It didn’t take long for Meg Schubert Allen, AIA, project architect at Stantec to notice something about the profession: there’s not enough diversity.
This realization has since inspired her volunteer efforts and her desire to give back to the profession in a meaningful, long-lasting way.
But before she noticed that she was one of only a handful of women at the first few firms at which she worked, Schubert Allen earned her architecture degree through the competitive five-year program at University of Arizona.
When she began her college major, the program had about 200 students, but by the time they entered their second year, only 50 students were chosen to continue the professional degree. Little did she know, one of her fellow classmates would later become her husband.
“It was challenging and fast-paced, essentially an undergrad and graduate degree crammed into five years,” explained Schubert Allen. “But during that time, I met my husband, Drew, who was a real lifesaver.”
The couple was able to understand each other’s challenges and limited free time while also supporting each other through graduation and licensure.
“It’s great to be married to someone in the same profession,” Schubert Allen said. “Drew and I intentionally stayed away from doing the same work and working in the same office so that we have some separation. But we often have design conversations with each other if we are working through a project.”
Despite marrying someone who was supportive of her career, Schubert Allen had a hard time finding female role models.
“Especially during the economic downturn, I think we lost a lot of women who could serve as role models to my generation,” she said.
“Early in my career, it was hard to ignore the homogeneity you see in every meeting – with gender and ethnic and racial backgrounds. Often, I was one of, if not the only woman in meetings. It’s a dynamic that can be hard to explain or talk about with someone that has never experienced that. I’ve been lucky to find some great female allies and mentors as I’ve progressed through my career, and I can’t stress enough the importance of those relationships.”
So, when Equity by Design, a group born of an AIA San Francisco committee, sent out a call for volunteers to work on the 2018 Equity by Design Survey, Schubert Allen jumped on the opportunity. That experience allowed her to solidify her passion for addressing this issue, as well as work with people alongside different backgrounds from across the country.
It also made her realize that she can have an impact in addressing and solving issues within the profession. As result, she helped AIA Colorado start its Equity, Diversity and Inclusiveness Task Force in 2018 as co-chair.
“I was excited to bring the conversations I had nationally to the Colorado community,” she said.
In its inaugural year, the task force had more than 12 members and under Schubert Allen’s leadership, the task force’s recommendation for an ongoing committee and specific five-year initiatives were enthusiastically accepted and supported by the Board of Directors. She now co-chairs the 2019 Equity, Diversity and Inclusiveness Committee, comprised of 15 members.
“This group of people that we’ve gotten to work with through the task force and committee—it’s one of the best volunteer groups I’ve had. They are passionate and motivated, making a real impact in our community and industry. The ultimate goal is that eventually we won’t need to have these conversations anymore, but for now this group of people is very committed,” Schubert Allen said.
Though Schubert Allen is optimistic about increasing equity, diversity and inclusiveness (EDI) in the profession, she still notices some challenges.
“One of the biggest opportunities that I don’t think is being fully capitalized on is broadening the audience of these conversations. The action around this issue often seems to be among the younger generations, but we really need the perspectives of leaders and firm principals too. We need to have people from all backgrounds and levels of their careers at the table in order to make real progress,” she explained.
Over the next few years, she hopes that firms will have the opportunity to share resources and best practices throughout Colorado.
“I think there are a lot of really cool things that firms are doing and there are many leaders who do care about EDI,” Schubert Allen said. “For example, we have a “Women at Stantec” group, as well as other company-wide diversity initiatives.”
Schubert Allen mentioned that she knows of other firms across Colorado with progressive family leave policies, flexible schedules and diverse recruitment strategies. She believes sharing information about these efforts will help elevate the conversation around equity and diversity in our profession.
Schubert Allen explained that the EDI Committee’s goals for this year include digging into local demographics to better understand the makeup of our community and how the profession can better reflect it. They are also actively working to raise awareness of the issue and help firms to understand the business case for increasing diversity. The committee plans to use this information to set standards and benchmarks so that they can track progress over the next few years.