It came to my attention that, during our virtual conference, a panelist in one of the very first sessions made some very disconcerting and provocative remarks regarding diversity in the profession. Some of the panelist’s statement goes as follows: “So, I’m really not on board with this diversity at all cost. I’m just not. I have no problem with diversity. We.. I’ve.. never denied employment to anyone, um, based on anything other than I didn’t think they were qualified….. But, I’m not going to take somebody on into the practice just because they’re non-white. Or non-male. I just wouldn’t do it.” While no one on the panel really directly responded to this statement, there has been a great deal of reaction to it outside of that presentation, and in some cases, a call to shut down this kind of thought.
This all reminds me of one of the most frustrating things that happened to me last year as I made one of my President-Elect visits. One of the foremost parts of my platform was to focus on efforts to create a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment for our members and for our profession. In one of my first visits, my presentation was met with silence. Absolute silence. Going forward, on the next few visits, I would tell my audience that they may not necessarily agree with what I was about to present, but that I welcomed any thoughts or questions that they had for me. Again: Silence.
It frustrated me, as I knew that the likely reason that no comments were made was that my words were as disconcerting and uncomfortable to those listening as the panelist’s words were to me (when I finally got to hear them), and rather than engage in a conversation where we both might learn something, they chose to be silent. Perhaps they felt that they would be shut down or shamed. The panelist thought so himself, as his next words were: “So, should I leave the room?” He didn’t, although I wonder: If the other panel members didn’t agree with him, why didn’t they challenge him on that? I also wonder: If he could have seen the faces of his audience, would he have felt comfortable enough to say what he did? My guess is no.
Let me be clear, while I agree that merit and qualifications are required for progression and achievement, I don’t believe that diversity easily occurs “naturally.” If “naturally-occurring” diversity was really effective, then, in the more than 50 years since Whitney Young’s address to AIA in 1968, we would have had more than three persons of color, none of whom were African-American by the way, who have led the Society. It needs help. TxA has made, and continues to make, a commitment to become a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization. Yet, much work still needs to be done.
But, TxA is not about shutting down or shaming someone based on their individual opinions when we disagree with those opinions. What we are about is being “The voice for Texas architecture, supporting the creation of safe, beautiful, sustainable environments.” Diversity of thought is just as important as any other marker of diversity, and it is only through having thoughtful, real — and in some instances — uncomfortable conversations, that we will make any meaningful moves forward. Perhaps we could learn something from this view. Perhaps the panelist could learn something from ours. But, if we were to shut down opposing views, it would make us no better than those who have shut us down in the past, and it shuts down the opportunity to learn from it.
There is so much more that this incident has brought to my mind than can be written in one post, and this year has brought conflict to the forefront as never before. We can only weather this and come out better and stronger if we take the opportunity to actively listen to each other, learn from each other, and make sure we create a safe space for all voices to be heard.
So, let’s talk.
Conversations are necessary, but those granted speaking platforms need to be carefully vetted to have values in line with the profession. In this case I believe that the speaker’s views were not in line with the AIA’s statement on systemic racial injustice, and as it was an AIA sponsored event the speaker was inappropriate for the panel. Deeming an individual inappropriate for a particular panel is not shaming, but rather being consistent with the organization’s stated values. For instance, as an engineer I’m not an appropriate panelist for architectural topics. In particular, this speaker was incompatible with the organization’s stated values: “It is our responsibility to work together to break down the barriers that start in architecture school and continue into the firm and workplace that exclude far too many.” is in opposition to the speaker’s statements: “So, I’m really not on board with this diversity at all cost. I’m just not. I have no problem with diversity. We.. I’ve.. never denied employment to anyone, um, based on anything other than I didn’t think they were qualified….. But, I’m not going to take somebody on into the practice just because they’re non-white. Or non-male. I just wouldn’t do it.”
Connie: Thanks for your comments.
