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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: I am Learning

by Lora Teagarden, AIA

Unlike many of the others writing on this topic of bias and privilege, I'm left feeling like I don't have much of value to say around this subject. Mostly because I was fortunate to live in an upbringing I'm learning would be called "privileged".

My parents got divorced when my sister and I were both very young, but they worked hard to make sure our bills were always paid and necessities provided. They saved to afford vacations and our annual round of shinguards and travel costs for soccer. We were not unlike most families in that we all worked hard, except we are white - which I’m learning sometimes brings a privilege all unto itself. And because of that, I'm continually learning…

I'm learning that I was blessed to grow up being taught that I can achieve anything I set my mind to - yes, even as a girl. No matter whether it was true or not, my parents allowed this dreamer to dream.

I'm learning that a support system is half the battle of fighting towards progress. Had I not had family, friends, or mentors there to support me during my struggles in life - and there have been many - I don't know where I would be today. From playing on the Men’s soccer team to petitioning for a Women’s team when the Athletic department didn’t want to fund it; from being recruited to play soccer in college to having to figure out new ways to cover the cost of college when they found out I was studying architecture and was told “architecture and sports don’t mix”; then getting divorced in the recession and moving myself over 2,000 miles back to my network of friends and family, with no job prospects and little portfolio of past work due to the constant moving of a military wife. My support system was there for me day in and day out and I’m learning the unfortunate reality that not everyone has that. I’m learning how much more that we need to grow in the efforts of championing each other.

I'm learning that equity needs to be a continual forward effort. When we choose to not act, learn, or start dialogue to move us forward like salmon up a stream, we're losing ground.

I'm learning that, when you haven't experienced a specific version of bias, empathy doesn't always translate. I recently ate my shoe trying to explain why you can't look at diversity as a snapshot. It involves history and so many benchmarks, but my empathy was lost in the wording and I hurt people. And for that I will always be sorry. I long for a world where merit and empathy and kindness rule, but I’m quickly realizing how much of a struggle lies ahead in removing bias from the world before that happens. I'm learning...

I'm learning that for every lost moment of nurturing my "little sister" (in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program), we lose 3 steps towards the unfortunate bias of life beating the optimism out of her. She has such a bright spirit and so much compassion, I'm learning how hard it is to keep that spirit alive when the biased odds of life aren't on her side. From navigating school systems to join clubs to helping provide access to her interest in art, I’m learning how to better help her learn and self-direct to build the life she dreams.

I'm learning that sometimes moving forward towards growth and equity means sitting still and listening. There is so much to be learned from others.

I'm learning that equity means different things to different people based on our backgrounds, but the most important thing is to come to the table vulnerable and willing to learn.

I'm learning...will you join me?

EQxD Get Real: The Mom Bias vs. The Mom Privilege

by Meghana Joshi, Associate AIA

Last night, at the AIA Orange County office, I was browsing through the reading material in their library, and "Women's Architectural League" caught my eye. It is a red leather bound scrapbook with pictures of women in the Architectural League, and newspaper clippings from early 1960’s Mad Men era. Women in beautiful clothes, and women in beautiful hair-dos meeting for luncheons to celebrate local architecture by organizing "home tours" and "helping their husbands" in their chosen field. It was essentially an unofficial AIA club for Architects’ and Associates’ wives. It was the time and era of transition of women from, "work if you need money" to being a, "professional." There were women in high places, but for an average woman, it was a tradeoff between work and family. You were not expected to do both successfully.

This picture in particular caught my interest:

"Little Jeffrey Bell, 3-year-old son of Mrs. Stanley Bell of Costa Mesa hangs on to Mrs. Bell's apron string as he tries to convince his mother that she should stay home with him instead of attending the annual meeting of the California Council of the Women's Architectural League." Mrs. Bell was a delegate to the event. There is another picture of Jeffrey Bell along with Annette Bell and Lisa Woodman tied up in a big ribbon and shown as "precious charges" to the babysitter as their mothers leave for the parley in Coronado. I don't know these women, but with the network they formed, and the events that they hosted, I can safely tell that their mission was to educate the public about architecture - they were playing a supporting role to their husbands’ careers mostly because of the societal bias against privileged women going back to work after having children more than anything else.

Fifty years later, the world has changed.

