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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?

Team "EQUATOR" - Toolkit for Assessing and Improving Equitable Practice

Interview w/ hackers Amelie-Phaine Crowe, Beau Frail, Don Weinreich, Kavitha Mathew, Kelsey Oesmann, and Lara Garnant

EQUATOR: an imaginary line drawn around the earth equally distant from both poles, dividing the earth into northern and southern hemispheres and constituting the parallel of latitude 0°. Origin: late Middle English: from medieval Latin aequator, in the phrase circulus aequator diei et noctis ‘circle equalizing day and night,’ from Latin aequare ‘make equal’.

Team Equator: an energized group of change agents comprised of a diverse range of backgrounds, levels of experience, and abilities that share common concerns about equity within the profession.

Working together, the team candidly reflected on the shared disappointment about two truths:

  1. Inequitable practices are often ingrained in architectural firm culture
  2. Each firm is different - there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to building equitable work environments. So, Team Equator set out to create a toolkit that would guide firms in assessing areas where improvement is necessary, then offer implementation strategies to develop equitable practices and policies within firms.

THE EQUATOR as Tool -  a unique, tailored “diagnosis” and set of recommendations for improving equity and diversity within firms;

THE EQUATOR as Process - synthesis and analysis of small and big data, from employee and employer perspectives to identify disconnects; facilitation/mediation of group discussions; presentation of potential solutions and mediation as necessary;

THE EQUATOR as Outcomes - a collection of aggregate data on firms of various sizes; development of scalable solutions and training that can be deployed online; implementation of firm policies for achieving equity and diversity goals; proof (data driven results, best practices and a network of firms); an iterative, feedback loop for continuous improvement.

The hypothesis of Team Equator’s hack is that this toolkit will translate to improvements as evidenced in:

  • Ability for firms to increase awareness of and break poor habits
  • Streamlined process of finding solutions
  • Stronger employee-employer relationships
  • Scalable solutions that are personalized and adaptable, therefore optimized for effectiveness
  • Flexibility and willingness to establish employee-centered firm policies


Ice Breaker -  The Egg Project

What did you learn from your group in the course of doing this exercise?

Kavitha - Despite our various levels of experience, I think that we had some common concerns about equity within the profession. 

Beau - Our group of six Hackers discovered the elements that connected us, such as our love for drawing and having no pets, and also celebrated the unique qualities that made us a diverse collection of change agents ready to embrace our differences while finding common ground to explore ideas for making our profession more equitable. (the genesis of The Equator) 

Kelsey - Our group represented a really diverse range of backgrounds, experiences, and abilities, which added a lot of value to our conversations. 

What was the most unexpected response to the what was Unique about each person? (Outside the Egg)

Amelie - I was surprised that no one else played instruments! 

Lara - I concluded from the exercise, that many of our commonalities and differences both (personally and professionally) seemed to speak to mutual creativity, passion, patience, empathy, dedication, and analytical thinking. It was interesting to see how even our differences had common threads. 

What was the most unexpected response to the what was common to the group? (Inside the Egg)

Kelsey - I was surprised none of us have pets - indication of a need for better work-life balance, perhaps? 

Lara - Another interesting coincidence, for me, was that we had all lived on a coast at some point in our lives. We share that common passion and drive. 

Beau - Apparently we are not a group of marathon runners, but we are willing to run toward the goals of creating an equitable future.

Defining the Problem

What did you think of the ideation process for defining the problem?

Kavitha - It was a little frenetic, but ultimately productive.

Beau - I agree, the process of narrowing down to a specific problem to address seemed rushed for our group. I appreciated that Kavitha and others came with strong ideas they had previously contemplated. We became a testing ground for these ideas and shared our varied perspectives that resulted in a well-defined problem. BF

Kelsey - Putting words around such complex challenges and narrowing it down to a cohesive “problem statement” was definitely a challenge. The time limit was helpful for forcing us to speak to the issue instead of around it.

Amelie - Part of our struggle was that a number of different issues we wrote down were inter-connected. It was good to enumerate each one, but very difficult to all agree on which tangential issues to leave behind. Yes, I think our group's passion toward equity and the interconnection of the problems drove us towards brainstorming a large number of issues and multiple potential solutions…

Lara - During that stage, our personal experiences (differences) helped fuel the number of problems, while our common passion for equity had us excited to tackle the problems at hand.  The interconnected nature of many of the problems, compounded the choice.  I agree.  The tough aspect in defining the single problem with a single solution, was letting go of or rather not getting to discuss solutions for problems left on the board.  As a group, in the end we chose well and were able to define a single problem with a single solution in time.  (Of course there was no wrong choice, only the challenge of a time limitation to define it, solve it and present it.)  The process of brainstorming problems, while frustrating due to the time constraint, ultimately reflected our common concerns for equity.  