I think it is important to remember that beyond our shared passion for architecture, there is great diversity of thought within our profession. Our commitment to diversity should extend to all of our colleagues. Indeed, let us speak freely about our differences while observing the tenets of our shared ethical standards.
Thank you for your thoughtful , measured and genrous words. I’ll admit that i was troubled when the panel began their presentation.ty ….not because they wern’t very fine architects, but because in this time of uncertainty and tension, the panel did not respresent the profession as i wish it would/could have. I say thsi with a heavy heart, becasue i know and respect both Corky and Max as individulas and as thoughtful caring people., but I’ve read and reread the offending words (and thank you for including them in your post) and do not find them as upporting a manifest disdain for diversity, but rather a personal view and statement to the limits of diversity. I do not subscribe or defend the thoughts but paradoxially welcome the attention it brings to our organization.
Thank you Connie, for your bravery in addressing an awkward, complicate, and painful conversation with tolerance, grace, and a problem-solving attitude. There needs to be room in our society (USA, and TxA) for dissenting thought, and the resulting conversation, even if it’s uncomfortable.
As a past TXA president. I understand. Let me know if I can help. Our profession needs help. And I continue to be available.
Thank you for the thoughtful and eloquent response. And thank you for your leadership of TxA through these challenging times.
Okay, let’s talk: You claim to want diversity- but only of race or color? Why not diversity of thought? You “wonder: If the other panel members didn’t agree with him, why didn’t they challenge him on that?” Are you saying that if one doesn’t toe the line with the majority, they should be drummed out of our profession? Does everyone in our midst have to align fully with statements coming out of the national AIA office to be allowed to contribute?
I heard the comments in real time, and knew they would be controversial because we live in a time of great upheaval and change- but they were not hateful, and I support the other panelists decision to not attack him for his viewpoint. The only thing he said that I would challenge is that he thought diversity is overrated. I think diversity- of all things, including viewpoints and backgrounds, is very valuable, and if we become an organization that demands a homogeneity of thought and opinions, we will have lost a great deal. How he runs his office is his business, and he made it quite plain that he wouldn’t NOT hire someone because of who they were, but felt that person’s qualifications and talent should be primary. I don’t know him or how large his office is, but it is very tough for a small office to take someone on just because it ups their “diversity score.” I would hope we can practice tolerance in all things.
Connie: While the quest for diversity is a good thing architecture is a tough road to haul. Where I studied the attrition rate for undergraduate and first professional master’s degrees was about 50%. We had one black student graduate in our class. We also had two female class mates that graduated. One of the stoppers was the requirement to have passed courses in physics and calculus. The last time I used calculus was in calculus class. I have also done some teaching at two major universities, and found that the female students were among the very best because the listened carefully and worked mightily hard.
My belief is that the interest in architecture needs to be stimulated earlier in the educational process with a concerted effort of outreach to girls and boys of all races and cultures. Architecture is a difficult profession to belong to and even excel within. We need to help the young people going through the secondary educational years to gain some insight of the joys, rewards, and contributions architects make to our society, communities, and those who use our works.
It’s a difficult and necessary conversation, but I would almost argue there are two distinct conversations here: one of equality, and one of equity. Without a common understanding of each, it would be terribly challenging to create effective dialogue.
When it’s a speaker/panelist representing AIA who is downplaying the need for diversity efforts, should we not ask them to leave the room, or better yet, not invite them to represent the organization in the first place? We should of course make all efforts to have civil and productive conversations. However, we should not provide a platform to those who are not on board with reasonable efforts to expand diversity in the field. If someone can only find white men to employ, their bias is showing.
“Fools rush in where angels fear to trod.” I hesitate to say anything. I’m a white female and was laid off in 2008. I was the only other licensed architect in the firm at the time- besides the 3 of 4 partners who were licensed. I was a bit hurt and disillusioned. The boss who “let me go” said: “Maybe you just want to be a stay at home mom.” Maybe he was right. I needed upskilling but didn’t know where to get it. The firm went on to make another young white male a Partner.