Women are underrepresented, but they are present in almost every profession of the world unless it is gender prohibitive. NCARB numbers for women in architecture are reassuring - more women are entering the profession, and more women are making efforts to stay in the career, get licensed and be mentors. The percentage of women completing AREs has doubled since 2000. We are still at a measly 35%, but I have trust and faith in the next generation for not being the "Missing 32 Percent".

What still hasn't changed? - The mom bias.

The pinch points for women in architecture are still "licensure", "caregiving" and the "glass ceiling" - all tied up mostly to parenting duties. Speaking about my personal experiences - my privilege is my bias and my bias is my privilege. That's the hardest truth of my life. As an entrepreneur, I work hard - but then there are times when my decision to be an entrepreneur is pegged to motherhood making it a "convenient way to balance work and life". It's not so. It's not so for any entrepreneur, male or female - parent or not. We are in the business because we are passionate about the business and creative sides of architecture- we take risks. Not because we want to be able to pick up the children from school, and save daycare dollars. I don't know how many men in business hear that, but if I had a dime for every time I heard that, I would be a ....

Then there is the mom guilt.

Have you stayed at work past six? Have you shown up to work before sunrise? Let's assume your employer is all for work-life balance, but also lets you call the shots on your project schedule. Let’s assume you are doing something you are so passionate about, you refuse to leave your desk simply based on the clock. Let’s assume your co-parent / your parenting support system and you have it under control. I don't know why I am adding "assumptions" since it should be nobody's business. But still, for argument’s sake, how many times have you heard "I could have never done that - Timmy needs me." or "Wow, you are lucky, my husband would never do that".

A simple suggestion to all working mothers: don't call the other woman lucky if she has a good support system. Like everything else, it needs hard work too; to have and to maintain a support system. Don't ever tell a working woman when she needs to go home, or who needs her at home. Architecture being what it is, sometimes cannot be an eight hour job with a fixed schedule. If someone volunteers, if someone involves themselves more into the profession than treating it as a job to pay bills, be supportive. Reword your "wow, you are lucky" to "I am glad you can make time for things you are passionate about". No one is lucky- even lottery winners bought several tickets before they won.

The mom privilege.

The mom privilege is actually bias in disguise. Finally after working for fifteen years, and two children, the time is right for me to pursue licensure. As I take care of my projects and parenting along with studying for ARE exams, I do hear things like "At least you have a reason for not doing it". No, children aren't and shouldn't be a reason for anyone to stop in their tracks. I didn't work on my licensure so far because I didn't have the drive to. Of all the women that changed the world, many didn't wait for their child to grow up and be in high school and not need them anymore - it doesn't work like that. But that's a "privilege" that I deal with as I continue my journey;, my migration from the “Missing 32 percent”, currently as the Test Taking 38%* and one day adding to the number of licensed women architects.

In a nutshell, while I do what I want to do in my life, at my own pace and at my own timing and methods, please don't guilt me - or have bias against me - or treat my parent tag as a privilege. My gender, my reproductive accomplishments, and my age - they should all be background noise. Same goes for other women - or men.  Architects have the privilege of changing the world with their careful planning and execution of community components. Let’s use that privilege to end bias - not end each other's career with bias against people of color and/or gender.

No one should go "missing" in a profession because they were not accepted by the tribe.

* (Based on NCARB By the Numbers 2015)

EQxD Get Real: Architecture - Open to ALL

By Jared W. Smith, AIA, NOMA  

I was on a trip to China, studying abroad with my college classmates. Being a 6'-4" African American in China, I expected to stand out. One day while in Shanghai, I ventured out on my own close to the university dorms. There was an indoor market with vendors selling various small items. I walked the floor glancing at the goods. At one vendor's station, I found something of interest. They seemed very hesitant as I approached. Having been in the country for a couple weeks I was aware that I'd attract some attention but this was like no other. As I continued to peruse, I could feel their discomfort growing. It escalated to a point where they did not want me to remain at their table to purchase anything. I was shocked to be "shooed" away. A bit of calm rather than anger came over me. It was best that I hadn't made a scene in a foreign country. Later on it hit me what had occurred. 

Yes, I stand out.

