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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?

EQxD Get Real Series: Bias & Privilege

by Rosa Sheng, AIA

Architecture's Diversity Problem

It doesn't take too much to notice architecture's diversity problem. Statistics, while vague and hard to come by, estimate 15-18 percent of licensed architects are women and 13 percent of licensed AIA Architect members are minority populations including 5 percent Asian Americans, 4 percent Hispanics or Latino and less than 2.0 percent African Americans. While enrollment in architecture schools and NCARB candidates may be on the uptick, people of color and women still drop out of the field at a very high rate. The 2014 Equity in Architecture Survey sought to understand the key factors of job satisfaction that were influenced by likelihood of becoming a Principal, a transparent path to promotion, and day to day work that is meaningful to long term goals. Additionally, there is a lack of mentors, a dearth of financial support, and a bureaucratic system resistant to change. But a more deeply rooted factor preventing people of color and women from advancing is an outright ignorance towards systemic bias and prejudice that benefits the privileged in the workplace.

Not Your Token Architect

Last month, during the July Twitter #ArchitectChats about emerging professionals, a heated conversation somehow went south; "touching the third-rail south" to be exact. A biased statement was made, there were clearly those that were offended by the statement (and likely had every right to be). Focusing on the person who made the statement was less important than honing in on the fact that this type of thinking exists. 

I don’t want an inexperienced non-caucasion m/f in a major decision position just for the token effect.
— (Statement made during Twitter #ArchitectChats)

We cannot make progress in terms of equity, diversity and inclusion when there is a base lack of understanding of the institutional racism, implicit bias and the largely unfounded fear and ignorance of the "other" that exists. (The "other": broadly be defined as those who are systemically without power and privilege to get access to the same opportunities as the majority). We cannot make progress when there is a fear of discussing the bias and prejudice that exists, no matter how "uncomfortable" the subject matter may be at times.

Tokenism is flawed in the statement above as there is an assumption that non-whites are less experienced and therefore undeserving of advancement to a position of power. Tokenism is defined as the practice of using a member of a minority group in order to prove how "progressive" and "forward-thinking" an organization may be, without truly solving the root of the problem: implicit bias and systemic racism. While the act of tokenism is used by those in power to subvert the issue, those who advance are viewed as "tokens". The backlash towards them implies that these individuals are not qualified or deserving of their position and may even remain loyal to those in power who promoted them.

The Challenge

When the "token" statement was made, I wasn't offended, but rather perplexed. I tried to explain to the person making the statement why it would be offending to others. I saw an opportunity to have a broader discussion about bias & privilege in our EQxD Get Real blog series that would allow for a more authentic understanding of the real challenges that those striving for equity must face everyday. I asked our twitter followers: Who would be brave to contribute? We had many volunteers who are professionals in architecture at various stages of their career and diverse in their backgrounds. We asked them to reflect on the following questions and we ask that you do the same.

  1. Reflect on your awareness of what these two words mean to you - bias & privilege
  2. How does bias or privilege affect your ability to achieve your career goals (or not?)
  3. How do you think bias and privilege affect Architecture as a profession today? 
  4. What needs to be done about bias and privilege to inspire action/positive change?

Dare to Share

Each of us has bias towards others and each of us has privilege over others. It is when bias & privilege limit opportunities for those who are NOT in a position of power that we end up where we are today. For the next 3 weeks, we will be featuring the candid responses of each volunteer to these provocative questions.  Our goal is to create a safe forum for these difficult conversations in hopes of reaching a broader understanding of the individuals who have contributed and how bias and privilege affects each and every one of us in different ways.

Please follow us on Twitter #EQxDGetReal for each blog related to this challenge.