Currently in America, we are experiencing an influx of businesses and organizations taking steps towards inclusion. This is great news, however I wish it would have happened sooner. When I began my architecture journey, I did not know of any black architects. There was only one black professor at both my undergraduate and graduate institutions, respectively. None of the architects we studied in either program included black architects. I had to do my own research to find out about black architects such as Robert Robinson Taylor, Paul R. Williams, Norma Merrick Sklarek, and Georgia Louise Harris Brown. African Americans account for 2% of the architectural population and African American women only 0.3%. In architecture school, there is a weeding out process and I was not exempt from being encouraged to change my major in school. I witnessed my number of colleagues reduce with each semester. Surprisingly, some went a totally different route, like law or criminal justice, while others chose a complimentary major to architecture like construction management or interior design.
If organizations are serious about inclusion, the work must begin with education, by way of the curriculum. I believe that if the students I started my architecture journey with had been taught about individuals that look like them, they may have been encouraged to proceed. I believe some felt like they should pursue something else because they did not seem to have a chance. Representation matters. If we want more inclusion in architecture, especially the inclusion of African Americans, we need to be represented in educational curriculum, academia, and professional leadership.
A more immediate step to take in addressing inclusion in architecture would be to produce a firm culture where all feel encouraged, nurtured, and valued. I know every firm believes they have this, but I would challenge leadership to dig deeper and go the extra mile to see how employees really feel. The most important foundation of this internal evaluation is vulnerability and transparency. Be sure to provide a safe space for those to share and take the information you find as an opportunity to improve firm culture. This goes beyond creating a committee. It has to inlcude leadership in order for firm team members to believe the importance it is to the firm.
I ran across a quote by Bridget Miller, Contributing Editor of HR Daily Advisor, that says, “When employees feel valued, they’re more likely to remain loyal to the organization, even if it’s not perfect. Increased job satisfaction can lead to improved performance and reduced turnover.”
I thought about that same quote in the context of architecture and inclusion.
When people see their value in architecture, they’re more likely to remain loyal to the profession, even if it’s not perfect. Representation in success can lead to encouragement and fueled passion.