, engagement vs. burnout, work/life flexibility, transparent promotion/pay equity, and leadership training - discovering new ways to think about the future of practice in Architecture, and develop a supporting "tribe" of like minded champions to support their professional goals while discovering their personal passions.

We are very excited that for the 3rd year in a row, Equity by Design will be hosting programming at the A'17 Conference on Architecture in Orlando. See below for the 3 official program opportunities to join us in conversation about equitable practice.

(WE304) EQxD Hackathon: Architecture and the Era of Connection

4/26/2017   1:00 PM - 5:00 PM   Room W207C  (**Additional fee beyond general registration)

2016 EQxD Hackathon 

2016 EQxD Hackathon 

One of the most unique and talked-about pre-conference workshops, we have developed a reputation within the Conference for developing a game changing learning experience that has yet to be rivaled.  In it's third year, we celebrate the chance to tinker, ideate and hack at the intersection of design, technology, and equitable practice. We have also fine tuned our "UX" aka User Experience by engaging with the teams before during and after the event to make it the best participant engagement event at A'17 - Conference on Architecture. After the event, please join us for the Post-Hack Happy Hour where we will recap the event and announce the winners! Click here for more info

ARCHITECT LIVE - Interview w/ Equity by Design - EXPO HALL

4/27/2017   3:30 PM - 4:00 PM - EXPO HALL - ARCHITECT BOOTH



Special Interview w/ Equity by Design: Metrics, Meaning and Matrices Panel - Architect Live (#3863) in the exhibit hall is set up to be provocative, interactive educational programming with the energy and the format of a live talk show studio. The segments are exciting and fast-paced, at a maximum of 30 minutes long. We publish the schedule to all attendees so that they can come view as a live audience. Expo Pass/Registration to attend. In addition, the content is streamed live on and any presentation materials will be published there as well. And after it’s streamlined, the interview will be hosted on the ARCHITECT site in the video gallery.

(FR306) Equity by Design: Metrics, Meaning, and Matrices in Action 

4/28/2017   3:30 PM - 4:30 PM    Room W307B

Equity is the ethos of our work. It is the ability to recognize differences and provide fair access to opportunities. At this session, we'll review the results of the most comprehensive research on equity in architecture. You'll leave with strategies that promote equity via professional development and grassroots organizational change. As you'll see, it's in your firm's best interest. 
Equitable practice promotes the recruitment and retention of the most diverse talent while also building stronger, successful, sustainable practices. Using findings from AIA San Francisco's (AIASF's) 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey, you'll develop targeted strategies for promoting equity at various career milestones. 



"There are too many seminars and I can't find the one's that I find meaningful or relevant to my career development."

To help solve this challenge last year, we also encouraged other members in our equity "tribe" to submit programs to address equitable practice. This year, to shorten your search, we went a step further, search through the ENTIRE schedule and expanded the EQxD Curated Collection of programs to those we viewed as having relevance to our larger discussion about equity's impact on design and the built environment. We are please to share our picks for A'17 if you have yet to decide on what you will attend.

(WE110) Creating Impact as a Citizen Architect

4/26/2017   8:00 AM - 12:00 PM (**Additional fee beyond general registration)

The impact architects can have on community leadership is immeasurable, from providing insight into community planning and architectural review to introducing and influencing critical legislation. This skills-based training workshop will help you become a better citizen architect through collaboration, innovation, and shared resources in a highly interactive setting. A powerful keynote on the "Impact of Public Dialogue as Citizen Architects" as well as a panel discussion and peer-to-peer breakout groups will inspire you to head back to your community and make substantial, effective contributions.

(TH107) Design for Well-being: Holistic Approaches to Homelessness

4/27/2017   7:00 AM - 8:00 AM

As US cities struggle to serve and house homeless individuals and families, San Francisco has led the way in providing innovative solutions. The architect's role is at the core of this effort, demonstrating design's impact in bringing about positive social change. Join us for this seminar to hear from representatives of the San Francisco Mayor's Office of Housing and Community Development, who will discuss progressive public policy strategies. Plus, Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects and David Baker Architects will share their award-winning design responses. 

