Jun 14, 2020

Building Green: Re-forming the Building Industry: Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion


People from marginalized communities are shockingly underrepresented in the U.S. building industry. It’s past time to change that.

by Paula Melton
Originally published by BuildingGreen December 20, 2019

This is part one in a two-part series on equity, diversity, and inclusion in the building industry. Part two, released February 10, 2020, focused on advancing social justice during the project process.

Black people can’t be architects.

That jaw-dropping statement came from the mouth of a child in reference to William Bates, FAIA, 2019 president of The American Institute of Architects (AIA). Although most adults wouldn’t say such a thing, our minds might go there due to messages we’ve assimilated based on cultural norms—messages like “architects are white men from affluent backgrounds.”

“We have these biases that are implanted in our minds very early, and they’re difficult to unravel,” Bates told BuildingGreen. It’s not just those of us who enjoy certain privileges who have these biases: less privileged people internalize them as well. “It puts the message in the mind of a minority or a woman that ‘I can’t do those things; I shouldn’t even try.’” This leads to a Catch-22: most architects actually are white men because everyone assumes architects are white men. Things are even worse in construction and engineering, where professional women and people of color are hardly represented at all.

In this report, we’ll look at the depth and breadth of the building sector’s equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) problem; the negative implications for the industry; and some things individuals and firms can do to motivate change.

What’s the Problem?

EDI: you may be hearing more about it in your workplace, and for good reason. The building professions just aren’t up to the standards of the 21st century.

In a recent study conducted by AIA San Francisco, with findings released on the Equity by Design website, it’s clear that, in architecture at least, there are a lot of very complex issues at play for people from a variety of under-represented groups. For example, although equal numbers of men and women enroll in architecture programs and even begin work in architecture firms, more women than men drop out of the profession.

It seems that everyone feels stress at particular milestones during their careers, but that this stress disproportionately affects people in traditionally marginalized groups. “What we’ve learned is that there are pinch points that impact people’s careers—men, women, white, architects of color,” said Annelise Pitts, AIA, one of the study authors. “There are definable moments that are difficult—and especially difficult for those who have been traditionally marginalized in the profession.” She added, “We validated the idea that there are salary gaps and achievement gaps related to personal identity” and that “it’s a complex topic, and there are a number of issues that are very deeply intertwined.”


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