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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: When Insomnia Speaks

When Insomnia Speaks: Transitioning from Motherhood, Scorn and Advocacy

by Alicia Liebel-Berg, Associate AIA

It is Midnight. The blue hue glows from the baby monitor as I watch my son sleep. Exhaustion pounds on my forehead. Stress invades my thoughts. My alarm is set for 4:30 a.m., I need to sleep. I wish I could sleep. What happened to me this year is difficult and needs to be shared with other emerging professional women who are considering having children. The problem is; how will it really be shared? Who will read it? Perhaps that is what privilege really is, the freedom to share the truth without fear of judgment and consequences. 

Alicia Liebel-Berg, Associate AIA

Alicia Liebel-Berg, Associate AIA

Some would say that the ability to birth a child is a privilege; others would say it is a burden. Why? Arguments could be made that mothers are distracted and lack the ability to have the scheduling flexibility that the architecture profession demands. Extend that from the transitional gate of woman in practice to a mother and the battle to prove equivalence in billable hour production. Anxiety rises to dread and suddenly a mother discovers that her confidence has been shattered. She struggles to ascertain if she is held as a valuable asset or the woman who is just going to quit her job anyway. Unexpectedly she finds herself questioning her resolve to be the parent and career woman. She starts to have doubts and wonders, “Is this constant mental anguish of trying to keep up with appearances and professional abilities worth the time away from her child?” Is that paycheck big enough to compensate for this new bias? How did she go from never having a sleepless night to having weeks on end consumed by slow moving hours clogged with confusing thoughts?

Can bias be proved against someone who simply took the ten weeks of time she was offered and came back to find that perceptions of her abilities as a professional had changed - even if they were in the most subtle yet gut alarming ways? What is a mother to do? How does one begin to defend and argue assertively against that? There isn't a handbook on the gender bias of fighting for a privilege that may have never existed. What is this privilege that never existed? It is the ability to return to your workplace, as a new mother, without the derogatory perceptions that you have become a delicate emotional mess and a liability.

As the architecture profession scratches their heads trying to find the elusive answer of, "Why are women leaving the profession?” someone needs to own the result. It is because you pushed them out the door due to your lack of understanding. This mother, no doubt, knew that there had been a paradigm shift in everything she once knew to be comfortable and routine. This woman once felt that she had a position of achieved distinction, but now she can't shake the feeling that she has been unexpectedly and unconsciously demoted. When she raised the dialogue to her senior management to process the conundrum at hand, the powers with privilege misinterpreted it for weakness instead of a chance to collaborate on an evolution of assigned roles and responsibilities. 

Predictably the new mother will move onward, despite it all, she has to. She doesn't have the privilege or have the tools to combat the corral that society has placed her in. If you want a career and a family, this is your new reality. You wanted it all, new mother, now deal with it...

Several weeks ago I wrote this ode to the new mother by the light of the baby monitor. The next day, while hot on my soap box, my husband said to me, “You have been scorned and you are making people pay." I did not appreciate or understand his subtle nudge then. I do now.

Professional practice is defined by transformative moments. These are little blips in the career seismic chart which resulted in a shift in perception. The frustrations described above conceded the conclusion that Advocacy is birthed from scorn

Career experiences crusted with turmoil yields privilege. When we are given the seeds of privilege we are tasked, in turn, to sow them and cultivate them. It is our responsibility to survey the path ahead. Scorn is the road we navigate; perseverance is the new surface we lay so that those who come after us know the way. I must never forget the mothers who came before me and continued to practice through every moment that lacked understanding, empathy or decency.

With reflection, I have support as a mother in the socially acceptable ways, but not in the ways that are obvious or tangible. My current firm advanced and supported my abilities as a woman, but produced a stressful environment as a mother. I was ignoring the warning signs until the big confrontation occurred. I failed to accept and clarify to my senior staff that my capabilities had changed but my professional desires had not. I was oblivious to the impact that my parenthood was having on my job performance.

