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At issue: Equity in architecture

AIA event, coming up May 19, focuses on fueling diversity

Equitable opportunity in the architecture field could be more tangible as a focus of the next upcoming AIA event: the Future Vision symposium on Friday, May 19.

Future Vision is a one-day symposium that builds upon past American Institute of Architects (AIA) Portland equity events. The goal of Future Vision is to discuss equity, its importance relative to the health of the industry and provide exposure to the tools necessary to promote equity within the profession.

Jennifer Wright, event organizer and chair of forWARD (the forum for women in architecture and related design) said the Future Vision event is a followup to an AIA event from 2015. Wright is an architect at Richard Brown Architect.SUBMITTED: AIA PORTLAND - The upcoming symposium is scheduled for Friday, May 19.

"These events really highlight equity within the profession and focus on data that's out there that is showing the challenges of the profession and where we should be moving toward," Wright told the Business Tribune.

The 2015 Future Vision event, with the topic "The value proposition for equity," came after a survey was published by the AIA chapter in San Francisco showing nationwide findings.

"There were a lot of, they called them pinch points, that were shown in people's careers that were holding back specifically women and minorities from advancing in architecture, so that event really took a look at that data and made people aware of it," Wright said. "For quite awhile there's been a statistic that 18 percent of the profession — leadership and AIA members — is made up of women, even though there was basically a 50-50 equal amount of men and women going into architecture schools. There really was this pretty severe drop off once people got into their careers."

The survey questioned an equal amount of men and women, so the event will start with where the industry is today in terms of what's going on with diversity in the workforce and its pipeline.

"This data produced credence to the fact that it's a systemic issue," Wright said. "Our first event was getting that information out there and sharing our stories — it was a much more personal event."

There was a lot of anecdotal evidence surrounding the challenges and why the inequity is happening, but most who experienced it wrote it off as if they were the only one feeling it.

"There's an equal amount of men and women who were surveyed, and so we're going to start the day with where we are now, what's the stat of the industry currently, what are some of the challenges that we still see, where have we come, what's going on," Wright said. "And in the afternoon, the idea is really to take that and move forward into more of an impact: what are other industries and organizations outside of architecture doing?"

Several panel discussion were held at the University of Oregon with about 75 attendees during the 2015 event.

"Followed up from that, (this upcoming event) is going to be how can I as an individual take this information back to my group or community and really start making an impact," Wright said. "It's more about how can we take where we are now, and really run with it."Wright

At the beginning of the year, Wright's committee put out a call for volunteers to join the Future Vision task force.

"We had a great turnout, there's been about 20 people who have really helped either coming to our weekly meetings or just doing stuff on their own like research or programming all these kinds of things that go into doing this," Wright said. "We had really good representation among quite a few firms across Portland."

AIA is targeting 80 attendees for the symposium.

"I'm really most excited about having done a lot of research and heard a lot of things about the data, so I'm certainly finding that very interesting," Wright said. "But the thing I'm most interested to see is how people take the data and the information and then inform themselves and inform what their actions items are going to be — the impacts."

Equity versus equality

"I've definitely seen equity and equality used interchangeably, and the way I understand it was that the equality (is defined as) you're all given the same thing regardless of who you are," Wright said. "But equity is access to resources and opportunities that you personally need to thrive."

She said men and women go into architecture school at an equal rate, but women experience issues after securing a career.

"There's a lot of discussion about what's wrong with the pipeline, what's wrong with retention in terms of long hours or low pay," she said. "The population of the U.S. is basically 50-50 men and women. That reflects what's going on in the architecture schools. For (ethnic) minorities, it's completely different. If we look at that, the problem is really not after school, it's before school. If we step back for a second and look at where the data is showing for minorities and Latinos and Native Americans, they're not coming into architecture schools at the same rate as their population."

Brian Cavanaugh, AIA Portland president, has the role of providing committee chairs with resources to organize the event. He's a principal and co-founder of Architecture Building CultureCavanaugh

"You'll see that questions of equity in the profession are going to continue and be one of the main focuses of the AIA," Cavanaugh told the Business Tribune. "Through a series of studies, it just comes to a head that we as a profession recognize it can't continue the way it is."