What was the problem that your group agree to solve?

Kavitha - We tried to create a toolkit and process for measuring and improving equity within firms, leading to greater diversity. 

Beau - The problems that our team gravitated toward as the highest priority to address included:

  • The ability for a firm to assess their meeting of equity metrics

  • Resilience of the profession through recessions and other disruptive events. This included retaining talent and providing growth opportunities for younger employees (via equity metrics)

  • Aging in the profession/ experience gap (similar issues as above) 


Crafting the Solution

What did you think of the ideation process for crafting the solution? Was it difficult to come up with ideas? Was it difficult to narrow down to the final solution?

Beau - The fast paced generation of ideas was exciting and at times frustrating. We had many ideas from different perspectives that were worth exploring. Narrowing down on an idea seemed hasty, though perhaps that is the inherent pace involved in Hackathons.

Kelsey - It was a challenge to keep ideas at a “brainstorm” level - I think we had a tendency to get into the details of a specific solution before we considered all the options to determine what the solution should be.

Amelie - It wasn’t too difficult to come up with supportive strategies for our solution. The trouble was that we had a lot of ideas and not quite enough time to write them all down. It was a pretty fluid process. I think we also had some struggles with figuring out how to communicate the strategies verbally in our pitch, and which to leave out of the talking points. 


What was the problem that your group agreed to solve?

Beau - Ultimately, our group resonated strongly around a central solution for measuring the equitable quality of a workplace, providing assessments of firms, and offering implementation strategies to develop equitable practices and policies within firms. This equity and diversity assessment and implementation tool is called The Equator. 

Kelsey - The Equator addressed inequitable practices and policies that are often ingrained in firm culture and tradition, and provided a unique, tailored “diagnosis” and set of recommendations. Each firm is different and has different challenges and assets, and we wanted to respect that there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to building equitable work environments.

Amelie - EQUATOR in its final form struck a good balance of being user-friendly, useful to define success vs improvement areas, and potentially appealing as a branding tool for equitable firms.

Lara - Equator, while a single process, possesses the ability to flex to each employee-employer relationship for both the success of the individuals, the firm, and ultimately the industry.  The nature of the process is personalized to the individuals involved.


How did you decided to present your elevator pitch?

Team Equator displayed the issue of top down and bottom up perspectives through a short skit. A firm owner and a young professional both expressed their frustrations with gaps and disconnects in equity. We introduced The Equator as a solution for firms and employees/ potential employees to “meet in the middle” to identify disconnects related to diversity and equity and have access to tools for adopting, integrating or advocating solutions. Our group members took turns presenting each part of The Equator process:

  • Equity and Diversity Toolkit for measuring and improving equity within firms
  • Data Collection and analysis within categories from employee and employer perspectives (online platform/ quiz/ interviews). LARGER GOAL: to aggregate data on multiple scaled firms.
  • Identify disconnects, then present solutions and mediate as necessary. LARGER GOAL: identify and develop scalable solutions that can be deployed online
  • Develop firm policies and implementation strategies for achieving equity and diversity goals
  • Measure and verify the impact of implementation strategies/ tools
  • Case studies
  • Adoption toolkits and training
  • Data driven results verified
  • Firm profiles highlighting best practices (opportunity for a Firm Equity Network…)
  • Adjust tools as necessary based on data/ results   

While aggregating data, developing scaled solutions, and creating supportive firm networks are potential outcomes that can become supportive tools for others undergoing the process, the ultimate success of Equator is it’s core focus on:

  • Individual employee-employer relationships
  • Solutions that fit those individuals
  • Flexibility
  • No one solution fits all or fits similar sized firms - (only very similar people with very similar values, goals, relationships, firm culture, etc. may have a similar set of policies - but the success depends on the ability to cater the solutions to meet both the needs of the specific employee and employer for each identified disconnect.)  The aggregate data, scaled solutions, and network are resources to support and provide solutions for each disconnect in the employee-employer relationship.  Best practices can be developed for each identified disconnect as a resource for potential solutions, but ultimately the selection of the best fit for that particular relationship is key.
  • We created this process to be iterative and be able to grow and change as the individual's needs, situations, values, and perspectives change as they progress through their careers.

Lessons Learned

What was the biggest take-away from EQxDHack17?

