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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?

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.


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.

#BUILDYOUrtribe - EQXD Hackathon 2015 Winners

Meaning and Influence: Entrepreneurship

We were told to get ready to eat the whale, to grab our forks and come hungry for action.  We walked into 2015 AIA Convention WE310 - Equity by Design: Knowledge, Discussion, Action Hackathon energized and ready to “hack”.  But what that meant, we weren’t entirely sure at first.  

After the rundown and summary of the key findings from the 2014 Equity in Architecture Survey, wonderfully presented by our personal twitter heroes: Rosa Sheng (@RosaSheng), Lilian Asperin Clyman (@liaspcly), Emily Grandstaff-Rice (@egraia), Virginia Marquardt (@branngin) and Nicole Graycar (@ngraycar), we were told to gravitate towards a topic of interest.  There were 6 topics written up on boards and spread throughout the room.  Immediately our group surrounded the meaning and influence board with the topic of entrepreneurship.   

We were supposed to limit the groups to 5 or 6 people but 7 of us sat down instantly. When asked if any of us wanted to switch groups, we all leaned in--committed to our team and topic of interest.  To quote from The Missing 32% Project blog post Anatomy of the EQxD Hackathon,  

“I have always believed that those who are meant to meet, find each other in due time. Hackers find themselves gravitating towards other folks who share a passion…”  

The EQxD leaders thankfully let us stick together and break the rules.  We quickly discovered we were fortunate to have a variety of experience in our group that consisted of: a recent architecture graduate, a designer on her path to licensure, a newly licensed architect working in a large firm, an entrepreneur turned employee, an employee turned entrepreneur, a private practice employee turned public architect and a non-profit leader advocating for women in leadership.

Step 1: “Deliberate and Discard: Define the problem

Why don’t architects think more entrepreneurially? How do we break the mold and move away from the traditional career path, whether employed in a large firm or going out on our own?  Many issues came up from architects not knowing the business side of the industry to asking how do architects obtain and retain clients to asking, “am I a service provider or an artist?  Time and work-life balance also came up in our discussion, we talked about architecture schools teaching a culture of ‘all-nighters’, and clients not understanding how much time our work takes or the value added by the architectural team.  We asked why profitability is a dirty word in our industry?  As the EQxD leaders had warned us, time flew by and we had to distinctly define our problem; this is what we came up with:

In order to retain talent, increase job satisfaction, and avoid pinch points, we need to think more entrepreneurially – which is actually more true to our authentic selves as creative problem solvers.  By thinking like an entrepreneur, an architect will easily articulate their own value to their colleagues within a firm, or as a sole proprietor, and will likely then be more valued, remain in the profession and achieve more job satisfaction. So why aren’t architects articulating their value, to themselves and to their colleagues and peers? We answered that question as having a lack of knowledge, resources and confidence.

Step 2: “Develop and Clarify”: Diverge, Deliberate, Converge

What are the root challenges? Lack of Knowledge, Resources, and Confidence.  
What can we do to overcome our lack of or perceived lack of knowledge, resources and confidence?  We started navigating towards 6 ‘C’ words – creativity, collaboration, communication, confidence, community and connection.  We need to surround ourselves with other creatives, collaborate and communicate with confidence and engage and connect with our community - both the design community and non-design community.

We kept circling around the fact that we really don’t do it all on our own, we partner with others whether it be our client, the city and/or the community.  We utilize an interdisciplinary approach, peer mentors, and shared resources to get the job done.  How do we make this process of knowledge building, resource sharing and confidence boosting more accessible?  First, BUILD YOU.  We realized you have to know what you are good at.  What are your skills and passions?  This isn’t always easy to figure out.  We must however build ourselves first.  Second, BUILD YOUR TRIBE. We need to find others that have different skills and passions, who challenge us,who help us develop and further our design visions.  We called this building our tribe.  

Step 3: “The Pitch”: Get ready to “sell” it

As the clock ticked by at what seemed like a rapid pace, we realized we needed this to engage the public in order to make a larger impact.  So we came up with #Buildyourtribe, we liked it because it contained #Buildyou, the notion of finding your own skills and passions first and then building your tribe.  

Next, we decided we could go further than just a social media campaign and came up with the idea of an app which would be focused on connecting the AEC community locally, regionally and maybe even globally to participate in events like the hackathon, to meet up, connect and make lasting relationships;  a sort of industry-specific mash-up between LinkedIn and MeetUp.

It was interesting that by the end of this brainstorming session, our concept of building our tribe was coming to fruition through our own group’s camaraderie. We had come from different backgrounds not knowing what truly to expect but had found a common thread to work on and were putting our entrepreneurial self to the forefront.  As a new group of “hackers” we are looking forward to developing the app!

Amanda Gann @amanda_gann
Jamie Molina @jamiemolina419
Neelanjana Sen @NeelanjanaSen
Marilyn Moedinger @mwmoedinger
Karen Bala @karencbala
Kelly Hayes McAlonie @KellyHayesM
Rebecca Johnson @rebeccainphilly

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.