He said the AIA will continue to look at the issue.

"Looking after someone's profession through an equity lense is really looking at the full trajectory from even pre-higher education throughout one's career path and looking at what's the individual experience and what resources need to be provided to give everybody an equal chance at success," Cavanaugh said. "That looks different for different people."

Experiencing inequity

"In some ways from my personal experience, … it's definitely been that I've seen women drop out of the profession because of just multiple frustrations with their experiences," Cavanaugh said. "My wife dropped out of the profession because of multiple experiences in the general frustrations. (She) constantly (experienced sexism) in an overt or subtle microaggression way."

He's seen the gaps that diversity in gender and in ethnicity should fill.

"With say people of color, it's been more just noticing I have very limited experiences with thinking back through to school," Cavanaugh said. "You can just see a greater effort has to be placed on trying to encourage more diverse enrollment."

The percentage of licensed women architects is around 18-20 percent. For people of color, it's less than 2 percent.

"These numbers are just unacceptable," Cavanaugh said. "Through the equity lense you look at it a different way and realize the resources and stories behind that requires different approaches … and I think everybody realizes that we need to figure out how to improve the situation."

As for Wright, the experience wasn't second-hand.

"Unfortunately historically it's kind of an old boys' profession. It definitely has its challenges in terms of overt or covert biases, and it's really challenging," Wright said. "If you don't see people who are a reflection of you, whether it be people of color or women in leadership, it's really hard to see what you can aspire to do. That's definitely a very challenging aspect of the profession."

But being an architect, she's not confined to the straight and narrow — it's the industry that has to convince her to stay.

"I've known quite a few people, not just women but quite a few men who have left to do other things," Wright said. "The great thing about architecture is the education you receive gives you a platform to do so many things: you're a problem-solver, a creative, you can really go in a lot of different directions. It's up to the industry to support architects and keep them in there."

By Jules Rogers
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AIA Future Vision Symposium

Tickets: $30-100

Web: http://aiaportland.org/futurevision

Where: Ecotrust, 721 N.W. 9th Ave. #200

When: May 19, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Hosted network reception: Ecotrust rooftop terrace, 5-7 p.m.

The Keynotes

"We're going to have several speakers talk about their industries: there's the law sector, the nonprofit sector and the finance or investor sector," Wright said. "They're going to discuss how those sectors, where they might be more male-dominated, and then following that we're going to have some local firms discuss their office culture and how equity is illustrated for them and for the clients they serve."

Former First Lady Michelle Obama recently spoke as a keynote at the national AIA convention and addressed the issue.

"It's very interesting to think about how a certain community, they might not even know what an architect does (before going to college)," Cavanaugh said. "When it comes time to go to school, why would you ever think about going into architecture if you don't even know what an architect does? It's a deep problem and it's going to take a lot of effort on a number of different levels to address."

Saskia Dennis-van Dijl is one of the featured keynote speakers at the event, and is a principal at Cameron MacAllister Group. She is an active spokesperson for AIA San Francisco's Equity by Design Missing 32% Project.

"She's been involved with (AIA San Francisco) and really just disseminating the data since these surveys I discussed had come out of this group," Wright said. "She's a great resource and was the first speaker at our last event as well. She's going to be speaking about the data, which she also did at the AIA national convention as well."

Hannah Richards-James is also a featured keynote, and is the owner and principal consultant of Fantail Collaborative.

"Hannah Richards-James is a local. She's worked with a lot of firms to look at different facets and audit what their information is, how they're really communicating, how they want to communicate and a lot of ideas around bias," Wright said. "She's going to be doing more of an overview and workshop-style series about implicit bias and how that affects hiring and just the way that you communicate with clients, as well."

Keynote Denise Harrington is the owner of DMH Consulting Group.

"She (Harrington) is basically going to be synthesizing the whole day's events and concluding with some real action items," Wright said. "I'm really excited to get that information out there, and to have AIA Portland really be a resource for firms to be successful at reflecting those people who they serve. That's our basic intent, to really advance the profession in this way."


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