Jared W. Smith, AIA, NOMA (Photo by Pak Ki So)

Jared W. Smith, AIA, NOMA (Photo by Pak Ki So)

Architecture has historically been a white male dominated profession. According to the Directory of African American Architects, African Americans make up less than 2% of registered architects. Does that put me at a disadvantage? Could others act bias towards me? Possibly. That does not mean I should agree to it or remain without changes for better equality. This is not to discredit anyone of any other nationality that has put in hard work and dedication to become successful in the profession. However with similar education, abilities and a creative prowess for quality design, we all deserve to be at that table. Why is this not the norm?

How can we achieve that norm? Or could it be an advantage? Coming from a background of two working class parents whose own parents were low income, I had little to be considered privileged. My family was blessed to never be without the necessities. My parents both sacrificed to attain their Masters’ degrees while raising my brother and me. Privilege doesn't start at adulthood but from the influence enumerated at birth through adolescence to adulthood. What is allotted and taught to our children as they develop is what they will become and feel as adults. This article by Toby Morris illustrates this principle of the effects of our upbringing. 

Where have things gone astray? For one, African Americans are not shown in a good light in our society. This affects how we are perceived no matter what profession. The negative display exasperates a bias nature. Bias and privilege affect Architecture as a profession today by creating a sense of entitlement. African Americans may think "I am not good enough," or "I cannot attain that," or "I'm not qualified to enter that competition," Negative thoughts bring upon negative actions. If you believe you can't, then you are halfway toward failure.   

Possible solutions - A showcase of senior and highly experienced African American architects in the profession. Not only is it a benefit but also a motivation to aspiring architects. A coinciding article entitled "Why the Lack of Black Students" touches on this need. These future architects get a confidence boost seeing those they can relate to in positions they hope to hold one day. In a recent article by, building individual confidence plays a major role in a successful business and improved perception by others.

I am grateful to have had a rather diverse schooling environment as well as a diverse workplace. New York City is known for being America's Melting Pot full of determined individuals striving for their dreams no matter the obstacles. As a whole, more change is necessary.

Years ago while surveying at a housing authority complex I came across a 30-something African American man confined to a wheelchair. He observed me as I used my binoculars and camera. I was documenting facade deterioration. He proceeded to ask, "Hey where do you work and are they hiring?" I proceeded to tell him I worked for an architecture & engineering firm. He then said "That looks easy. I can do that." Continuing the conversation, I went on to explain briefly the profession and what I was doing. He said "So.. you're an architect" and I replied yes, as soon as I pass all my exams. He asked "Are there many of us?" By the skepticism in his voice and bewildered look, I know he figured there were not many. I said No. He ended the conversation in a way to respectfully leave me to my surveying. His last comment as he wheeled away was "oh.. I did not know."  

Architects are known by the general public as intellectuals who design buildings, homes and interiors. However, why is it without any knowledge of the profession's statistics is it known to be limiting to people of color? Is this due to societal influence? We all deserve to be at the table to showcase our talents.  

This post is contributed by Jared W. Smith from his new website.

Post Links: 
Toby Morris Illustration

Why the Lack of Black Students Article

Entrepreneur Article "6 Actions You Can Take Every Day to Build Your Self-Confidence"

Travel Channel Article "American's Melting Pot"

The Directory of African American Architects

EQxD Get Real: The Weight

by Marilyn Moedinger, AIA, LEED AP

There is a weight on my shoulders. It’s heavy and slows me down, and even though I didn’t put it there, I get blamed for it. “Drop that chip on your shoulder, why don’t you?” they say. I’d love to.

I’ve learned a lot about the weight in the 10 years I’ve been working in architecture, academia, and construction. I’ve learned that the first thing that some people do when they see me is add to the weight. Maybe it’s a brick that says “girl” or “chick” or “little lady” on it. Or maybe one that says “bitch,” or “bubblehead,” or “boobs,” or maybe it says “weak,” or “wayward,” or “whiner,” or perhaps “inconsequential,” or “incompetent,” or “invisible.” When I see them add the brick, I know how to react now. I’ve had a lot of practice. “Ah yes,” I think to myself, “I’ve seen this before. Since this person will only see me in a physical way, I have to change what I wear, make sure there’s nothing that can be construed as remotely sexy, but still feminine, but still ready to tromp through a construction site, yet still cool and professional. No worries, I have a whole section of my wardrobe labeled ‘Professional Clothing That’s Not Too Clingy But Also Isn’t A Gunny Sack.’” And as a result of our stiflingly patriarchal culture, it’s my responsibility to think of all these things and react to them to effortlessly bear the expectations of others, to breezily mold myself into a "culturally accepted female" - all while having a likable disposition, perfect hair, and a great sense of humor.
And oh yeah, almost forgot – to design and bring multimillion dollar, multi-year jobs in on time and under budget.