Much of the impetus that created the conflict of perception occurred because I was in a work environment that was not conducive to the new life I had. My work hours shifted and my daily drive went from a 40 minute cruise to a nearly 90 minute gridlock. The commute was harboring unnecessary stress as two hours of my day were consumed in transit. The firm's business model is formulated on extreme deadlines. As such, I no longer have the ability to support that model. My capacities changed and now I no longer fit into their fast-paced, rapid deadline, work production culture. There's nothing personal about that, just a simple fact.

Ultimately I have learned that when difficulty arrives, (and it will, it always does) it is important to feel the consequence of scorn - but then, put down the pitch fork and open up a dialogue. Nothing is as powerful as telling your story to help the next new mother avoid a similar anxious state. I am getting real and summoning the courage to make my next big career change. It is difficult to lay aside seniority and familiarity in order to adapt to an evolving lifestyle and career.

I am going back on the job hunt. Predictably this new mother is moving onward, despite it all, I have to. I have the privilege and the skills to polish my portfolio and lay aside what is professionally familiar. I desire a career and a family, this is my new reality. I wanted it all; I am a new mother, now I am dealing with it, on my own terms.

EQxD Get Real: Check your bias blind spot

By Sharon George, AIA

It starts at the very beginning – girls vs. boys

The societal problem became crystal clear to me when I had my first child.  All the pink toys, princess dolls, and kitchen sets screamed - GENDER BIAS.  At first, it was just an interesting observation, harmless really, compared to some other egregious offenses.  But it's not so benign, is it?

A year after my epiphany, Sheryl Sandberg gave her popular TED talk about women leaders.  A few years later, I discovered Equity By Design [EQxD].  I am glad there is open dialogue about the challenges facing professional women.  If there was such conversation and solidarity when I joined the workforce, I was not aware of it, and perhaps, I would have had better tools to deal with bias in the workplace.  As it was, I had a very lonely journey.

Growing up with bias and privilege

Sharon R. George, AIA

Sharon R. George, AIA

As a female raised in India, gender bias is not a strange concept to me.  It is widely prevalent and deeply rooted in the patriarchal society.  On the bright side, I grew up in a large city, my parents are well educated, forward thinking, and middle class.  My biggest privilege was access to education and freedom to pursue my career goals.  (Millions in India, especially girls, do not have such opportunities.)  Moreover, I had the means to accomplish my dreams of higher education in the United States.

Bias in America        

I thought I would be escaping old-fashioned ideas of gender norms when I moved to America.  After all, isn’t America a progressive melting pot, where social reform took place over a century ago, and women walk with their head held high?

So, when I hear comments or see behavior that exhibit patronizing attitudes towards my age, race, skin color, gender, or intelligence, I am taken aback.

I have been making excuses for people who treat me with prejudice - that it was an isolated incident, or the one person’s attitude, or their social ineptitude, or their insensitivity.  Things got better as I got older, but looking back on 15 years of excuses reveals a sad and fundamental truth: Sexism is alive and well in American.

Bias in the professional world

When I was a young college student, I had the courage to snuff out prejudice.  But when I entered the professional world, I was at a loss.  I was a foreigner in the early stages of culture shock, with family 10,000 miles away and friends that I could count on one hand, searching for my place in a not-very inclusive community of professional cliques.

How do you build relationships in the proverbial boy’s club, when only the male employees are invited to lunch, golf, and conferences?  How do you ask for equity when only the male architects are given the high-revenue, complex, prestigious projects?  I had no answers and no support, and had lost all courage, confidence, and verve.

‘To a certain extent, all architects struggle to survive in a profession where the educational preparation is long, the registration process is rigorous, the hours grueling, and the pay is incredibly low.  Yet, many underrepresented architects face additional hardships, such as isolation, marginalization, stereotyping, and discrimination.’

Designing for Diversity, Kathryn H. Anthony

Overt Vs. Implicit Bias

I came across the Implicit Association Test a few years ago when I read Ask For It.  Most people are not sexist or racist or discriminatory.  But everyone has subconscious bias.  And that is the silent killer of equity in professional settings.