(TH109) Shaping Communities Through Design Review Committees

4/27/2017   7:00 AM - 8:00 AM

Whether you take a prominent place at the table or work quietly in the background, your role in shaping communities extends beyond any individual project. In this session, you'll explore the ins and outs of serving on design review committees, commissions, and boards. 

AIA has long supported and celebrated the work of "citizen architects." Such positions, handled well, offer you the chance to connect with the community and promote your knowledge and expertise. 

Join this discussion of best practices and learn how to secure opportunities for a rewarding experience. 

(TH114) Reinventing Public Housing

4/27/2017   7:00 AM - 8:00 AM

The deplorable living conditions found in 22 San Francisco public housing developments are a consequence of neglected maintenance, a lack of supportive services, and flaws in design. The San Francisco Housing Authority's radical response—selling off its housing stock to private developers and housing providers—offers lessons and opportunities for architects and designers. Under the action taken through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Rental Assistance Demonstration program, buyers will maintain the properties as permanent low-income housing. Join us for this seminar to examine the rehabilitation, redesign, and infill of basic community facilities necessary to support healthy community life.

NEW! (TH201) Pro Series: Solutions by Design: Architecture as a Catalyst for Social Change

4/27/2017   2:30 PM - 4:00 PM      Room W304B

How does architecture impact the social fabric of our communities?  How can architecture be a catalyst for solving community challenges, driving social change, or creating engagement and progress?  How does equity in design impact communities?  A high-powered panel of architects who are pushing the boundaries in these and other areas of social and cultural concern discuss how architecture and architects can affect the social structure of communities across the globe and have measurable and practical effects on the way we live and interact with society. Join Rosa Sheng, AIA who will moderate a Keynoter speakers and practitioners who are making positive change in their projects and practice.


(TH202) Blind Spots: Multisensory Placemaking for the Blind and Visually Impaired

4/27/2017   2:00 PM - 3:30 PM

How can we design delightful architecture that doesn't presume or privilege sight? What are best practices for design that appropriately address the visual and nonvisual needs of the blind and visually impaired? Explore how you can go beyond mere compliance with ADA codes to address the opportunities—not just the challenges—of the visually impaired. Using the new 40,000 GSF LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired in San Francisco as an example, this session will address issues related to acoustics, lighting, and technology. You'll also explore general strategies for visual and non-visual design. While complying with ADA codes is necessary, you have the opportunity to produce designs that are not overtly adaptive or condescending. By attending this session, you'll discover how to give all users of your spaces—particularly the blind and visually impaired—a sense of delight. 

(TH213) Architecture for a More Sustainable Africa

4/27/2017   2:00 PM - 3:30 PM

The human population explosion: crisis or opportunity? The numbers are stark, with two billion additional urban inhabitants expected by 2030. The fast-growing cities of Africa, Asia, and Latin America will feel the greatest impact. In this session, you'll see how architecture can improve the social, environmental, and economic well-being of these cities. You'll examine projects including Niger's Dandaji Library, a building with an adaptive reuse design featured in AIA's 2016 Emerging Professionals Exhibit. You'll also see architecture acting as a vehicle for sustainable development and prosperity when it emphasizes affordability, local materials, good governance, and community engagement. Join your colleagues for an inspiring discussion of architecture at its best, as we strive to build a better world for future generations.

(TH312) Women in Green and Why Diversity for Design Matters

4/27/2017   4:00 PM - 5:30 PM

This spring marks the 10-year anniversary of a pivotal publication: Women in Green: Voices of Sustainable Design. What did it tell us—and what have we learned in the years since? A decade ago, the study's authors explored how and why women were leading in sustainable design more than in the field generally. Now, we'll examine the status of diversity in design, the role of sustainability, and firms' efforts to build more-diverse practices that are relevant to the work of the future. Hear from one of the authors, other leaders in the field, and your own peers and colleagues as we discuss a topic that remains timely and relevant to all of our work.