Marilyn Moedinger, Founding Principal of Runcible Studios (Photo by   Mikkel Stromstad and courtesy of BAC)

Marilyn Moedinger, Founding Principal of Runcible Studios (Photo by Mikkel Stromstad and courtesy of BAC)

It’s hard not to focus on the weight, on the bricks others add to my shoulders. The injustice is searing, frustrating, and insulting. My 8 year old self  strode weightless and confident through the fields of her family farm. She climbed trees, got muddy, tried to install plumbing at her playhouse -  and dreamed up cities and couldn’t wait to build them. She would be both in awe of my accomplishments, and horrified at their price. Over the years, I’ve started to believe those things – maybe I am less capable, maybe I am better suited to a supporting role, maybe my ideas aren’t worth sharing. When does that happen? When do we become so conscious of how others perceive us that we’re paralyzed, rendered stock still by the weight of societal expectations and norms?

And yet. As a white, heterosexual, able-bodied person, I can move easily within many culturally accepted norms. How have I added to the burdens of others over the years by making assumptions, perpetuating stereotypes, being an insensitive, unobservant bull in the china shop? I know of many, and it’s uncomfortable and horrifying.

Privilege doesn’t mean you’re not carrying a weight too – we all have burdens we heft – it means being blissfully unaware of the effect you have on others’ weights. It’s being blind to what you’re stacking on their shoulders, to what you’re requiring them to bear, just so that your world remains intact and unchanged, so that you maintain your [unearned] power and position in society. Privilege is insidious - quite possibly you wield it unconsciously and without outward malice. In architecture, for example, it’s the long hours and paltry pay that are somehow still a badge of honor and a sign of a “cool” design firm that make it especially hard for women to have a family and a career in architecture. It’s the thousand slights women face in the design and construction industry, like being asked to serve coffee at the meeting, being interrupted or being paid less than men.

I think the only way to relieve this situation is to LISTEN – not to the same old voices, but to the ones that have been traditionally silenced, discouraged, or not welcomed, and then to BELIEVE
— Marilyn Moedinger, AIA, LEED AP

As our industry becomes more aware of the need for better work/life balance, we make progress, and yet other layers of privilege begin to reveal themselves. The privilege of people with partners and kids who push their work onto others, saying, “You can work late, you don’t have a family.” The privilege of people with fewer family responsibilities who have time and space to study for their exams, saying, “All you have to do is study; if you really wanted it, you’d find the time.” The privilege of people with white skin who go to meetings and jobsites without concern that they’re being judged by their ethnicity saying, “What do you mean, racism? I don’t see it, it doesn’t happen around me.” The privilege of students who can afford an architectural education saying, “Anyone can be an architect!”

I think the only way to relieve this situation is to LISTEN – not to the same old voices, but to the ones that have been traditionally silenced, discouraged, or not welcomed, and then to BELIEVE – not to deny others’ experiences, but to say, “Yes, I hear you, that sounds really tough. Tell me more.” Frankly, I’m sick and tired of hearing the same old voices in this profession. I’m sick and tired of being told I’m imagining things, or that I shouldn’t be so passionate about injustices I see because people might get upset when they’re pointed out. Guess what, everyone – I’m good and done privileging the industry’s established sexism at the expense of my professional growth, my health, my sovereignty, or my passion – or that of my amazing students, colleagues, and friends.

I’m asking you to help me learn when I’m adding bricks to your load – tell me to stop. And I’m not taking any more bricks from anyone – I’m throwing them down, rising up, and making some awesome buildings.

EQxD Get Real: Being the Only One in the Room

by Mark Gardner, AIA, LEED AP

My path to architecture began with an almost naïve understanding of what I might face in becoming an architect.

Initially, I was lured by the art, science, history and technical nature of the field, the ability to affect the environment and change people’s lives. I  had an opportunity to practice a profession with a history.

I had never met a Black architect until I got to Georgia Tech. 

