One Question Series: Part 5, Examples of Equity

What happens when you ask the same question to five designers with five different backgrounds? You get five very different answers that will put you in someone else’s shoes. From firm principals to emerging professionals, we’re diving in to better understand—and share—others’ personal perspectives. This is the fifth and final installment of the monthly series—“One Question”—produced by our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) Committee. 

In partnership with the Colorado Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects, we invite you to see through the lenses of five different practitioners to learn how their unique backgrounds shape experiences in the firm and their approaches to design.

Give us an example of how your current or previous workplace has prioritized equity and inclusion in the firm’s culture and/or projects.

Patricia Joseph, AIA, NOMA
Associate Project Architect at The Abo Group
President-Elect of NOMA Colorado
Lecturer, CU Denver College of Architecture & Planning

“There has been a humbling and hopeful shift within architectural firms in our community. We have been included in that shift toward making J.E.D.I. a priority. With the death of George Floyd and the constraints of a pandemic, issues concerning J.E.D.I. could no longer be ignored. We found ourselves in a twilight zone that allowed it to become a priority, many firms and organizations created safe spaces for BIPOC individuals and their allies through various forms of J.E.D.I. committees. We were finally given space to collect and voice our thoughts but not enough power to enact change.

We have not seen enough examples of J.E.D.I. prioritized through projects yet. Yes, project teams are becoming diversified or winning projects through diverse hires. But where are the stories of the project team matching the diversity of their client or the project community? We should be providing architectural services that consider equitable solutions for the client and the project community. Few examples exist, especially when compared to how much we prioritize sustainability, accessibility, or energy conservation over equity and inclusion.

We have committees, employee resources groups, and many POC being promoted to diversity chair roles, white little at the high-level has changed. POC, especially black people, are not seeing the fruits of having J.E.D.I. committees in place or being promoted to higher levels of leadership. Firms should continue to have these support groups not only as a resource to employees, but as a catalyst for leaders to enact change. Without this level of prioritization, we will continue to have the uneasy feeling that the hype around J.E.D.I. is fading.”

Sarah Broughton, FAIA
AIA Colorado President-Elect
Principal, Rowland+Broughton

“Our firm is committed to equity and inclusion in our culture and career development. We understand that each team member is unique and has varying access to resources and privileges. By providing fair opportunities for all team members based on their individual needs, we foster an environment where people can bring their whole selves to the work, have open collaboration, transparency and understanding. Part of my leadership role is working with the individual and the team to identify where more support may be needed to help each team member feel comfortable, confident, and safe. I believe that this approach to our culture results in better design, impactful projects and more fun!

At the core of equity and inclusion at R+B is operating with transparency. First, we conduct semi-annual wellness surveys and share the results with our team. We openly invite team members to participate in firm committees, including J.E.D.I. and Sustainability Committees. Through both surveys and committees, we elicit feedback from the entire team and make recommended changes. Part of our transparency is demystifying the profession and supporting each team member through a workforce education program. This includes weekly “lunch and learns” for professional growth, a professional development program, and robust mentorship program. The AIA Colorado Practice and Design Conference is back in person this year and we are excited to invite and sponsor all 40 of our team members to participate. Lastly, by making our role descriptions accessible to all, both on our server and on our website, it encourages team members to discuss and create goals for career advancements and leadership positions, reviewed semi-annually.

Everyone on our team contributes and makes us whole. Our firm’s diverse cross-level representation is important to our success. Our team is 46% female and 50% of our executive team is female. We believe in elevating from within and all promotions are listed internally first before being posted. Wage equity is prioritized and is achieved through pay equity analysis, strategic salary banding for fair hiring practices and merit increases and listing salaries on job postings. Benefits are inclusive and accessible to all team members, including family health insurance and spousal health for all types of couples. Two years ago, through the recommendation of our J.E.D.I. Committee, we implemented a floating holiday to celebrate diverse holidays.

I am proud that our firm’s commitment to equity and inclusion was recognized with the Just Label in 2022. We have done a lot in our 19 years of firm life to create a supportive culture and continue to listen, learn and grow each year. I am humbled by our team and everyone’s deep care for each other and willingness to openly participate. We work hard and play hard together!”

Kari Lawson, Assoc. AIA
AIA Colorado Associate Director
Designer, TreanorHL

“The biggest cultural change for equity and inclusion at my workplace was the formulation of a J.E.D.I. committee in the wake of the 2020 social justice movement. I witnessed a shift in focus to align with projects and clients that prioritize equity, diversity, and inclusion. There was also more emphasis in partnering with diverse and minority consultants. Before 2020 there were boilerplate statements referencing the fair employment act as a standard for DEI. Any company can claim allyship in this way by simply following the law. Allyship can be empathetic and passive while an agent brings the action. In these 2 years since, I’ve observed a movement away from allyship and towards agency by making a commitment to uphold equitable and unbiased practices.