I know of at least two 60 year olds who are retiring from leading medium size firms. I think they’ve had “enough” of it.
Whereas, others who are 60 and even 68 are going on to start new ventures – in architecture! It’s a mindset, an energy level.
I agree with Curtis’s comment above that AIA should not be so restrictive to limit conversation. I did not attend that panel discussion but I heard about it in another Diversity and Inclusion panel. I appreciate honesty and genuine expressions of thought. We need more of that or we will continue to spin our wheels or function as fake “Stepford wives.”
I appreciate the open but careful tone of this conversation, but it is frustrating. I think there are two important things at work here, both of which have been mentioned. Curtis asks if we shouldn’t welcome diversity of thought. Yes, of course. That is actually the point of having a diverse staff, which Corky ably pointed out during the session. But diverse thought has to be more than just a toxic notion that remains unchallenged. If I say “I hate your mother” you are likely going to want to challenge me on that. Divergence of opinion is valuable when it can be used as a mind-opener, to get the participants to try on new ideas and to generate discussion. Mark Lamster was in a tight spot, knowing this would lead to a long discussion, and he had 8 minutes left. I’m sorry that he chose to gloss over it and move on, but I can see why.
The other issue that Julie mentioned is equity versus equality. The comment that Lionel made that I disagreed with more than any other was, “the opportunities (for diverse people) are there.” He repeated it 4 times. The “opportunities” have to be defined as the path to college, into architecture school, into the profession, into experiences that teach, and into the door of an office like his. The resume of a person named Tanesha Jackson is received very differently than an identical one from Jason Martin. Studies done by people smarter than me have proven this definitively. Judging a design portfolio is even more subjective. When looking at a person’s work, you can’t help but also make a judgement of how much you would want to work with them, how you think they would fit in. Implicit bias (also well-proven) is inevitably at work.
Connie notes that in 50 years we’ve made little progress, as we have waited for things to change “organically”. We must be intentional, not in awarding positions just based on color or gender, but on realizing the untapped potential that goes wasted every year that we don’t find a way to make opportunities genuinely available to everyone. Realizing that they currently are not, is the first step.
It seems a strange irony to debate the appropriateness of having diverse opinions around the subject of expanding race & gender diversity within the population of professional architectural practitioners. There should be no conflict between gaining access to the profession and maintaining appropriate standards for architectural education and credentialed professional competence.
While it’s a fair point to question historical gender/race participation rates in architecture, there is also a fundamental obligation to provide capable competent professional talent to the general public and our individual clients.
First, I want to thank you for a fantastic convention. I am not privy to the difficulties you dealt with, and was not aware of this particular incident, but you and your team did a stellar job, especially considering this is the first virtual convention in TSA history.
Regarding the goal for equity, we need to provide accessible means for those who might be disadvantaged due to race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, or financial support, such that they have access and opportunities equivalent to others. This effort needs to be from early ages, exposing those of underrepresented populations to opportunities to discover, grow, and pursue roles in our industry. As professionals, if we believe in this goal, as I do, we should be promoting and providing support for this effort, and this effort should be focused on education from primary school through college and beyond. By providing access to the profession through seeds of training, mentoring, guidance, and financial support, we should see the fruits of diversity appear and flourish,
I did not see the panel’s discussion and may have missed any additional context which may have made the comments appear inappropriate, but based on the quotes provided, I think the panelist view is honest, and real, but not inappropriate. As a business owner myself, trying to compete in the market, if I were hiring one or more employees, and I have 10 candidates, of which all are equally qualified, diversity within my firm would absolutely be the goal. The problem is not all things are equal. Who is applying? Who is qualified? Who is at the appropriate stage or experience in their profession to fit the business and positional needs? Who is a good complement to the personalities already on staff? As a business owner, don’t you think it is reasonable to want the best valued candidate, regardless of any other personal traits?