Mark Gardner Principal at  Jaklitsch / Gardner Architects

Mark Gardner Principal at Jaklitsch / Gardner Architects

 Even at that time, I didn’t have the experience to ask the hard questions: Is the practice of architecture difficult? Is it made more difficult by the complication of color? At what point will the bias of others get shelved? Could I make use of this position to understand what it means to be a good architect?

I only needed to put my talents forward… right?
The architecture profession does not represent the cross section of this country, much like congress. Congress is
87 percent white; 85 percent in the House and 96 percent in the Senate. Based on an article in The Atlantic, “The 33 Whitest Jobs in America” , The Architecture Profession is roughly 91.3 percent white. Black architects make up less than 2% of the total number of registered architects nationwide. 

How does this clear lack of diversity affect our design? What does it mean? I went to Georgia Tech and I was 1 of 4 African-American students in a class of 120 students. Some professors were my champions and mentors and others, not so much. Occasionally unsure of my footing, I would make decisions slowly, deliberately and waited for opportunities. 

Early in my career, as friends found jobs and started their path toward licensure, grad school or whatever was coming next, I was turned away from many majority architecture firms. I would interview with the same firms and hear kind words, but little more. Still I kept faith. If I worked hard, that hard work would be rewarded. At one interview after a few years of working and managing, I had a firm Principal tell me that I could fill the role of an intern who was leaving for school. I reminded her of my experience level and was met by a blank stare. It is a difficult moment to reconstruct. Was I overly sensitive? Had she just overlooked my portfolio? Did she make up her mind in her busy schedule to believe what she wanted to believe? Whether we recognize it or not, there is an internal never-ending battle being waged by what we think we know against the unknown. Our eyes can't lie and yet our bias only gives undue weight to doubt. Questioning this bias is a good and necessary thing. I eventually found my opportunity from two African-American architects who could understand my struggles because it was their struggle. William Stanley and Ivenue Love-Stanley taught me how to find a space to design and make use of my experience. I sat in the theater at the 2014 AIA Convention to hear Ivenue share the lessons from our story. She practiced what she preached as evidenced in her 2014 Whitney Young Award Acceptance Speech:

“How many of you today realize that it is absolutely important that young people be afforded internships, as well as, permanent positions in your firms…” she said. “I, for one, will continue to advocate for change. I want to simply ask you to search your souls and honestly ask the question, ‘Is this profession what you want it to be?’ There is a scarcity of minorities and women in key leadership positions at the major architecture firms in the country. It is astounding. I would suggest that we start by aggressively increasing enrollment of minorities at major schools of architecture. Then aggressively work to increase the representation of minorities and female faculty members…these improvements are long overdue. We stand to lose an entire generation if we do not act fast.”  - Ivenue Love-Stanley, FAIA

I agree. Why do we as a profession not give more opportunity to younger architects — in particular, women and those of color? They bring incredible value to the profession, something unique, a new story to tell- the future story. The sea of change Ivenue was asking for is not one that can be made alone but requires the majority to align with what is being asked by the minority. I have been fortunate to be in situations where I have the opportunity to prove my talents and found the confidence to trust in my talents. That confidence is built upon the support and respect of architects who trained me.

The time spent in Atlanta gave me the confidence to return to school to pursue a graduate degree in architecture. Eventually a junior architect position brought me to New York and I spent several years working in various firms. I was always trying to get better, learn as much as possible and value the power of observation. From a young age, as an African-American, you’re told you have to work harder because in some quarters little is expected of you. 

As a principal of a firm, I now sit in a position of privilege, but it is also a position of perspective. I remember being a student. I remind myself what it is like to sit across the table in that interview. I remember the times when I could have used a mentor. I am a mentor. When asked “How did you do it?” or “Tell me the steps to get where I want to go.”  The first thing I say, is that we are free to write our own stories and there is not a guide book. I am reminded of a Charlie Rose interview with Steve Martin, that resonates with me. He says, “I always say, be so good they can’t ignore undeniable.”

I have found the confidence now to be the only one in the room. I no longer feel the burden to assimilate, but to celebrate that my experiences also want to be shared. We can all be agents of change. The disparities and bias that exist in our society demand it.

"Why the lack of Black Students?" Architecture Record Nov. 2012
The 33 Whitest Jobs in America, The Atlantic Nov. 6, 2013
Charlie Rose Interview Clip with Steve Martin

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.