Many members of the AIA CSR EP committee attended the AIA’s Grassroots back in February. A little background on conference: Grassroots is an AIA gathering of leaders from across the country. It is a professional development resource to ensure that attendees become better, more effective civic and chapter leaders.The conference touched on many issues that are important for all emerging professionals to consider, including advocacy, diversity, and people skills. Below are highlights from each corresponding session.
Building Advocacy, One Component at a Time
In our current political climate, inaction is not an option. As architects, we need to support candidates that value and understand the profession. We need to be politically involved so that we can be a part of the conversations that affect us and the built environment. To be apolitical would be to remove ourselves from the conversation about future policy and legislation affecting our profession and the built environment.
In this particular workshop, component leaders shared stories of how they have approached advocacy at the national and local level - stressing the importance of communication between the two levels, and the need to be present in both arenas of public discussion.
Relative to this conversation, component leaders stressed the importance of donating to ArchiPAC, the AIA’s Political Action Committee.
An important aside: AIA CSR established the Grassroots convention as our deadline for donations to ArchiPAC, and met a 100% contribution rate among our members, emphasizing our organization's commitment to advocacy.
Building a Stronger Community by Maximizing Dimensions of Difference
The purpose of this workshop was to discuss ways to better integrate diverse groups of people and opinions into our work so that we can be more understanding of - and thus act more responsibly to - our communities. If our communities because increasingly diverse, our profession should be too, but currently “industry data show that, while improving, women and people of color are underrepresented in the field of architecture” (“Diversity in the Profession of Architecture” AIA, January 2016).
There are some ways to remedy this. In terms of attracting more women to the profession, or maybe more importantly, retaining them, there needs to be work-life balance within the practice of architecture. Architecture has long been a profession with a reputation of long hours and dedication to the work over everything else. The downside is that even when not required of the project, success is measured by time spent and hours of sleep lost. This does not acknowledge personal efficiency or technological advancements that allow architects to be both more efficient and effective outside of the office. Firms should allow for increased job flexibility and promote a culture that allows better work-life balance.
Although this requires a significant culture shift in the profession of architecture, some issues are even more difficult to address. Other factors that might contribute to underrepresentation of women in architecture include “not being given significant opportunities upon returning to the industry after having left to start a family, lack of women role models, lower pay and less likelihood of being promoted, difficulties catching up with technology changes upon returning to the industry after having left to start a family” (“Diversity”). Mentorship programs and clear criteria for promotions are some ways to start to combat this.
Barriers to other unrepresented groups include: “difficulty affording the costs associated with a degree, few role models with similar backgrounds, little knowledge of architecture as a career option.” (“Diversity”). Architecture touches all communities and diverse groups of people, but by engaging more in community outreach, architects can begin to attract a more diverse group of people for the next generation of the profession.
Developing your people skills
This was one of the more lighthearted and fun workshops. Attendees took a “PeopleMap” test and looked at common characteristics of each of the personality types, including evaluating Achilles heel’s and looking at how to be more effective communicators and leaders based on our inherent qualities, thus developing our people skills.
Ultimately, this section was important, because by developing our skills to become better leaders, we can better express our role as architects and the importance of what we do, and furthermore, we can become more successful in engaging with and better serving our communities.