I did say most people – I have personally experienced blatant sexism and racism.  I’ve had an employer ask me in an interview when I plan to get pregnant; if, as a mother, I can focus on work and be productive; I’ve had a colleague ignore me for 3 years; etc.

But more often, I am a target of implicit bias.  It is so subtle that I feel awkward about raising a flag – maybe’s it’s just in my head, right?  The male intern who sits in my project-team-meeting is treated to more eye-to-eye contact and a respectful handshake.  The white project manager at my construction-site-tour is assumed to be my superior and gets all the questions.  I am invisible!

The core issue - intelligence bias

My husband and I talk about these issues often.  We compare our cultures, professions, and the 'bias baggage' we carry.  He is an American, a computer engineer and a self-proclaimed geek.  One day, he showed me this xkcd comic and said, there is this notion in America that girls are bad at math.  As someone who excelled in math and science, I was fuming.  Despite all the gender bias that is prevalent in India, I had never before heard that sentiment.

But that is how it works, isn’t it?  

The unwritten memo says: 

Women are incompetent, until proven otherwise

Men are competent, until proven otherwise


Competence and Knowledge:

I think the ridiculous notion that ‘women are not as smart as men’ speaks volumes.  And it strikes at the heart of the issue facing women professionals in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Architecture, Mathematics) fields.

People are very comfortable with women in an Interior Designer role. Furthermore, people are comfortable with me as an Architect talking design related issues.  No offense to designers, but somehow, seeing a woman as the Project/Principal Architect is a big leap?

Is it because conversations about architecture typically include technical and practical discussions about construction, specifications, energy analyses, structural engineering, that I cannot worry my pretty little head with?  Is that why I have to ‘prove myself’ over and over again, every time I meet a new builder/ structural engineer/ lighting consultant/ energy rater?

A young designer on my team recently asked me, what she can do to make her colleagues take her seriously.  As her manager, my immediate answer was ‘be really good at what you do’.  I was simply repeating what I told myself when I was starting out - work hard, dig deep, and earn respect.  Nothing wrong with that except….do young men have this problem?  I would like to have a better answer.

It seems like the conversation about equity in the workplace is coming to a head.  Recognizing what discrimination looks like and knowing that it’s not just happening to me, but to many like me, is powerful knowledge that tips the balance towards action.

Active Action is speaking up, spreading awareness, sharing stories, opening dialogue, checking your own biases, etc.  There are numerous organizations, all over the world, demanding women’s rights through active action.  I have listed a few of my favorites below.

Some people are more comfortable with passive action. They listen, take their talents elsewhere, look for alternate careers, or set up their own workplace and their own rules.  But no one is an island - sooner or later you have to collaborate with others.  

I constantly check my attitudes and revisit my beliefs.  Not just for my own sake, but for my son and daughter.  I am sure that I have unconscious biases too.  I better get unpacking*.



This post is also published on Sharon's Blog site 


Taking Active Action:

Resources for Unconscious Bias

*Unpacking our Biases: Conscious and Unconscious


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

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: Be Willing to Listen | Recognizing our Privilege & Bias

by Katherine Williams, AIA, NOMA

To most people privilege is unseen advantage. If you don’t recognize that you may be privileged, I encourage you to view the privilege walk demonstration in the video “What is Privilege?”,.  The 400 million+ living in the US are privileged just by the rights we have here that are not part of the DNA of other nations. We are taught, from an early age, that we have the right for our voice to be heard and to pursue paths of our choosing. However, our country does not fully acknowledge that at times our privilege will open doors and at other times bias will keep doors closed.