We all love the underdog who survived through the numerous trials and tribulations, and this perseverance may outshine other traits of other candidates, but by itself, does not win the role exclusively. I think this is the point of the panelist. Does the goal of equity in the profession mean that a business will hire diverse staff? Not necessarily. Their goal is to hire the best qualified candidate from those who apply. So, is the comment inappropriate. I don’t think so, Instead, ironically, the comment actually expressed a lack of bias or prejudice. Should that not be the ultimate goal, so that all candidates are judged equally and fairly? If we attract less represented groups early and encourage and support their growth, we should see the diversity flourish and be represented in who is hired and promoted.
Thanks for asking the question and sharing your concerns. We are all sensitive to the words of others, myself included, and I pray for the day when we will all be empathetic and aware of the words we speak and the audience to whom we are speaking. As a Hispanic female superstar yourself, and a colleague and friend, you are proof we are making progress.
I’ve heard many similar statements to this over the years at different offices. Capital “D” Diversity can seem like a bureaucratic mandate and judgement on how an organization has been up to now, which can harden hearts against the value that having different perspectives brings to the profession, to work outcomes, and to the larger population as whole for whom we are supposed to be serving by designing buildings and infrastructure. (Buildings, bathrooms and benches are not only for six foot white males, afterall.) Heterogony does have some positive values that do change as culture diversifies and the side that pushes back on diversity could lament these losses and still be part of the conversation instead of cancelled out of it. Then maybe we can move the needle on the conversation from whether diversity is good or bad to how do we want change to look like when we get there, and how to reduce our implicit biases to help us on that path.
The expressed assumption that diversity in the profession resulting from hiring of minority/gender applicants means hiring less qualified applicants is an insult to the minority/gender applicants and to common sense. The expressed assumption is just the issue AIA must challenge; that minority/gender applicants are inherently lesser qualified. The assumption is false. The assumption is the lingering cultural prejudice we at AIA seek to overcome.
Thank you Connie for your letter. Healing ourselves from racism is going to require being open to the fact that a lot of things need to change in the architecture profession, from how it is taught to how it is practiced. Diversity isn’t the goal of this shift, equity and justice are. The panelist who said he was “not on board with this diversity at all costs” was comfortable saying what he said because that’s been the prevalent attitude in architecture. His statement, and other comments above, imply that pursuing diversity will result in a loss for his company, that it would be giving something to someone just because of the color of their skin, not because they “deserve” it. This perpetuates the notion, which has been an excuse for years, that there aren’t qualified female and/or candidates of color, which as someone else pointed out, is insulting and incorrect. What is it about a company that makes it so you can only find “qualified” candidates that are white? Or male? His statement is also related to a misconception among white architects, and white people in general, that they’ve earned everything that they have based on their merits, and it has nothing to do with the color of their skin. The myth of merit-based advancement, that people advance because of hard work and talent as opposed to advantages given to us at birth, is something that white people, like myself, grow up believing and is only reinforced in design school, and then in practice. Even when a company thinks they are judging everyone equally, they aren’t. Whether someone gets called in for an interview it’s informed by where you went to school, if you go to church/which church, your sorority/fraternity, who makes a phone call for you. As already pointed out, even looking at a portfolio has embedded bias, our idea of what is “good”, what is “talent”, is informed by our history and culture. And for many firm leaders reviewing portfolios, that is a culture of whiteness.
Is so great to read all your comments and passion for our profession and its members.
We need to keep moving forward to unite our country and one way is to unite our profession.
Continuing to have architects joining the AIA.
Opportunities to participate in many of the committees, programs etc., is a way to be more inclusive.
My original involvement at the AIA was when I was an undergraduate student in Puerto Rico in the early 80’s.
A professor asked me to join the design award committee as a student. It was a great experience.
Not only I was able to meet and chat with Cesar Pelli when he came to be a juror, but also seeing first hand the process and architectural debates was inspiring.
I never cross my mind that 20 years later I would be the Chairman of the NYC AIA Design Award committee.
