This Must Be the Generation

By Mary-Margaret Zindren, AIA Minnesota Executive Vice President

I am the mother of two teenaged girls. While quite different from each other, they are alike in strength, smarts, confidence, and optimism. They have bright futures ahead of them.

My oldest daughter recently took a career aptitude assessment in high school that suggested several options for her to pursue – one of them was architecture.

What would you tell her?

If she were joining the profession of architecture right now, the odds of her achieving the highest levels of career success – that is, her odds as compared to those her male counterparts – would not be good.

This is factually true. And deeply wrong.

When it comes to educational attainment in architecture, the gender gap has nearly closed.  But when it comes to getting licensed, becoming a shareholder, leading a firm, being recognized with the designation of FAIA, or simply receiving equal pay for equal work, the gender gaps are wide and stubbornly stuck.

This is not news to most of you reading this, but it bears repeating – and repeating – until it is no longer true.

Will this be the generation architects that closes the gaps? After attending the AIA Women’s Leadership Summit (WLS) this September with a delegation of nearly 20 architects from Minnesota, I believe it could be.

At the WLS, we were witness to the great work of women in the profession, personal stories of resilience, and progress being made through data-driven policies and firm culture change.

We were inspired by architects like Dina Griffin, AIA, NOMA, IIDA of Interactive Design Architects and her work on the Barack Obama Presidential Center. We gained insights from Aniela Ungureson, co-founder of the EDGE Certified Foundation, the global business certification standard for gender equality based in Sweden. And we heard from Susan Colantuono, CEO of Leading Women, who provided sound career advice for women pushing to get to the next level of advancement.

More than 400 women attended the summit – ten times the number who attended the first summit nearly a decade ago – and there were another 300 on the waiting list. The demand for change is real; and we’re leaving too many waiting for it.

From the WLS presentations this year, it seems clear that the firms that are making real strides in gender equity are those where men throughout the firm are making it a priority.

And as women and men join forces for gender equity, so too is there a need to join forces for racial equity in the profession. Gaps between those who identify as white and all other racial groups are even more pronounced than gender gaps and, for most races/ethnicities, these gaps show up even earlier in one’s education and career. You can, for example, count the number of Black women who are licensed architects in Minnesota on one hand.

There is much work to be done. But many hands make light work. Will this be the generation of architects that closes the gaps? It can be. It must be. The answer to any 16-year-old who is asking whether they should pursue a career in architecture needs to become an unequivocal “yes.”

View the full October issue of Matrix.