Beau - These ideas are worth exploring and their potential impact on our profession is an untapped resource for augmenting equity and diversity in architecture. The energy and unique perspectives generated by our group could have continued and further refined our idea. 

Kelsey - Also that these ideas and solutions are feasible, relevant, and actionable. What’re we waiting for?! 

Lara - My biggest take away, is a new found perspective on our ability to affect change despite the size of the obstacles, the lack of processes to facilitate that change, and also the advice of not letting the fear of failure to become one of those obstacles. It is far too easy to get sucked into our day-to-day activities, and lose ourselves along the way (or speaking for myself anyway).  I have been struggling with where to begin - to positively affect society and fulfill my core values in this one lifetime.  Too often, our profession is structured to service the wealthy fraction of society.  Also, too often the firm structure is created without having the employees influence firm policy, which leads to a dissatisfied sector of employees and retention problems.  I always had the drive to make people's lives better with social, environmental, equity issues being at my core. The challenge for me has been the 1) where to begin and 2) how to affect the change I hope for humanity 3) finding those like-minded individuals. I am sincerely grateful for this platform to begin to engage towards equity goals. 

Kavitha - What was the most stimulating aspect of the workshop? Definitely watching the other teams pitch their ideas while getting ready to present ours. 

Kelsey - Agreed - watching the other pitches was really exciting. It’s amazing what can happen when you get a bunch of creative, passionate people in a room together.


What was the most challenging aspect of the workshop?

Kavitha - The most challenging aspect was the time constraint on each exercise- helped keep the adrenaline levels high! 

Beau - Yes, we need more time! How about a followup session the next day where we continue to develop our ideas? How about we record our pitches and post them to social media to share these ideas?

Lara - Definitely time...the open ended nature of solving any problem is wonderful for the formation of the group and the ability to solve a problem the group is passionate about...I don't know if it would be possible to shorten the timeframe for the egg project? Send the equity survey, intro, and structure of hackathon in an email to attendees ahead of conference to shorten the intro at the hackathon?  LG

Kelsey - Definitely the time - although I think it was sufficient to get the ideas across. 


What would you suggest for people curious about attending a future EQxDHack?

Beau - If you have a desire to make a difference and change our profession for the better, the EQxDHack is the place for you! You will meet leaders from all over the nation and work with them to creatively generate ideas that have the potential to make a lasting impact on our profession. Explore what equity means to you and experience first hand how an afternoon in a stimulating, supportive and slightly competitive setting will drive your best ideas and a spirit of collaboration to address some of the most pressing challenges to our profession related to equity and diversity. 

Kelsey - Prepare to be inspired, challenged, and encouraged - maybe even all at once. You’ll learn from new colleagues across the country, hear their stories and share yours, and think both big and small. Working with a diverse group under strict time constraints will push you and your creative problem solving skills far beyond what you thought possible. No challenge is too great for a group of committed, informed and creative collaborators.


EQxDHackathon Blog Series

Access the entire experience of the Equity by Design Hackathon here: 

Special Thanks to our #EQxDHack17 Sponsors for being a Champion for Equitable Practice!

Team “My Block” Explores Architects' Accountability to the Community

A round robin interview with hackers from Team "My Block" including Kitty Myers, Julie Lam, Michael Ford, Corrie Messinger, Maraya Morgan and Jenn Hamrick 


The Hackathon framework is modeled after the fast-paced methodology common within the most innovative tech companies in the Silicon Valley.  Equity by Design's core team members augmented this framework with a Flipped Classroom packet to orient participants.  In this blog, Team “My Block” debriefs on their experience - its initial formative steps, the process that creates a cadence for discovery, and their favorite take-aways.


Ice Breaker -  The Egg Project 

As a quick and effective way for individuals to know each other, each team was asked to find 3 or more things that ALL members had in common and write them inside a sketched "egg" and then identify 2 or 3 experiences or traits that were solely unique to an individual written outside the "egg". The exercise celebrates individuality while simultaneously building empathy with common ground.



What did you learn from your group in the course of doing this exercise?

Maraya -One thing that I learned was the acting of looking for commonalities will lead off into the territory of storytelling, which begets more storytelling, which begets more commonalities.  At times it felt harder to find things unique to us, because it felt so good to find the things in each other to which we could all relate.

Jenn - Starting out the conference by being forced to rapidly share yourself was a brilliant way to get our heads in the game to be social for the duration of the event. I was happy to learn that everyone was really enthusiastic about what they are doing, and that gave me the confidence to be able to express myself among strangers/colleagues. It started out a bit slow as everyone tested the waters, but after a few minutes it was actually hard to get a word in because everyone was so excited to share their experiences and ideas.   