As minorities we need to get involved, contribute and pave the way for the younger generations.
In many cases it only takes for a mentor, or from someone to just ask you to join.
If you want to help, one idea is to invite a fellow young architect to join something in your local chapter.
Knowing that you are respected and that someone believes in you is all it takes.
I was listening and also commented on the chat during that session mentioned.
I thought that the architect point was that he was looking for good designer and that was his criteria, Without knowing him I came out that he has no prejudice towards women or minorities.
The part that felt insensitive is the notion that we all have the same opportunities, and the truth is that we do not.
Things are changing and will continue to get better thanks to many before us.
The education system is based on where you live, your income, what you can afford and therefore many will have better schools and better opportunities.
As a personal story, as undergrad I was accepted at Cornell University and Rhode Island School of Design, unfortunately I could not go as I could not afford it, even with the maximum student loans.
That was not because lack of talent but lack of economic resources, which continues to be dis-proportionally unequal in our society today. Thank you John Nyfeler , your comments are so true and important to recognized.
There is a lot of learning we need to do to understand and appreciate our president Connie to invite us to talk and not ignoring this reality.
I am a strong believer that our profession is one that is constantly looking for ways to make peoples life better, better cities, better buildings, better landscapes, environment etc.
We can be a sample of diversity and inclusion to other professions.
Thank you Connie for your leadership and efforts let’s talk , let’s listen so we can take action and change for the better.
For the first ever virtual convention, I applaud everyone who worked on it and made it the success it was.
Regarding the panelist statement, I have read it several times and taking at its face value, trying not to read into it anything other than the words he stated, “I have no problem with diversity,” my question is how are his views inconsistent with AIA’s stance on systemic racism? Is it his follow up with “at any cost?” What I am reading between the lines is, he hires the most qualified and best fit with experience that matches the job description for the position available at his firm regardless of their being non-white or non-male or white male. He is looking for the best fit. I would not judge his views as inconsistent with AIA’s by looking at this alone. I would look at his track record of employment and current staff mix and judge him this way. So looking inward at my 20 year track record and current staff mix, my non-white and non-male is 2 to 1 over white male employees. How do we measure whether or not an owner’s employment practices are consistent with AIA’s statement on Diversity?
Bottom line is I appreciate Connie leading the charge on this discussion and keeping it positive so that the end goal is to improve the practice of Architecture and improve diversity in our profession.
Thank you Connie,
Great discussion! For what it’s worth, here’s the link to the AIA board statement on racial injustice https://www.aia.org/pages/6301167-aia-board-statement-on-systemic-racial-inj. And here is a link to the AIA Diversity and Inclusion statement https://www.aia.org/pages/15346-diversity-and-inclusion-statement. Also the Pinch Points session at the TxA Conference was a great discussion and offered many good data points our profession could target toward inclusion for all.
| The Texas Chapters of The National Organization of Minority Architect’s respects each individual’s right to express their opinions as freely as they must. However, language is important, and words have the power to shape worlds beyond the built environment. The notion that diversity is “overrated” as expressed during the Legacy of Award-Winning Architect’s Panel discussion at the TxA Convention in October gave our membership cause for concern, and rightfully so. Meaningful expansion of access to the architecture profession does not happen by chance, but by intention. This issue is not unique to architectural practice, but we must find ways to disrupt our existing systems to become more intentional in our language and in our actions. Furthermore, what was made clear during the exchange is that there is an opportunity for growth within our profession as it relates to our equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts. More tools are necessary for all of us, regardless of any person’s origin, to understand how to engage or disarm discussions surrounding equity, diversity, and inclusion when they cease to be productive. One of our greatest assets as an organization is the ability to facilitate these discussions and make inter-organizational connections as needed. The future of Texas Architecture is one that brings more people and perspectives shaped by their lived experiences to the table. We encourage all allied professionals to find ways to deepen their understanding in this area, including becoming more active and supporting their regional NOMA Chapters. |
NOMA of Central Texas