(FR106) Engaging a Diverse Workforce: Supporting Employees Living with Disability

4/28/2017   7:00 AM - 8:00 AM

Our profession is at its best when it reflects society's full diversity. People with disabilities make up a significant percentage of our population and contribute to our field's innovation and success. Are firms taking the right steps to support these employees? In this seminar, you'll join a discussion about effective ways firms can promote inclusion and support differently-abled professionals . You'll hear from a panel of differently-abled colleagues, and learn how simple strategies like flexible schedules and attention to mobility issues can make a tremendous difference to your peers'—and your practice's—success. 

(FR109) Designing Environments for Low Vision: Tools & Techniques 

4/28/2017   7:00 AM - 8:00 AM

Low vision is becoming an increasingly prominent design concern in America—one that presents architects with opportunities and responsibilities. In this interactive session, you'll examine best practices and big failures, and even participate in some problem-solving, as you learn the latest tools and strategies. An architect, lighting engineer, and optometrist from the NIBS Low Vision Design Committee will share state-of-the-art techniques you can apply in your work. With low vision already affecting 17 million people in this country's aging population, your practice is sure to benefit from their insights.

(FR110) The Art of Community Engagement: Lessons from the Frontlines

4/28/2017   7:00 AM - 8:00 AM

Contentious public projects exist everywhere. The disgruntled citizen or outspoken neighborhood group can strike fear in the heart of clients that aren't prepared to confront conflict. As a design professional, you're charged with finding consensus among increasingly diverse user groups. What fundamental strategies can you employ to overcome stakeholder resistance and foster a deeper sense of trust and community cohesion? Join us for this panel discussion to learn about researching your community audience, finding the community champions, leveraging media, and other valuable tricks of the trade.

(FR112) What Architects Need to Know About Disasters and Risk Reduction

4/28/2017   7:00 AM - 8:00 AM

Why do buildings fail during natural disasters and what will the future of architecture look like in the face of increasing risk? After 10 years of disaster response and recovery nationwide, the AIA Disaster Assistance Program is sharing emerging research and personal lessons from the third edition of the AIA Handbook for Disaster Assistance. Join us for this seminar to hear from those who've seen first-hand why buildings fail, how risk is increasing, the impacts of land use and building codes, and more. Stories from the field will convey a changing landscape for the practice—the impact of natural hazards and the pitfalls and opportunities in practice and community engagement.

(FR319) Relieving the Stress of Pediatric Emergency Care

4/28/2017   3:30 PM - 4:30 PM

A trip to the emergency room is stressful for anyone, particularly children. How can architects help ease a child's mind by making the experience less tense and chaotic? One firm found a way, partnering with a health care institution and its Family Advisory Council for an innovative pro bono project. The result? An interactive multimedia tool that helps familiarize kids with the hospital environment. Join us to hear how the participants stretched their skills to enhance and promote well-being among our community's most vulnerable members—and consider how you might do the same.

(FR406) Improving the City: Designing an Active Streetscape in Affordable Housing

4/28/2017   5:00 PM - 6:00 PM

What's one of the more significant opportunities overlooked in the design of high-density, affordable housing? It's staring us in the face—right there on the ground floor. The commercial ground floor can make a big difference in creating vibrant neighborhoods that serve residents, businesses, and cities. In this seminar, a cross-disciplinary team of architects and engineers will present key findings of their work with the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development along with the Design Trust for Public Spaces. With this conversation, you'll hear directly from the team and client behind the newly published "Design Guidelines for Ground Floor Retail." Take a front-row seat and learn to put their tools to work for you

(SA106) Engage, Train, and Retain: Cultivating Leaders

4/29/2017   7:00 AM - 8:00 AM

Nurturing new talent is crucial to a firm's long-term success. How do you retain that talent and develop emerging professionals into AEC industry leaders? In this session, you'll hear from colleagues with a proven record of success. Join us to analyze how three programs—representing architecture, engineering, and construction firms—elevate emerging professionals and collaborate across the AEC industry. Through case studies and candid conversations, you'll learn very specific strategies for building a leadership culture that meets the changing needs of new talent in your firm's specific setting. 