An institution or company’s commitment to DEI is not outlined purely in a policy, statement, or action plan. It’s repacking the values of empathy, representation, and support. Measuring diversity and inclusion is complex and nonlinear; actions speak louder than metrics. It takes building critical consciousness by seeking to diversify multicultural perspective and analysis. A successful tool was creating a connection point that increased the avenues for voices to be heard. Our internal forum provided a means to instigate dialog via sharing tips, educational books/podcasts, and strategies. There is an emphasis on connecting the links between big societal problems in everyday actions. Our group added Juneteenth as an official work holiday to align with a holistic view brought on by the impact of the social justice movement. In some way we’ve created a catalog to identify plans to take real action, as well as nurture and execute reform through opportunities for everyone involved to get educated.

There is a huge importance of learning from educators; DEI is no exception in this regard. The program takes budget, executive buy-in, and integration at all levels. We’ve consistently invited DEI consultants and specialists to educate our group in wholesome narratives. This speaks to an investment in training/coaching and developing cultural competence. There’s also championing of pay equity, advancement opportunities, and occasions to find diverse candidates through networking and actively recruiting at HBCUs. I’m fortunate to have a CEO that values and supports people doing the work of these initiatives.

Prioritizing equity and inclusion takes a range of traits, experiences, and backgrounds at different levels. It’s more than diverse leadership and filling a quota. We ignore embodied experiences and we miss important somatic and qualitative data when we quantify diversity by metrics only. Awakening a collective feeling where different voices are valued, accepted and supported cultivates a sense of belonging and pride in the work culture.”

Victor Gonzalez, Assoc. AIA, NOMA
AIA Colorado J.E.D.I. Committee Member + Editorial Representative
Davis Partnership Architects

“In what I have seen, some firms have developed better frameworks than others on how to think critically when it comes to engaging equity and inclusion in the firm’s culture. I think one of the better ways of incorporating this type of work has been through establishing internal J.E.D.I. committees. This demonstrates a firm’s acknowledgment of inequality throughout the profession and their action to possibly do something about it. One of the major things a committee like this can provide is their retention rates in regards to BIPOC folk and how they set up those individuals towards licensure. This is the tiniest of seeds that need to be planted throughout all firms that truly want to see their culture shift towards a more inclusive one.

As J.E.D.I. committees become successful internally within firms, I believe that If we truly want to see a shift and change in the diversity of this profession there needs to be a standard set for everyone to follow and a sense of accountability. In doing so these internal J.E.D.I. committees established throughout firms can host a series of goals and report back their efforts to entities like AIA and NOMA. This would not only benefit the profession as a whole, but also the world around us by becoming more inclusive, sustainable, accessible, and equitable. We can’t let the movement that the summer of 2020 created fade, there needs to be a constant refueling and calibration of what we are trying to accomplish.”

Wells Squier, AIA
AIA Colorado President
Principal, Anderson Hallas Architects

“I believe wholeheartedly that our work as architects is strengthened by the diversity, experiences, differing backgrounds and values of those with whom we work and collaborate. I also believe the uniqueness of individuals with whom we work directly influences a firm’s culture and quality of design. Regarding our firm, which is and has historically been a woman owned small business, we believe that we can achieve better design and project outcomes for our clients by facilitating open design discussions that are fully inclusive of all staff. We regularly hold firm-wide design dialogues and specific project charrette meetings, as well as design critiques, welcoming any and all input from the collective team. It is from these discussions that some of our most successful project design concepts and outcomes have emerged. I believe strongly that this approach has also directly contributed to enhancing our firm’s culture, specifically because of the diversity, differing perspectives and personal points of view that each of our team members bring to our firm and these discussions. Another important result of this approach is increased trust and respect among those on our team, resulting in prioritized equity and inclusion by all.

Our firm focuses almost exclusively on projects in the public sector, and those projects that aim to provide services and experiences which enhance the communities they serve. We immensely value and embrace the opportunities these projects provide to engage directly with community members and clients of all backgrounds, as so much of our work includes broader community outreach. Through these opportunities and the interactions that they provide, we collectively feel as though we are contributing to a greater good. This ultimately feeds our collective passion as a firm, respect for one another and defines our firm’s culture.”

We invite you to read or revisit previous questions in this series:

Question #1: “Describe how your career has been enhanced by exposure to diverse people, places, or experiences.”

Question #2: “How can we as a profession break down barriers for minorities in architecture?”

Question #3: “Tell us about a time when you were not able to bring your full identity into your work.”

Question #4: “Recall a moment when you witnessed unjust behavior. How did you act then and how might you act differently today?”

We’d like to extend our sincere gratitude to our One Question participants for their vulnerability and humility. This series will culminate in a live panel discussion reflecting on this project at the AIA Colorado Practice + Design Conference, November 2-4, 2022, in Keystone.

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AIA Colorado

AIA Colorado—the Colorado Chapter of the American Institute of Architects—is the voice of the architecture profession in Colorado. 

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