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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: Bias & Privilege, should it define or limit your dreams?

by LaShae Ferguson, Associate AIA                                                           @LaShae_F 

When I was invited to discuss bias and privilege, honestly, I cringed. What a topic for discussion. Bias and privilege are strong topics and in today's world, you know it's there, but it doesn't always reveal itself blatantly.


In the context of bias and privilege, under the surface are elements of economics, resources, and historical background. I am privileged to have access to water, medical care, voting rights, and business ownership. My children, who are girls, have access to a free education and learning resources. Lately, I’ve been reading the stories about engineers and technology professionals, who have had to endure challenges in the workplace because of their gender. They started this movement #ilooklikeanengineer and it is inspiring because it makes us feel that we are not alone in our struggles, challenges and frustrations. Architecture is not isolated from what’s happening in our society or in the world, it is an extension of it, so it makes sense that what happens in society filters into the professions, not just in architecture but in business, technology, and engineering. These are the professions where, because of your gender, you’re seen as being employed in a non-traditional role.  If you’re fortunate enough to be in the upper echelons of these professions, our numbers dwindle.

But change is happening. Even though in 2015, race, gender, violence, unfairness, injustice, are intricately woven, there is an undercurrent of change. Working in firms, I witnessed very few associates or partners that looked like me, but in my mind, I said screw that, I'm going to be an owner and I’m going to find not only people who resemble me but those that excel at what they do. I’ve had the privilege of working shoulder to shoulder with design architects and owners who freehand sketch, explain building systems, pass on business advice and that changed the game for me. Once I got that exposure, I thought, okay, I can do this.

LaShae Ferguson, Associate AIA, Principal of  LA Design Collective

LaShae Ferguson, Associate AIA, Principal of LA Design Collective

 No one is immune to either privilege or bias to some degree, but the power of that lies in allowing it to define or limit your aspirations and dreams. My story wouldn’t be real if I didn’t mention that I’m an archimom, and everything I do is emulated by my girls. I would sound crazy if I told them they couldn’t do something because they’re African American or because their girls. And I am a product of a woman who lived on her own terms, my mother. She is my role model, my rock and an endless source of reason, humor, comfort and common sense.

Some of the things she shared with me; Rome wasn’t built in a day, don’t give up so easily, and most of all, I’m proud of you. Now, growing up in that environment is not only a privilege, but a blessing. Some of the other nuggets of wisdom I’ve learned (and I am still learning) that provide a source of encouragement:

  1. Identifying 3 people who are sources of inspiration, and who overcame bias and privilege. One of my favorites is Serena Williams, Shonda Rhimes and one of my personal mentors whom I work with very closely. 

  2. Broadening perspectives, reach out and get to know people who may not necessarily look like you.

  3. Jealousy or envy of someone else because of the way they grew up and what they have is not productive.

  4. If someone consistently makes you feel slighted, talk about it, when the air is clear, when you both are in a better mood, be specific, direct, brief and keep it moving.

  5. Understand that having limited resources, does not equate with limited imagination and growth.

  6. Always gather your tribe, surround yourself with positive open minded people

LaShae's daughters at Smithsonian's MathFest on the National Mall - learning how to build structures.

LaShae's daughters at Smithsonian's MathFest on the National Mall - learning how to build structures.

Growing up, I did not know one architect, I didn't even know what they did and so I pass this knowledge of architecture not only to my kids, but kids in the inner city; volunteering with Architecture in the Schools, so they know, I'm African American, I’m a woman, I grew up in a rough neighborhood, in poverty, I paid my way through college and so can you.  Other than my dad working demolition, my personal historical background didn’t provide a backdrop for architecture-the resources were zero and the economics was equivalent to the resources. But in my mind, I could change those circumstances, with one action, then another, and so on.

We still have a long way to go, but let's continue to influence one another by invoking dialogue, by sharing our stories, challenges and triumphs. We need understanding, tolerance and an open mind. Even though change and our perceptions are sometimes an uncomfortable process - it is possible. And I tell people all the time - you want change? Make it happen. You be the change. We can get there.

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