Equity by Design Symposium: A Conversation with Attendees from ELS

by: Diana Banh, CPSM
On October 29, 2016, eight designers/architects from ELS attended AIASF’s Equity by Design symposium. Susan Vutz, Lauren Wynveen, Tovah Cook, Diana Hayton, Scarlet Entwistle, Katharine Blackman, Kim-Van Truong, and Niknaz Aftahi are pictured from left to right
What is the Equity by Design movement, and how was this year’s symposium, “Equity by Design: Metrics, Meaning, and Matrices?”

Niknaz: Equity by Design is a movement which has been initiated to empower and inspire more women and minorities to stay and advance in the field of architecture. The idea is to bring voices into the implicit and explicit challenges we all face at the workplace, discussing how to either fight or embrace the challenges to overcome the hurdles. The movement systematically conducts research to better understand the existing gender-based gap and disparity in the architecture world, and suggests ways and methods to solve such problems. In the recent symposium that we attended, many accomplished female architects shared their stories, and talked about various obstacles they had to overcome along the way.

Kim-Van: Two years ago, I was able to attend the 2014 Missing 32% Symposium and the statistics that were presented were eye-opening. This year’s symposium was focused less on the presentation of the more recent survey results and statistics but more about the movement and how to move forward with this data. One of the presenters of the symposium stated that it’s hard to argue against data and it’s a tool that can be used to help initiate change.

It’s also important to note that equity is about everyone and not just women. I would say that while much of the discussion focused on women there was also a lot of discussion surrounding diversity within the practice.

Diana H.: It was great to have our group of eight designers attend this year! I am very inspired by the work of the EQxD committee. The facts and data gathered from the surveys have provided me with a powerful and non-confrontational means to facilitate conversation and change on these important issues of equity and diversity facing our profession.

Lauren: I found that the theme “Metrics, Meaning, and Matrices” served primarily as a clever, alliterative title. The title implied that the focus would be on measured, quantifiable data, and establishing specific targets and goals. While the data was there, it was not presented in detail. I am looking forward to seeing the published data to better understand the “metrics” and “meaning.”

Scarlet: The symposium was a point for self assessment in my professional development. I was able to revisit and learn that I was not alone in the questions I had regarding career advancement and pay discrepancy. It was great to interact with other female and male architects/interns, understand the research, and generate new questions regarding issues that I previously had not thought about asking.

What were your takeaways, lessons learned, or goals from your experience at the symposium?

Lauren: I really enjoyed some of the recommended readings that symposium provided.  I was impressed by the work of Renee Cheng. Cheng has created an educational program that shortens the timeline to obtain a license, by tying the pathway to licensure to an architectural degree program. If her program continues to succeed and is adopted by major universities, there will be an enormous increase of the number of licensed female architects in the profession. There still remains the problem of lack of diversity in the profession beyond just the “gender gap.” This seems to be a much more difficult problem that needs more discussion in the symposium.

Tovah: In the Culture with Intent seminar, we broke up into smaller teams by company size. My team of six discussed our personal values and how they may or may not align with work. Overall, the main value noted was “meaningful design.” Most architects seek jobs with meaningful design. The other top values represented were “creativity” and “respect.” My group personally valued “meaningful design,” as well as “transparency” in the company and leadership.

Niknaz: I learned: 1. Not everyone’s trajectory and path to success is the same. 2. It is important to be aware of our values and prioritize them, and work in a firm/team that has similar values. 3. Finding the right mentorship is essential for our professional development. 4. We should verbalize our pinch points, and evaluate our situation and performance on a regular basis. 5. Peer mentoring is important. 6. We should be creative in making our own path, rather than following the path that already exists.

Scarlet: I learned that I am not a super woman that can do it all, but on that note I also learned that I can do a lot. As a full time employee, mother of two young children, a teacher, and an intern pursuing licensing, it was very important and inspiring for me to see others that have gone through the same challenges of getting licensed and succeeding in the profession. I learned that balancing work with family is achievable but requires prioritization. One of my goals for 2017 is to finish my exams and get licensed.

Kim-Van: It would benefit firms to try to understand the factors surrounding career pinch points – professional milestones that hinder employee progression. The individual needs of employees need to be recognized at different stages in their careers in order to help better retain and support staff. It was also interesting to see that across the board in terms of age and experience, women are almost 20% less likely than men to want to be a firm leader. My hope is that EQxD continues their research to explore the reasoning behind this.

Diana H.: At the symposium we talked and thought a lot about implicit bias, flexible work schedules, meaningful performance reviews, firm culture and values, employee retention, increasing diversity and profitability—all important issues in our professional practice. The symposiums put a fresh light on my 25 years of practice, giving me a greater understanding of my own experiences in the profession and renewing my commitment to helping others have real career growth opportunities.

Any final thoughts or anything else you’d like to add?

Diana H.: Focusing more on employee development overall is really important right now—there is a shortage of trained architectural and design professionals, and the information in the EQxD 2016 survey identified key ways firms can retain the best staff.

Katharine: Despite hard-earned advancements in gender equality, women continue to suffer from systemic discrimination, both in society and in the workplace. On a daily basis, women confront issues of income inequality, restricted opportunities, and harassment; and the field of architecture is not exempt from these issues. As a young woman beginning a career in architecture, I believe that a dedication to gender equality is of paramount importance, and should be reflected in the ethos of any socially responsible architecture firm.

Lauren: I think there is more than a missing 32%. The only way to balance out a built environment that has, for the entirety of recorded human history, been dominated by male designers is to have a period of female majority. Is that too radical a thought? You tell me!

Kim-Van: It was great to have a large ELS turn out at the event this year. We had ELS representation at almost each of the break out sessions so it was great to be able to share what we learned and experienced throughout the day.

Tovah: Overall, I loved the whole conference. They did a thorough job of breaking down the EQxD metrics for us, and as a whole, the audience spoke up about holes in the metric system. It sounded like people were also really interested in more metrics and topics about race in the workplace.

Niknaz: I enjoyed the conference, and found the whole event, including the talks and networking sessions, very inspiring. It encouraged me to be more aware, driven, specific, and ambitious about my professional goals, as well as prioritize and evaluate them on a regular basis.

Everyone: Kat Gordon, a creative director in advertising and founder of The 3% Conference, spoke at the end of the symposium. She was really inspiring and brought a great perspective as a career driven woman and agent for change.


Equity by Design

The 3% Conference