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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?

We need to Hack more!

by Matthew Gaul    

Without a doubt, the most significant event of the whole AIA National convention in Atlanta was Equity by Design (EQxD) Hackathon ½ day event. Unique to the convention we were going to do something, on the spot, to improve the profession. The whole afternoon was a microcosm of what I have experienced since I attended my first EQxD meeting a year ago. What I got out of it was a real sense of what it will take to move the profession forward and an even stronger sense of optimism that we will get there.

Why I went:

First stop: a selfie at the front door.

First stop: a selfie at the front door.

Like all EQxD events and meetings I’ve been to, the Hackathon was about awareness and action. Action is the key to causes. Architecture is keen to action when it comes to external things like the 2030 Challenge for sustainability, but we’re ironically inactive about our own internal challenges.

At the Hackathon, we set out to focus internally, not on our desires about design as architects are regularly accused of doing, but on our self-worth and conduct. Frankly, it is still a significant thing for the profession to stand up out of our sandbox of beautiful designs, to grapple with real human issues. I believe doing so helps us realize our true value and prepare for a Post-Green world, when being sustainable will be as much of a concern to the public and the profession as being accessible and ADA compliant. When we get there, we’ll be left with our one common denominator: our fellow humans for whom we design. After all, Architecture can’t sustainably focus on sustainability because we’ll get there, and when we do, we’ll be left with our one common denominator: our fellow humans for whom we design.

I also wanted to be there to be one of the men in the room. Everyone has potential for implicit bias, groupthink, and ignorance. Research shows us that diverse groups make more intelligent and equitable decision through a reduction in assumptions and increase in experiences and awareness. So, by participating help mitigate these factors in myself and others.

How it went:

It was hard. Not in the typical architecture-is-hard because the problems are complex and take a long time to develop solutions. It was hard because we didn’t have a long time to figure things out, and we couldn’t use our typical problem solving methods. We were actively figuring out what our methods could be while using them to solve our group’s chosen equity issue, and then presenting in a way that we were totally unaccustomed. And that’s the essence of a hackathon.

In the end, this was the most focused, participatory, and fruitful four hours of the whole convention. Don’t get me wrong; other convention activities had the same high qualities, but none produced original work on the spot and drew upon their participants to act in the present and future in quite the same way. We all left with a feeling of community, ownership, and responsibility.

What I take away from it:

“A pocket full of change.”

“A pocket full of change.”

Equity in Architecture and improving the value proposition/understanding of architecture is going to be a lot harder and more complicated than I thought. It isn’t just a matter of sharing information, straightening up, rallying others to action, and changing what others do or think. There is a lot of hard work in figuring out how and what we are doing to change ourselves as a profession and how others perceive us.

Personally, I will make it a point to draw on others more. (It won’t be just to spread the good word of equity, but it will also help shape the bricks that we will use to build a better profession. It is my hope that AIA National does the same.

There is a real value in every single person’s time and energy, because they can shape the course of events and the profession that shapes humanity’s built environment.

And who wouldn’t want a part of that?

Read more of Matthew's thoughts on the importance of equity in architecture from an excerpt of his EQxD Hackathon scholarship essay below. 

I believe that Architecture fundamentally needs to raise its internal and external valuation to reflect the importance of architecture in the daily lives of people, society, and the future of humanity. This improvement of valuation has to start with better, more equitable practices within the profession. Once we value ourselves better in this way, provide greater opportunities to our members, and retain more talent, we can better communicate our value to society, and achieve a level of regard and compensation that will enable us to produce our best work.
— Matthew Gaul

What's next for EQxD?

Join us in San Francisco at AIASF on June 11th for our next EQxD "U" Workshop "What's Flex got to do with Success?" (Win Win Strategies for Work/Life Flexibility) Meet the panelists, and participate in small group break-outs to "hack" what works for flexibility in the modern workplace. This event is relevant to all AEC professionals! 6pm-8:30pm.