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Opinion

The good news on diversity

Architecture’s issues with gender equality and diversity are under the spotlight like never before


Today’s society is more diverse than it’s ever been. So why isn’t this being reflected within the profession? Why are women so badly represented, particularly at senior levels?

A recent survey by Dezeen found that of the top 100 architecture firms worldwide, just three were led by women. A 2015 study by the American Institute of Architects entitled Diversity in the Profession of Architecture found that a high percentage of women and people of colour working in the profession felt that they were less likely to receive equal pay and be promoted to more senior positions than men and white architects.

It’s not all bad news though. Things are beginning to change. There’s a growing recognition that the profession must reflect the communities it is designing for, and an increasing number of architectural practices and the bodies that represent them are tackling the issue head on.

Honest conversations
For this issue, I interviewed Gabrielle Bullock, head of diversity at Perkins+Will. As one of 0.2 per cent of female, black licensed architects in the US, Bullock was determined to use her senior position to improve diversity within the firm, and to raise awareness of the issue in the profession more widely.

When Perkins+Will’s Global Diversity Initiative launched, the first thing Bullock did was visit every one of the firm’s US offces, having “sometimes uncomfortable” conversations about diversity. This is where Bullock advised other firms to start. “This is scaleable,” she said. “Any size fi rm can do it.”

The findings from these conversations helped shape Perkins+Will’s initiative, with a range of measures put in place to help boost diversity which Bullock says are having a quantifiable effect.

Architecture has historically been a white, male profession, and for many students of colour, it was never considered as a viable career choice. Bullock said: “I didn’t see any black architects [growing up].”

Her advice to other practices is to: “Go into those schools. Send people who look like the students you’re trying to reach.”

In the US, designer Mike Ford – the self styled ‘hip hop architect’ – runs a series of free travelling architecture camps using hip hop culture as a catalyst to introduce underrepresented young people to architecture. Ford teamed up with Autodesk and the Urban Arts Collective to create these camps, which will be travelling to 17 US cities, as well as to Kenya and Toronto, this summer.

Taking the initiative “These camps are important, because it’s a new approach to diversifying the profession which is culturally relevant to the audience we’re trying to reach,” Ford told CLAD.

Jeanne Gang, founder of Chicago-based Studio Gang, recently told me that the firm voluntarily closed its pay gap this year.

“Our workforce is roughly 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women,” said Gang. “There was still a small imbalance in pay between our male and female employees, so we looked at that and managed to close the gap this year.” This is something she hopes more firms will take it upon themselves to do voluntarily, she added.

The business case
The bodies that represent designers and architects are making this issue a priority, with the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and the International Interior Design Association (IIDA) among those seeking creative ways of supporting and encouraging a more diverse workforce.

It’s not just about doing the right thing. Bullock pointed out that there’s a strong business case for a more diverse workplace, and explained that Perkins+Will have won new projects as a result of having a diverse team bidding (see p56 for more details).

Bringing about change doesn’t have to be complicated. Her advice? “Look at everything you do through the lens of diversity and commit to diversity as a core value.”

Change is happening. Be a part of it.

company profile
Company profile: Robert D. Henry Architects + Interiors
Robert D Henry Architects (RDH-Architects) was founded in 1990 in New York City by Bob Henry, known as the “sensuous architect of serenity.”
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