I’ve seen glimpses of the future….and I can’t wait to see it arrive!

By Renée Cheng, FAIA, Professor and Director of the MS in Research Practices, University of Minnesota

Imagine a building industry that is lean, efficient and widely recognized for its valuable contributions to society. This industry would use research to identify and build upon best practices to create a more effective built environment. In this ideal future, leaders are diverse, so the industry reaps the benefit of creativity and innovation that comes from diversity while also reflecting the demographics of the communities it serves. This future will only be possible if we establish a vibrant culture of research and increase the number of women and people of color leading the industry. Over time, a long time, global population change may address the demographic issue, but we prefer not to wait.

At the University of Minnesota, we have developed the only program in the country that combines research, leadership and professional  licensure. Students conduct research projects that connect faculty and firm leaders, and along the way architecture students earn their license before graduating,shortening the time to license after graduation with a professional degree from an average of 7.6 years to 1 year. The Masters of Science in Architecture with a concentration in Research Practices (MSRP) is a three semester program that provides graduates of B. Arch and M. Arch programs with a structured path to licensure. The MSRP program has created the Consortium for Research practices, a group of AEC firms dedicated to pursuing new research and ideas. In addition to coursework on research methods and analysis, students within the program spend 25 hours a week working with a host firm from within the consortium and a faculty mentor to tackle a research topic, and the research is then shared with the entire consortium. Since the research is practice-based, the hours meet AXP requirements. Students’ AXP progress is complemented with coursework covering topics related to the ARE exams and students complete all exams during the academic program.

After four years of running the MSRP, we realised its greatest value to the profession is not licensure. The program’s largest impact is how it identifies future leaders and gives them opportunities to succeed. Students contribute to their firms by addressing emerging areas that are typically unexplored in traditional practice. Anecdotally, we have heard that our graduates receive responsibilities typically given to those who graduated five years before them. This suggests that, if a typical trajectory brings a graduate to partnership in 10-15 years, MSRP graduates could reach partnership in 5-10 years. We understand that if our graduates are predominantly women and people currently underrepresented in our industry, our program’s accelerated path to firm leadership could help change the face of the architectural profession, pushing it to look significantly more like the diversity of the communities we serve. For this reason, we have prioritized recruiting a diverse student body. Currently, our small cohort is 80% women of color.

Equity by Design’s research findings indicate that connection to senior leaders is one of the most important predictors of various attributes of success early in one’s career. MSRP students directly collaborate with senior partners and faculty experts on projects that typically focus on areas of innovation and emerging practices. From this work, students are not only networked into leadership circles, but also have the opportunity to demonstrate expertise in ways most interns are never asked to do. We believe students are capable of far more than we ask them to do in a traditional professional setting. This program provides the opportunity for students to shine.

Many strategic plans for firms and schools set goals to increase diversity and change demographics, but as the saying goes, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” There is no easy way to achieve these goals because it’s not about changing numbers but changing culture. Culture change is hard but can be achieved with big goals and small steps. We’ve started to see this with the firms that are part of the Consortium for Research Practices, the essential base to the MSRP program. Some have developed internal interdisciplinary groups to identify research priorities, others adapted their previous practices to include more research in more areas. We’ve also seen firms shift how they communicate internally and externally about research and the work of the students.

Our program is new and growing, so measuring our broader impact is yet to come, but we believe that we provide a model linking practice with academy in order to change the culture of the industry through small projects that lead to massive change. We are impatient for the future of our industry and are doing everything we can to accelerate its arrival.

For more information about MSRP see <>. We have full fellowships to award by April 15; to nominate a student who has graduated or will be graduating with a B.Arch or M.Arch professional degree, please email Associate Director Andrea J. Johnson, <>

About our guest blog writer - 

Renée Cheng, FAIA

Professor, Associate Dean for Research and Engagement, University of Minnesota.  

