Blog %

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.

 

 

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.

IMG_0100.jpg

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.

http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/research/understanding-implicit-bias/

https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html

https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/09/opinion/sunday/the-roots-of-implicit-bias.html

#EQxDM3 Behind the Scenes: Disrupting Implicit Bias

With a less than 2 weeks until AIASF's 4th Symposium — Equity by Design: Metrics, Meaning & Matrices, EQxD Blog will be featuring "behind the scenes" interviews with the facilitators of the Symposium Break Out Sessions for Career Dynamics and Pinch Points. Patricia G. Alarcón, RA shares her insights on working with the Thought Leaders to shape this Career Dynamics session.

Disrupting Impicit Bias in Design and Practice

#EQxDDisruptBias

Everyone has implicit bias. We develop our biases through our environment, the people we engage with, and the culture we grow up in. These interactions shape the expectations we have for ourselves, colleagues, and even potential clients. Thus, bias can have a major impact on the design process and desired outcomes in our profession. Additionally, reflecting on our own “Bias Blind Spot” is critical to building empathy and foster a culture of open communication. We will explore implicit bias in design and practice through research and storytelling. We will examine our “Bias Blind Spots” in small groups, and share resources to increase our awareness of bias in our workplace and foster strategies for tangible change.

Thought Leaders and Facilitator:

 

Patricia G. Alarcón, RA  — Facilitator

Patricia G. Alarcón, RA — Facilitator

Why were you interested in being a facilitator?

I have been following the work of the AIA EQxD committee for some time. However, due to limited time for extra-curriculars outside of work and family responsibilities, I have been mostly cheering from the sidelines. Being a facilitator for the upcoming symposium gives me a chance to dive in and contribute to the cause in a very real and concrete way. I also saw it as an opportunity to deepen the discussion with women from different parts of the country, with different backgrounds and experiences than my own — a real community building/expanding opportunity.

How have the Equity pinch points and/or dynamics informed your session? 

Our topic is implicit bias in the workplace and it really can impact every facet of our career trajectory, from initial hiring, to retention and advancement. Bias transcends all the pinch points, and that’s something to keep in mind and work against regardless of where we are in our professional trajectory.

Are there any a-ha’s that emerged from the process of working with your team?

It’s easy to find bias against you, where you feel victimized because of gender, race, sexual orientation, etc. Perhaps harder and more poignant is to reflect on one’s personally held biases. Holding that mirror up to ourselves is just as important a part of the conversation… that’s been one of the most interesting parts of the discussion among our group.

Check out all the #EQxDM3 Break-Out Sessions Here

AIASF Equity by Design Symposium Sponsors

Special thanks to our amazing sponsors for their dedication and support. We look forward to seeing you there!