Katherine Williams at construction site

Katherine Williams at construction site

For me, privilege or luck or maybe just God’s favor, has been on my side since I first was introduced to architecture. The first day I began to think of architecture as a career option was at a Girl Scout career fair in elementary school. I was privileged to be in a place with active Girl Scout leaders who had networks that included a woman architect. However, this was only a first step. Next, I was privileged to have a mother who sought out resources when she recognized her children were interested in something. Because of that, I was in an Explorer program for architecture and attended a two week Girl Scout camp on architecture and construction. In those programs, I was building small projects, getting introduced to CAD, and visiting firms and college campuses. As adults we know that we should do these things to find out more about our potential careers, but do we ever consider how many kids do not have access to these avenues to get a taste of the architecture path?

Katherine's daughter celebrates competition at the 2012 San Francisco NAWIC/Girl Scout Building Block day

Katherine's daughter celebrates competition at the 2012 San Francisco NAWIC/Girl Scout Building Block day

To juxtapose all of the privileges I was blessed with, as a black woman in a predominantly white, male profession, I think about bias on almost a daily basis. Everyday prejudices and bias about who can be an architect have limited the exposure at early ages to the profession, have made it difficult for people to succeed in our education system, and has hindered progression in firms. I think about it when I walk into a professional gathering, whether AIA, USGBC or other, and see no other person of color. I wonder who does not get invited when there are events to build their network or earn continuing education credits. I think about it when I walk on job sites and see no women workers on a project team. I wonder how many people are trying to get into a union but did not because they did not have the right connections. I wonder which small, minority or woman, contractor did not get the project because they were left off a bid list. I think about bias whenever I tell someone that I am only the 251st black woman licensed in the US. I wonder who is trying to get their boss to give them experience to finish their IDP, or help pay for exam, or time off to study. Without time and funds to prepare and take exams, we will not build a pipeline of future architects.  African-American, women architects number only 337 out of the, approximately, one hundred thousand licensed architects. We are currently less than half of one percent.

I think about bias whenever I tell someone that I am only the 251st black woman licensed in the US... African-American, women architects number only 337 out of the, approximately, one hundred thousand licensed architects. We are currently less than half of one percent.
— Katherine Williams, AIA, NOMA
Students chatting with architect at the 2012 San Francisco NOMA student firm crawl. 

Students chatting with architect at the 2012 San Francisco NOMA student firm crawl. 

For a profession that affects almost every person in the country, the lack of diverse voices at the table remains a problem that leads to perspectives being left out of decisions that get made.

If we held up a mirror to the architecture profession it would expose how we are the privileged, providing services to other privileged. It is only once we step out of our boxes to see the world from a different view that we can recognize our own privilege and bias enough to start dismantling the structures that hold them in place.

Because a lot my work has centered on community improvement and development in underserved neighborhoods, many of the people who would be considered my clients lacked privilege. For example, they may not have finished college, have lived with poverty level wages, or were elderly or disabled. An alternative to the privilege walk mentioned above, is the privilege circle. By moving to or away from the center of a circle, based on the questions, one can see who has more privilege, which usually equates to more influence in that particular community or group. “What would be different if people in communities most impacted by inequality were seen as the center of, or as experts on, their communities’ needs and situations?” The notion of community input gets misunderstood by architects as we look for community members to buy into our plans instead of giving them the tools to create their own.

In order to truly create the best solutions, we must be willing to listen, walk around, and allow people who have been living in the communities to have the privilege of being the leading voice. Likewise, in order to create the best design practices, we must invite and listen to those who have not traditionally been at the table.

1. BuzzFeedYellow. (2015 July 4) “What is Priviledge?”
2. University of Michigan, Edward Ginsberg Student Life Center. Privilege Walk Activity.
Grant, Brad and Dennis Mann. The Directory of African-American Architects.
4. Brown, Adrienne Maree. (2013 August 17) Take the Privilege Walk.

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. 


EQxD Get Real: Control Less, Celebrate More, Shall We?