Renée Cheng is a nationally renowned Professor and Associate Dean at the University of Minnesota.  Educated at Harvard College and Harvard Graduate School of Design, Cheng has been recognized for education excellence with numerous teaching awards at the school, state and national level. Most recently, Cheng was twice honored as one of the top 25 most admired design educators in the United States by Design Intelligence.  She led a team of faculty from the University of Minnesota who won the American Institute of Architects (AIA) Education Honor Award for a transformative professional curriculum and developed a professional practice course, Building Stories, that won the first Practice Leadership Award from AIA and ACSA. Cheng served as 2009 President of AIA Minnesota and is a former member of AIA National Board advisory group on Integrated Practice (IPDiG) and the AIA National Board Knowledge Committee, AIA Center for Integrated Practice and currently AIA Culture Collective leading a group on Firm Culture.

I’m prejudiced. So are you.

There. I said it. Boom.

By Sharon Portnoy, AIA

But, wait, you’re thinking. Me? How could I be prejudiced? I’m a well-educated, forward-thinking Bay Area resident, a member of an historically persecuted minority, and a card-carrying member of the ACLU! Heck, my formative years were spent memorizing the soundtrack of “Free to Be, You and Me!” I’m not prejudiced! Like so many others who are speaking, marching, writing, dialing, and donating, I feel deep in in my bones that now, more than ever, we must work urgently to promote values of equity, diversity and inclusion in actions large and small, revolutionary and incremental. But to do this, we must recognize bias not just in what’s outrageous, but in what is ordinary.

Let me explain. Overt examples of racism, sexism, homophobia and many other and -isms and -phobias are easy to see, to name, and to call out. We all know that it’s wrong to discriminate against people based on their age, ethnicity, or gender-identity, and we can institute policies to protect against these abuses. But have you ever, just for a split-second, assumed that the man in hospital scrubs was a doctor, and been brought up short when it turned out that he was a nurse? This is an example of implicit bias, one of many that were exposed, explained and examined last week at the Equity by Design workshop on Implicit Bias at AIA SF. Implicit bias is the invisible lens through which we see the world, the unconscious assumptions we make based on what we’ve absorbed from our culture over the years, and sometimes over generations. It’s the water we swim in, the air we breathe.


The workshop began with a series of slides designed to expose the often-misguided snap judgements and assumptions we make based on appearances. Who knew that the guy who looked like a nightclub bouncer, all biceps and tattoos, was actually the mayor of a Pennsylvania steel town? Or that the respectable looking gentleman in a white lab coat who could have passed for Marcus Welby, M.D., was actually a notorious fraud? We learned, in case after case, just how much unconscious prejudice we all carry with us. I, for one, am quick to name and point out bias when I see it in others, but it’s considerably more challenging to recognize and confront it in myself.

The indefatigable Rosa Sheng, a founder of Equity by Design and one of the workshop’s organizers, explained the brain science behind implicit bias, and Julia Mandell, the organizer of the 2016 EQxD Symposium, asked probing questions of four remarkable panelists, each of whom has channeled their understanding of and experience with implicit bias into the work they do. After a short break, we worked in smaller groups to practice identifying and naming implicit bias in a variety of scenarios and to propose solutions and strategies for correcting it.

In a world where everyone is shouting, #EQxDisrupt Implicit Bias Workshop's thoughtful conversation was both a welcome respite and an energizing forum. Each of us in the audience was there to learn about implicit bias so that we can work towards building a more equitable workplace in architecture and allied fields. It was encouraging to learn, both from the panelists and from our group work, just how much can be done to address implicit bias. Small gestures, like asking instead of assuming, or pausing to examine one’s own bias before reacting to a situation can go a long way to build awareness and to promote understanding of oneself and others. Approaching clients and co-workers with an attitude of openness, curiosity, and genuine interest are habits of mind that can and should be cultivated. To learn more about implicit bias and to test and uncover some of  your own implicit biases, check out the links below.

and stay tuned for more resources from Equity by Design.

