Equity in South Dakota architecture

As a woman in a male-dominated industry, I have faced various challenges throughout my architectural career that made me question whether I was capable of “hacking it.” As a registered professional with specialty design certifications, my self-doubt was rooted not in my capacity to do the work, but rather in my tendency to second-guess how every recommendation, action, design decision, or peer critique might be perceived in the context of this environment. I have heard stories from mentors about experiences they endured to persevere within their careers, and I have seen women I respect pushed into roles that limit or confine their abilities.

Nevertheless, in the past few years I have also seen more women in South Dakota stepping up into leadership roles in our communities, not only in architecture but in all professions — women who are willing to become a network for each other, women who build positive environments for leadership and career development. I’ve also seen men recognize the lack of diversity in the profession and encourage and mentor all professionals, regardless of demographics.

Recently, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) published content based on the recommendations from AIA’s Equity in Architecture Commission, which showcases commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion within in our industry.

This document comes at a crucial time for our industry, and as I read through the bullet points I am beyond appreciative to see the leaders of our AIA Board of Directors and members of our AIA South Dakota component implementing and advancing these directives through the AIA as well as within their practices.

Five Keystone areas of development are:

  • Leadership Development
  • Firms/Workplace/Studio Culture
  • Excellence in Architecture
  • Education and Career Development
  • Marketing, Branding, Public Awareness, and Outreach

Each Keystone area is broken down into priorities:

  • Make equity, diversity and inclusion a core value for the Board of Directors.
  • Measure and report how Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) permeates the AIA.
  • Launch EDI training for AIA volunteers and components.
  • Create guides for equitable, diverse and inclusive practice.
  • Create a position paper on EDI and the profession.
  • Develop a firm self-assessment tool, which is the responsibility of the AIA to provide.
  • Require EDI data as part of AIA awards submissions.
  • Advocate for a more accessible path to higher education.
  • Engage children with K-12 architecture programs.
  • Tell our stories.
  • Ensure that AIA publications reflect EDI.

The thoughtful decision by the AIA to re-emphasize its commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion is more than fitting and appropriate. It is an ethical and moral obligation. We are a profession in need of some re-design.

• Women and minorities are under-represented in the profession.

• Aligned with the perceptions on representation of women, half of the surveyed women respondents report that women are less likely to achieve their career advancement objectives.

• Women and minorities say they are less likely to be promoted or compensated at rates equal to their peers.

• Minorities reported that their barriers to entering the profession included fewer education financing opportunities; a perceived low “return” on the expense of schooling; a lack of role models; and low awareness of the career path.

To be better professionals in the face of a complex world, we need collaboration and cooperation within our practices. We need innovation and ingenuity. And we need the energy and engagement of our best people—whoever they are, whatever their heritage, wherever they call home. Time and again, studies by global talent management organizations have validated the bottom line: The most productive and successful businesses and organizations also happen to be the most committed to the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion.

Working with clients, we use the impact of innovative design to strengthen and transform communities, boosting their vibrancy and enhancing the quality of life they offer. The impact of equity, diversity, and inclusion is no less powerful.

This is a continuing journey, one AIA members take with pride and passion. Because our work here can help change the world.

-AIA Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Commission Executive Summary 2019

We are not past the times of inequity in our profession, but by being open, taking note and addressing these issues, we can start to work together to move forward and make our communities better for all.

Please feel free to read the executive summary of the Equity in Architecture Commission in its entirety. From this commission, the AIA has created Guides for Equitable Practice in partnership with the University of Minnesota for the American Institute of Architects Equity and the Future of Architecture Committee to address culture, compensation, recruitment, career building, as well as assessing and measuring inclusive strategies. This document is currently available to AIA members and will be published publicly.

3 Replies to “Equity in South Dakota architecture”

  1. With another group of SDSU architecture students graduating very soon, I hope South Dakota firms are continuing to discuss the diversity in students and young professionals in the upcoming work force. As many firms are initially supportive to these students, it is important to understand the complexity of retaining these young professionals in our practice and employed at architecture firms. These younger professionals are interested in learning skills about the architecture profession, and I hope our firm leaders are open to learning from them about equitable working environments. I suspect many firms will be entering transitional periods due to this bounty of new graduates; I hope the task will be welcomed with enthusiasm!

    Within the AIA Guides for Equitable Practice, I suggest taking a close look at the Workplace Culture section, pages 2.07 and 2.11. Questions of clarity, trust, power and connections can help you gauge your workplace culture.

    I would also argue that your firm culture is affected by your clients, consultants, contractors, etc. These relationships provide the context of the overall workplace culture for women and minorities. Many of these adjacent, male-dominated companies associated with day-to-day work can undoubtedly narrow the range of your workplace culture. For example, a young women architecture professional may not be able to access a leadership role on a project because the project consultant point of contact (a middle-aged, white male) is more comfortable speaking with someone more similar to him (male, etc).

    Another great resource is this article by Harvard Business Review, Why Great Employees leave “Great Cultures”:

    When these young professionals find gaps in values of a firm, they are going to react much more vocally than employees of previous generations. If they receive a “this is how we do things around here” answer, it is probable that they will seek a role adjacent to the traditional architecture firm that offers a more equitable workplace. To speak to Allison’s challenges of “hacking it”, most people aren’t going to endure an onerous workplace environment any longer than they have to, and those who take pride in “sticking it out” are not contributing to true equitable work practices.

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