Debunking Equity in the Architecture Industry

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2021 is a year of a global pandemic and its recovery, along with an ever-growing climatic emergency breaching society. In this tumultuous environment, it is finally the time where we as Architects address the issue of Equity in Architecture and why it matters. 

Equitable practice promotes the recruitment and retention of talented designers while leading the firm towards a stronger and successful practice. It generates sustainable practices in the work environment. 

Unlike the myths, equitable practice is not only about gender equity and treating women right in architecture. But it is also about holistically uplifting the profession by making it more relevant to the current time. It is also about communicating newer and progressive ideas to society. 

Equity is not equal to Equality

“There is a primal difference between equity and equality,” states Rosa Sheng, AIA, a senior associate at Bohlin Cywinski Jackson in Albany, California, and contributor to Equity by Design.

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Equity has a diverse range of meanings but it also means that we need to maximize the opportunities by recognizing each individual’s challenges in life. 

Aiden Hughes, an engineer and the group leader at Arup’s San Franciso Office says, “We’re global, we’re multidisciplinary, but we are not diverse,” Hughes said of his firm. “We pride ourselves on being multidisciplinary, but the big thing that’s missing is we’re not bringing the widest diversity of opinions and views to our work.”

There is a need to look back into our footsteps in architecture and study the career dynamics and pinch points. We need to recognize the career dynamics by analyzing the challenges that are mostly faced by architects globally. Studying the entire journey of a typical student from its start to the end is necessary to understand the entire dynamics. Career pinch points are focused on professional and personal milestones that cause people to start devaluing their careers. Once we are successful in recognizing this, collective solutions can be established to enhance equity. 

Equal Pay

Another Equity gap in architecture is about the pay parity which has now become a global concern for the A/E/C Industry. In some places, the dynamics are such that a male employee is preferred more than a female employee within the construction industry creating an immediate bias. 

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In such cases, there needs to be equality and judgment only on the basis of skill set and caliber, rather than narrowing the search down to gender-based differences. 

Work-Life Balance

With architectural projects going around the clock for years with several redos and corrections. The work-life balance for every single architectural practitioner is a task in itself. Reports have also suggested that work-life conflicts, poor health, extended working hours, lack of extra pay for extra working hours, etc are a few of the problems that are faced globally by practitioners. This in turn leads to creating inhabitable workspaces that do not encourage the employee spirit. The lack of recognition and sensitivity leads to an employee to devalue themselves, thus forming a career pinch point. 

AIA’s Equity in Architecture survey 2016 also showcased that there were several obstacles in licensure as well. With long working hours and a high cost for registration and exam fees, there was also a low perceived reward system. This imbalance in connected domains has created a breach in the Architectural Industry, making the younger generation hesitant towards making it a career choice. 

Gender Balance in Leadership

AIA’s Equity in Architecture survey 2016 also highlighted that 65% percent of males and 66% of females reported that they were working in a firm that was led by men.

While amongst them only 5% noted that they worked in female-led firms. 

This survey had proven to be an eye-opener as it highlighted many harsh realities of the career path that an average architectural practitioner has to go through. Highlighting some of the crucial facets of equity in architecture, the AIA survey created a stir and dwelled in people’s minds.

So what can we do?

In a maze that big, what can an individual in the field of architecture do? How can we create a change? 

It’s only through smaller steps can we create a larger difference, as collective voices make bigger impacts. 

What Architectural Firms can do?

  1. Adopt Equitable Practices.
  2. Increase firm leaders in the direction to become mentors.
  3. Provide ongoing feedback to create a holistic uplift.
  4. Develop clear and transparent promotion policies.
  5. Create an overall culture that is inclusive, equitable, and adaptable.
  6. Develop leadership opportunities at all levels. 
  7. Encourage collaborative activities to increase an equitable and communal spirit. 

What Can Architectural Schools Do?

  1. Emphasize Professional Practice Courses.
  2. Diversify the program faculty
  3. Diversify the Curriculum
  4. Equip students with the latest knowledge, resources, workshops, and forums
  5. With an industry constantly in a shift and upgrade, remember to keep upgrading your skillset to upgrade to theirs. 
  6. Start being collaborative and inclusive to new thoughts processes and ideas
  7. Inculcate newer directions for Architecture Internships
  8. Since an Architectural career is not centric to only building structures, try diversifying the student’s mindset towards other alternative career paths as well. 
  9. Introduce valuable electives to encourage new ideas.

What Can Students Do or Young Architects Do?

  1. Articulate your values and skillset.
  2. Take your steps and participate in activities within the A/E/C Industry to get a wider perspective towards the current happenings. 
  3. Cultivate and network with individuals, seniors, valuable resources, and design enthusiasts. 
  4. Collectively raise voices against commonly addressed issues for the authorities to rethink and re-analyze their schemes. 
  5. Use social media and other handles to a holistic uplifting. 
  6. Improvise your own skillset and be unafraid to address the question, ‘What do I bring to the table?’. 
  7. And most importantly, when it’s your turn to be an ’employer’ from an ’employee’, remember to be the change!

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Saili Sawantt
Saili Sawantt
Architect and Interior Designer by profession, Writing is what she treats as her passion. She has worked as an Architectural Writer, Editor, and Journalist for various design as well as digital portals like ParametricArchitecture, FOAID (Festival of Architecture & Interior Design), Rethinking the Future (RTF), La Polo International, etc. Formerly she has also worked with Godrej Properties Limited (GPL) Design Studio, Mumbai due to her keen interested in learning about Sustainability and Green buildings. Apart from this, she runs her blog 'The Reader's Express'.

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