EQxD Metrics: Key Findings from the 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey

In the United States, while women represent approximately 45% of students enrolled in NAAB-accredited architecture programs,  they account for only 31% of architecture staff, and 20% of principals and partners in AIA member-owned firms. Meanwhile, people of color account for 56% of all students, and 43% of US Nationals, enrolled in NAAB-accredited architecture programs, but only 21% of architecture staff, and 11% of principals and partners, working in AIA member-owned firms. With today’s graduating classes far more diverse than the architectural profession as a whole, the architectural community has a responsibility to reexamine our studio cultures, values, and ways of working to ensure that we are cultivating professional environments that actively expand the definition of who an architect is, and what an architect does.

Equity by Design has embraced this mandate, and is proud to present the results of the 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey as a tool to support this dialogue. Equity by Design is focused on achieving equitable practice in architecture in order to retain talent, advance the profession, and engage the public in understanding architecture’s true value and impact. Equity's impact in the designed and built environment has the potential to improve the quality of life, reinforce sustainability and concurrently benefit the economic outcomes of the communities that adopt it.

Formed from the desire for sustained and informed discussion about equitable practice in architecture , the Equity in Architecture Research Project  represents a commitment to change the status quo for practitioners by conducting research, publishing best practices, and fostering peer-to-peer accountability and collaboration among firms regionally and beyond. Of primary importance is attracting and retaining the profession's best talent pool by providing equitable conditions that empower individuals to thrive.

The 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey was designed to generate a comprehensive national dataset detailing current positions and career experiences of architecture school graduates. With the assistance of architecture’s national collateral organizations, AIA component chapters, firms, and academic institutions, survey invitations were sent out to a broad cross-section of the profession.  The resulting dataset -- the largest ever collected on equity within the profession --  documents the experiences of 8,664 individuals representing all 50 states and nations on six continents. The survey sampled for race, ethnicity, sexuality and gender identity. Key Findings reflect areas of statistical significance. Please see our article on survey demographics for more information on our survey population.

Infographics by Atelier Cho Thompson 

Infographics by Atelier Cho Thompson 

Two frameworks are used to provide insights on equity within the profession today: Career Dynamics, and Career Pinch Points. This analysis offers insight into ways in which individual practitioners, employers, and the industry as a whole can make changes on a policy and culture level that promote satisfying careers in architecture for women and men alike, improve employee retention, and ultimately, improve companies’ bottom lines.

Career Dynamics

Career Dynamics explore underlying tensions that persist throughout our professional lives, and the factors that drive career perceptions. The main categories we have identified as Career Dynamics include Finding the Right Fit, Work-Life Integration, Professional Development, Beyond Architecture and Pay Equity. Key findings related to each of the Career Dynamics are as follows: (please use the toggle arrows on the top right part of the window below to view all 5 categories)

Career Pinch Points

Career Pinch Points offers insight into personal and professional milestones that can either hinder career progression or  influence employee retention. The main categories we have identified as Career Pinch Points include Education, Paying Dues, Licensure, Caregiving, and Glass Ceiling. (please use the toggle arrows on the top right part of the window below to view all 5 categories)


The 2016 Equity in Architecture Survey demonstrates that women and people of color continue to lag behind white men in terms of concrete measures of career success like annual salary and likelihood of leading a firm. Male respondents’ perspectives on their careers were also more positive on average than those of their female counterparts. Female respondents were less likely to feel energized by their work, less likely to feel that their opinions were valued, and ultimately, less likely to say that they planned to stay at their current job.

In addition to highlighting stark differences in salary, career advancement and perspective on the basis of race and gender, the survey illustrates that white men are more likely than others to have access to resources and opportunities that predict professional success. Factors like transparency in the promotion process, having access to a senior leader in one’s firm, receiving ongoing feedback about one’s work, sharing values with one’s firm, and having meaningful relationships at work are strongly correlated with attributes of professional success for respondents of all genders and races. In certain instances, like having access to a senior mentor within one’s firm, access to one of these resources is even more predictive of success for a traditionally marginalized group than it is for white men. Nevertheless, white male respondents are currently more likely to report having access to each of these ingredients for a satisfying career in architecture. These findings suggest that one of the best ways to being to build equity in architectural practice is to ensure that access to these resources is provided to all professionals, regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation.