By Meg Schubert Allen, AIA, NCARB at Stantec (formerly RNL) 

Equity is a word often confused with the term equality, being used in tandem and even interchangeably. While both equity and equality are strategies that aim for fairness, they take different paths to get there.  Equality is about everyone receiving the same treatment, while equity is about everyone receiving what they need to succeed – which is not always the same as another person.  Equality is really only fair if everyone is at the same starting line, and thus equality is not always equitable.

Credit: United Way of the Columbia-Willamette

Credit: United Way of the Columbia-Willamette

Equity is an issue of paramount importance in the field of architecture for a variety of reasons.  First, though strides have been made in the recent past, architecture is still a profession known for its inequitable practices and lack of diversity. Statistics in 2016 indicated that approximately half of architecture school graduates were women, a number that has steadily improved over the years, yet only 18% of licensed architects were women. Numbers were even more discouraging for people of color.  Women and minorities continue to report that they do not receive equal treatment compared to their white, male colleagues, resulting in lower pay, fewer opportunities for advancement and less job satisfaction. This is likely part of why we continue to see dire attrition rates among women and people of color in the workforce, leading to stagnation in the progress of diversity in architecture.

While architecture remains a predominantly homogeneous workforce, the world we design for is increasingly diverse. Every community has a unique and complex sets of needs, and we need a diverse workforce to reach out and serve these neighbors. Studies show that diverse teams understand and process facts more clearly and come up with more creative solutions than teams made up of people of similar backgrounds and identities. We, as designers, have the ability to create safe, healthy, sustainable and equitable built environments by understanding those that we design for.

Rosa Sheng, AIA gives an example of equitable design in her article “Why Equity Matters For Everyone: A New Value Proposition For Design,” citing access to “private space” in public environments for nursing mothers. I’ve heard countless stories of women having to breastfeed or pump in unsanitary conditions in public bathroom stalls at work or having a coworker walk into a conference room they were using to pump, because there has historically been no consideration given to working mothers in the design of the workplace. A design team without a woman might not know to even consider this issue of providing additional resources to mothers returning to the workplace after having children.

These are issues we are all familiar with and have heard for years, yet the industry as a whole seems to be making only slow progress. Following the 2013 Missing 32% Symposium, an AIA San Francisco committee was formed and charged with driving further discussion, research and publication of best practice guidelines to retain the industry’s best talent. In 2014 that group, now known as Equity by Design, conducted its first national survey on Equity in Architecture and hosted a symposium aimed at discussing and strategizing around the early findings of the survey. Another survey came in 2016, resulting in one of the most comprehensive studies launched nationally on the topic of talent retention in architecture.

Now, another two years later, the 2018 Equity in Architecture Survey has launched and is ready for you to participate! Survey analysis will focus on capturing the differential experiences of architecture school graduates while building a comprehensive national dataset, exploring career dynamics and pinch points, and highlighting equitable practices that help individuals and firms navigate these issues. You should all receive an email with the survey link from one of the Architecture Organization Distribution Partners (AIA National, AIA Colorado or your state/local chapter, NCARB, ACSA or NOMA), from an employer, or from the architecture school from which you earned a degree. Read more about the survey here.