Leadership through Action

By Karen Lu, AIA, NOMA, AIA Minnesota President

In February, a delegation of eleven AIA Minnesota board members attended Grassroots, an annual event for leaders of the AIA. This year’s conference, held in New Orleans, emphasized advocacy as well as component and community leadership. In a city that is still recovering from Hurricane Katrina and its devastatingly inequitable effects fifteen years later, the AIA’s resolutions to “prioritize and support urgent climate action” and to “broaden equity, diversity, and inclusion” resonated powerfully.
Highlights of the program included Mayors’ panel discussions, facilitated conversations on Framework for Design Excellence priorities – economy, energy, and equitable communities – and a preview of the AIA National 2021-2025 Strategic Plan. With the addition of three words, AIA’s vision statement is being revised from its previous incarnation to focus on action: “Drive positive change through the power of design and focused activism.”  
What actions can we take in our own communities and workplaces?  Below are several opportunities and resources from the conference that can be accessed right now.
The first two of four AIA goals at Grassroots centered on sustainability: “make the business case for sustainability,” and “promote resiliency and sustainability as factors that are as essential to design thinking as safety and aesthetics.” What can you do to contribute to a better built environment?
  • Sign up to join the AIA 2030 Commitment. There are currently 20 AIA Minnesota member firms. Signatory firms have access to over fifty Sustainable Action Plans. Can we set a goal for five or more new Minnesota firms to sign the 2030 Commitment this year? 
  • If your firm is already a member, but hasn’t been active lately, start entering data into the AIA 2030 Design Data Exchange.
  • For more information on the Framework for Design Excellence, check out these climate action resources.
The third goal, to “ensure that equity, diversity, and inclusion are part of everything we do,” was reinforced by sessions that focused on interrupting automatic biases with respect to race and gender. Research has shown that companies that consider themselves merit-based actually exhibit more bias those that do not. Similarly, people that consider themselves “colorblind” also show more bias. What can you do to effect positive change in the culture of our profession?

The last goal of the conference, to “advocate and serve as a trusted partner for progress,” is one that our Minnesota delegation took to heart. We returned from Grassroots energized with a renewed sense of purpose, community, and understanding of the importance of leading with integrity.

View the March 2020 edition of Matrix.