Julie - The definitions of what is considered to be equity and diversity vary between cities, states, regions, and countries.  Depending where we considered “home” really brings a different perspective to diversity issues.  The biggest takeaway for me was that I would need to sit down with my peers at home to really determine what issues would be affecting Honolulu versus the rest of the nation.  The issues brought up during my discussion with my team members at this Hackathon, can be the broad overall topics that I could start with and then fine tune from there.  

Kitty - There were more unique characteristics than commonalities - we didn’t come up with 3 commonalities, just 2.

Julie - I learned from this ice breaker activity that everyone has different levels of intimacy and boundaries.  Each person within our group chose to divulge different levels of personal info and hence allowed varying levels of intimacy to occur.  However, at the end of the day, we learned quite a bit about everyone else within the group.


What was the most unexpected response to the what was Unique about each person? (Outside the Egg)

Maraya - Somewhere between unique and common - two teammates had lost children

Jenn - The strength of my teammates overcoming great losses was the most surprising thing to be brought up. I can’t even fathom how hard that was to discuss with the group, but I really want to thank them for their courage. It was really eye opening and reiterates how as architects we have to remember that we are designing for humanity and should do so with compassion and forethought.

Corrie - With the timing of this exercise following the initial panel presentations, there was more of a sense of openness than if this was a cold opener as soon as we gathered, which felt like it may have both framed the context of responses and also allowed the group to open up a bit more that early based on the frankness of the panelists.

Kitty - There is a HIP HOP Architect among us (Michael Ford).

Julie - For me, the most unexpected response was the one Mike provided - about losing a child.  It really affected me on a very personal perspective.

What was the most unexpected response that was common to the group? (Inside the Egg)

Maraya - We all moved into architectural studies before college and all of us live in cities, four from Oakland, California!

Jenn - We all knew that we wanted to go into architecture before starting school, but many of us didn’t start out knowing that from a young age. I mostly hear about the people who always knew what they wanted to be when they grew up, and I have always been in awe of them. Learning how everyone came to find their own calling was inspiring, and made me realize that my path hasn’t really been that different from everyone else's. I was really surprised to find out how many of my group were from the Bay Area!

Corrie - Regional non-diversity.

Julie - Many of them came from the Bay Area or SF.  How did that happen??

Kitty - All of us decided on architecture as a career in our early teens or earlier.


Defining the Problem

What did you think of the ideation process for defining the problem?

Maraya -The process was good, particularly in its time limitations.  We were full of ideas, and to be cut off and immediately vote on our favorites was clarifying.

Jenn - I thought that the deadlines and voting process were effective to help us funnel all of our ideas into a cohesive plan. I was actually surprised to see that it worked out as efficiently as it did, maybe we need more of this?

Corrie - It scaled well to continually frame the problem & final presentation.

Julie - This process was both educating and a very useful reference for myself.  It provided me with a framework for a similar event I will be hosting on June 22nd in AIA Honolulu. The way this Hackathon was formulated with first defining the problem was a simple and clear method by which we could start with.  This system worked so well for myself that I will be emulating it during my event.  

Kitty - All of us have a passion for bringing our work into the community, to solicit their ideas before finalizing the design. This process helps us clarify the purpose of our projects ( new structure/renovation/TI).

What was the problem that your group agree to solve?

Julie - Our team really spent quite a bit of time defining various problems.  When we finally decided, we agreed upon "Accountability of Architects to the Community".  I think the one thing that I would modify for this portion of the Hackathon, is the ability to reassess and reshuffle the groups during this point.  I spoke to some of the attendees afterwards and they noted that some of the problems that were agreed upon is not what they were passionate about but rather something that the majority felt strongly about.  With that said, I am suggesting that each group comes up with a problem but at this point of the event, allow individuals to reassess and, if desired, change groups to better meet their personal passions.  

Crafting the Solution

What did you think of the ideation process for crafting the solution? Was it difficult to come up with ideas? Was it difficult to narrow down to the final solution?

Jenn - The solutions just seemed to flow naturally. All of us coming from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences helped us to see the problem from all angles.

Corrie - The ideas flowed well even though the problem request was a broad topic.

Julie - We had the opposite problem, we had so many solutions and so many ideas that we felt we had to really narrow down our ideas to really provide for the best solution possible for our selected problem.  