By Katie E. Ray, Assoc. AIA |  Arlington, VA   

Several encounters come to mind when considering uncomfortable situations I’ve experienced as a female architect, particularly since becoming a mother last August. My first week back after my 8 week maternity leave, I had to tell my boss that I couldn't drive with him to a site meeting because I needed to pump in the car. There was also the conversation I had with my project team, in which I said we can no longer have impromptu ‘stand-at-my-desk-chatting’ meetings at 4:55pm, because if I don’t pick up my baby by 6pm, I have to pay my provider extra. I’ve also learned a lot these first 6 months about the ‘work-life-balance’ of being a mom architect. These lessons included discovering that my baby hates when I check work email while I nurse him in the evening (read: I no longer check work email after 8pm), and that studying for the ARE while attempting to sleep-train an infant is no small feat (read: impossible.) However, the biggest hurdle I've experienced is something that has been occurring long before I ever became a mom, and it has to do with my female colleagues.

I’ll use this seemingly insignificant story to illustrate: I recently discovered a new tool available in Revit 2015 which would greatly benefit the work-flow our team utilizes for Lighting Schedules. We have one Hospitality client (whom we have done multiple renovations for and have many more projects on the horizon) that requests for us to show a photo or cut sheet image for all decorative lighting fixtures specified on the sheet next to the RCP. In the past, to achieve this we've created an Excel document then placed it on the sheet as a raster image.  Being able to place an image into the cell of the Revit Schedule would eliminate this tediousness step (and let’s be honest, the process is a huge vulnerability for mis-coordination.) I saw this new schedule as a game changer for our team. Anything that first reduces confusion and opportunity for mistakes and, second, saves time will achieve two of my major work/life goals: better projects and more time to spend with my family.

With great elation, I sent the new process on to the team, copying the “Revit Captains.” I’m a Project Manager, and our team works very closely with our Interior Design team. The folks familiar with Revit, and familiar with the frustrating workflow we go through for schedules, were immediately on board. But a certain member of the team, a fellow woman colleague who heads Interior Design, proceeded to claim that this must be vetted and agreed upon “by all” as acceptable.

She sent a flurry of emails, voice-mails to my personal cell phone that evening, followed by conversations the next morning, all because I stated I would begin employing a new tool. It was a mind-boggling, knee-jerk reaction. I racked my brain. Why the opposition? I've come to realize it was based on nothing more than feeling a loss of control. The way I handled her tailspin was to agree that, yes, all should be on board. But I also affirmed that I am the PM and in the end reserve the right to execute the drawings as I see fit. I never want to fuel the fire, however I think it’s critical to reiterate that I am competent and capable to make these decisions for my team.

This story, which likely sounds like plain and simple “office drama” at its worst, is meant to illustrate that women design professionals have got to lift each other up a bit more. Can’t we celebrate new ideas without immediately seeing them as an attack on our own ability to manage? I can’t imagine the hurdles that this particular woman has had to overcome, being in the position that she holds.  Quite often she is the only woman in a room full of men. But, at times, the politics of asserting your opinion can actually be damaging to the morale of others. With this story, I worry that this particular woman has confused the advice of ‘find your voice’ to mean, ‘be louder,’ but I think we have a duty to each other to bolster and celebrate ideas and accomplishments when they arise.  Some may think this is an issue of clashing personalities, but as I said in the beginning, this is not the first office I've experienced a challenging situation with fellow female colleagues. I think the delicate balance of asserting yourself versus coming off as a roadblock to your colleagues is a balance worth finding, because the only way to advance ourselves is by supporting each other when steps forward are taken.

About Katie Ray @bigklittleatie

Katie E. Ray, Assoc. AIA currently lives in Arlington, VA and is a PM for a firm just outside of Washington DC. Her projects currently range from restaurants, bars, spas, and country clubs. She is a mother and yogi; on the weekend she loves spending time building lighting and furniture from salvaged materials.



EQxD Get Real - To read more about challenges and resilience from diverse viewpoints, go here.

In a similar spirit of spontaneity of the Archimom's Everyday Moments of Truth blog series, we are excited to bring you EQxD Get Real: True stories of Challenges and Resilience from diverse perspectives of architects and designers. Each day we will feature the stories of each person's challenges in the profession and what they learned from those experiences to inspire action for equitable practice in architecture. 


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