Question 5: Do you believe the industry is changing with regards to diversity in the profession? What changes, if any, have you seen during your time working in the industry?

Yes, but…

“I have seen changes but it’s a slow-moving ship.”

“Yes, I do think the industry is changing, but not enough.”

“Yes. Slowly. I see more intention around diversity in hiring (but sadly not retention).”

Nearly every response to this question had a qualifier, whether positive:

“Yes, I have been in several engineering offices before, but my current office is the most diverse I have seen.”

“But other times I’ll see minority owned firms that have an incredibly diverse workforce and that gives me hope.”

“Absolutely.  We have seen great strides take place in the building of representation for racial minorities and women.  Clients demand it, colleagues demand it…”

Or negative:

“My experience is that large firms are moving very slowly at the upper levels of leadership.”

“Yes at the lowest level, but at the top level I do not see a whole lot of diversity being introduced at a continuous level.”

“In Atlanta, I needed to be closeted in 2 of my internships, and “keep it toned down” in my third.”

“…yes there is a change. But looking back at the last 8 years, I don’t think I’ve seen any major progress.”

To answer the question? Yes, we are seeing changes regarding diversity in architecture. But for most, that change isn’t necessarily happening in the right areas. Positive answers seem to be more prevalent from more urban areas of the country…

“But anecdotally, I think that NYC offices are largely supportive of LGBT staff.”

… And less so in more rural areas.

“I see it more in the larger cities and in the larger firms.”

“I think it is, and thanks to the internet I see it happen in bigger cities, I just haven’t seen it happen first hand because well… Texas.”

Others feel the changes are not happening as quickly as would be hoped. Leadership isn’t changing, or changing quickly, unless someone opts to start their own practice. Nor is that shift keeping pace with other demographics or eliminating challenges to succeeding in architecture.

“I have seen more POC and women in the field, but they also start to hide with the wave of white men each year who grow the industry.”

“…but I think there are barriers to entry and gatekeeping in our industry that still prevent a lot of folks from minority communities from entering the profession or becoming licensed.”

The 2023 Whitney M. Young, Jr. award winner Robert J Easter, FAIA noted in his tribute video at the AIA National 2023 conference that the percentage of Black architects has remained at 2 percent over his 40-year career. A statistic he also called out in his acceptance speech: “I hope one day we are able to get past the award and increase the number from 2 percent.”

For an architect to stand on stage and call out the profession was a stunning and surprising moment at the conference. Especially given that in 40 years, nothing appears to have changed. Are we truly becoming more diverse? Or as one respondent noted, is what we see happening more performative than actual?

What’s also been interesting for us is what the responses to this question weren’t saying. It was not until we were close to finishing this week’s post that we picked up on that aspect.

First, with one or two exceptions, respondents focused on changes in architecture as they apply to women and minorities. Our initial thought was that those reactions derived from the question being asked. Or perhaps in the manner of phrasing. But rereading the question dispelled those ideas quickly. 

Nearly everyone responded in the manner in which architects view the world. Responses were in relation to what could be seen – the physical traits of who makes up architecture, a reaction to diversity perhaps generated by AIA National itself. From the moment AIA began addressing diversity issues within the profession, efforts have been actively focused on Black and women architects due to a history of exclusion and underrepresentation within the profession. Such that the initial draft of the AIA Guides for Equitable Practice in 2017 included only stories from Black and women architects to illustrate various equity aspects.

Consequently, has AIA’s own focus limited a broader view on what diversity is and means – including through this week’s question? Has hearing over and over how architecture is lacking in Black and women architects caused us to address those communities by default when talking about changes within the profession, to the point where even the majority of these survey responses seemed largely silent on the broader and more expansive kaleidoscope of identity – including queer identities?

However, one respondent picked up on what is or isn’t happening for the queer architecture community even while noting advancements for other groups.

“There is growth and work to be done on the LGBTQ community front, as our community is the least visible (not a physical trait) and requires safety and comfort to divulge and practice openly.”

Second, respondents focused solely on how architecture has changed in terms of representation. And while we see the profession shifting in terms of minorities, women, and queer architects, we should be looking as well at whether attitudes towards these communities are changing.

Misogyny. Racism. Ageism. Ableism. Homophobia. Are these still prominent? Or are they overt? Or are these still an undertone that impacts everything from the policies and acceptance of a person in an office to the design process to actual places themselves? How many are still experiencing microaggressions even in offices with robust diversity policies?

Those within the profession who are in positions of safety, power, and privilege should be leading with curiosity, taking initiative to understand their biases and how that influences the lens they see the world through. They should be using their voices to speak out and amplify the voices of others. Change should occur not just from those most impacted but from those choosing to stand up as advocates.

Why? Because we all can acknowledge and see that the world around us is becoming more diverse – more women, more people of color, more people who are queer. We should see that reflected in the changes being made to the profession.

However, we also must acknowledge that in addition to being slow-moving, architecture is also a big ship that will continue to be a challenge for us to turn. Every action taken by marginalized groups within the profession comes up against decades upon decades of ingrained prejudices, policies, and systems regarding minorities, women, and queer individuals.

Yet change will happen, and diversity will inherently continue because the US is becoming more diverse. But we must be aware of the profession possibly reaching its limit – or remaining stagnant as Robert Easterly noted – because those who have the power to make those changes continue to instead make choices to maintain a status quo.