Kitty - The process was simple for us. Our solution was based on many individual experiences and the permitting process. We each contributed ideas and parts of the solution. Architects are well trained at solving problems, so brainstorming our ideas was natural and fast-paced.

What was the problem that your group agree to solve?

Maraya -  The challenge to community equity that we approached is that “architects and owners are designing non-livable, non-performing buildings w/o accountability to the community or users.”  We see this as a result of a flawed communication paradigm (community reviews that happen infrequently and inconveniently) as well as a lack of an incentive on the part of the owner, who is serving their own interests or their investors’ interests first (or only).  Our solution to this problem was to create an App that would allow people living in a neighborhood to quickly find out the stats on a planned building project in their neighborhood and give it a review, yelp style.  They could also use this app to make suggestions on what they believe the neighborhood needs.  On the output side of the app, the city (or other permitting body) would receive all the feedback directly from the people in easy understand statistics.  The information and suggestions from the app could be used by the city to incentivize the owner and architect team to take suggestions from the community in exchange for a fast-tracking permitting process. 

How did you decided to present your elevator pitch?

Maraya - We presented our App as a sketch demonstrating how people in the community would use MyBlock to influence the owner and the architect in a way that would be beneficial for everyone involved: example given- rather than having some redundant commercial tenant on the ground floor of a mixed use, a suggestion for a grocery was given by residents and acted upon by the O/A team after a talk with the permitting official.

Kitty - Our presentation was based on individual talents, group discussion, and available resources.


What was the biggest take-away from EQxDHack17?


Maraya - What can feel like chaos and a whimsy storm of ideas can in fact yield many brilliant ideas quickly, given a pre-agreed structure.  Amazingly, I think the fact that we all generally had an idea of the time, but didn't concretely understand the limits of it allowed us to be freer and more frantically energetic at the same time.

Corrie - While equity can be a very wide-ranging topic, the context of the panelists and the themes of technology seemed to quickly work into the tactics of the presentations and  may have led to the many ‘app-based’ solutions.

Julie - The Hackathon is a great methodology by which to brainstorm and come up with tangible solutions for identifiable problems.  It provides a system by which we can channel our energy into creating solutions for equity problems that plague our field.  It also provided a time constraint which created an immediacy and urgency towards finding solutions for problems that we normally would not have encountered.  

Kitty - Architects, young and old have similar passions about design, value to the community, and accountability.

What was the most stimulating aspect of the workshop?

Maraya - The most stimulating aspect was to see the other groups presentations.  During the process, I would overhear bits here and there of what the others were doing, and in the end products were unexpected and rich.  I want them all to succeed so that I can have them/use them!

Corrie - The dialogue within the team was terrific, and even with the current backgrounds of the individuals (SF, Hawaii, Detroit), the themes and issues of community engagement seemed to be a solid and unexpected bond.

Julie - I enjoyed the various group presentations and speaking to each of the groups afterwards at Happy Hour.  It was very enlightening to see the presentations and then have various members’ perspective of their interpretation of the presentations.  Even amongst each group there were differing interpretations.  Very interesting.

Kitty - The defining the problem exercise was fast-paced and lots of ideas.


What was the most challenging aspect of the workshop?

Maraya - The most challenging part was to focus on a single solution to a complex issue.  There are so many good and actionable ideas that it can be hard to remember that the other solutions can always be investigated and acted upon later, but for now, the clarity of one idea is what’s needed.

Corrie - Time for development...while it was a quick hit, the 2-3 hours flew by.

Julie - Time constraints.  More challenging is the execution of the winning solution.  I really think it would be amazing to see the winning solution become reality in some way or form. But I understand the restraints of sponsorship and time.  Still would be amazing to see it come to life.  

Kitty - Initially crafting the solution. This came along easier after we looked at our members’ talents and incorporated them into different roles.

What would you suggest for people curious about attending a future EQxDHack?

Maraya - Don’t be nervous, it’s so much more natural than you’d ever expect!  In the weeks beforehand, read about things that get you excited, and let those sit in the back of your mind.

Julie - Please please please consider signing up for it.  Even if you are not passionate about the topic.  The method itself is such a worthwhile experience.  Through this experience I have formed relationships with two or more of the colleagues I have met within my group. It is through connections with other passionate leaders that I hope to achieve future equity goals.  

Kitty - The process can be compared to an organized and purpose-driven brainstorming event.


EQxDHackathon Blog Series

Access the entire experience of the Equity by Design Hackathon here: 


Special Thanks to our #EQxDHack17 Sponsors!