“Diversity has become a buzzword in the profession, but it’s more than just the latest business fad. It’s a new way of thinking about who we are, how we design, and with and for whom we work.”
Architecture, as a profession, deals with not only designing buildings for the multitude but responding to their varying needs, desires and aspirations. This is where architectural firms need to imbibe the values of J.E.D.I. Any Star Wars fan would be reminded of Yoda, Luke Skywalker or Darth Vader here and for those who don’t, a Jedi is “a member of the mystical knightly order in the Star Wars films, trained to guard peace and justice in the Universe.”
Just like the hundreds of different species from thousands of different worlds that form the Jedi, architectural practices today should be built on the cornerstones of J.E.D.I. i.e Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
The article ‘Creating a Culture of Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for Your Architectural Practice‘ by Gabrielle Bullock, FAIA and Bill Schmalz, FAIA published by Perkins & Will gives a stepwise procedure to institutionalize the same in an architectural practice.
A field dominated by white men for the longest time, the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s was the first step towards promoting inclusivity and this journey is far from over. The article begins by establishing what diversity in architectural practice means. It is only paramount that to serve a diverse clientele, the same level of diversity is reflected in the designers. To bring such diversity to the table, professionals must be looked at as creative individuals, beyond their culture, race, religion, ethnicity, skin colour, age, sexuality, physical abilities, political opinions and economic conditions. Understanding and assimilating diversity provide a firm with an edge over its competitors.
From the demographic perspective, more than 50% of the population in 15 of the 20 largest cities in the U.S.A. comprises people of colour. With greater awareness and acceptance as compared to 50 years ago, women and people from the LGBTQ community are entering the professional industry in greater numbers. The rising immigrant population from Latin America, Asia and Africa brings forth a diverse young workforce that desires a workspace where each of their voices is heard.
Such a diverse staff generates discussion through various perspectives to produce better designs. The organisation, as a whole, turns out to be more successful in terms of profits, productivity and innovation.
How to incorporate J.E.D.I. Culture in practice
The long-term effort to incorporate diversity begins with establishing a vision following a timeline to accomplish the underlying quantitative and qualitative goals. The next is to choose a leader who can work at the grass-root levels to bring change. Though demographic minorities drift towards such roles due to their personal experiences, anyone who shares a passion for promoting the J.E.D.I. principles are suitable to be a leader.
A strategic plan needs to be developed at three different stages – the firm, the profession at large and the pathway to the profession. At the firm, before devising a plan, it is crucial to gauge the diversity in both the workforce and the clientele. This is to be followed by dedicating resources for hiring experts and speakers to boost the program and educate the staff regarding cultural competency. Affinity or employee resources groups (ERGs) at the grass-root level provides the underrepresented groups with a platform to voice their concerns.
The firm, to promote inclusivity in the profession as a whole, must work alongside diverse firms and organizations like Women’s Leadership Summit and Equity by Design that support the minorities. Providing equal opportunities and applause for architects from such groups is vital.
For the pathway to the profession, mentorship and recruitment programs should be initiated at K-12 and higher education levels in association with community colleges. Participation in career fairs, workshops and tie-ups with allied organizations enhances the minority access to the prerequisite knowledge.
For firmwide execution of the J.E.D.I. program, several divisions should be created to look into matters at different levels. At the topmost level is the firmwide J.E.D.I. Program Leader followed by the Diversity Council responsible for implementing the strategic plan that includes members from all underrepresented groups.
The idea of diversity is to be reinforced by the Executives, Firm Leadership and Diversity Champions and Consultants invited for training while Human Resources, Marketing and Public Relations teams provide the required support.
The right tools need to be developed that ensure smooth implementation of the J.E.D.I. principles. This includes redesigning the recruitment and retention programs to reflect the firm’s ideals. The learning and development programs should include conversation around racial bias and cultural competency. Training and outreach programs focused on the idea of ‘bringing your whole self to work’ targeting organizations embracing diversity should be encouraged.
To measure the progress, the demographics of the firm have to be analysed before initiating the J.E.D.I. principle program. It is the responsibility of the program leader to ensure the comfort of each employee. As the program progresses, the leader must be prepared to adjust and adapt as per the ongoing situations in society. Periodic discussions with staff remain the top priority as any occurrence, though outside the firm, is bound to affect them.
There isn’t any concluding step in this program because the process itself is incessant. There’s always something, a bit more that can be done. In this case, what is imperative is to take the first few steps. Once the staff accepts and supports the initiative, everything begins falling in place.
J.E.D.I – Key Values of Architectural Practice
With geographical borders beginning to blur in terms of the global outreach firms enjoy today, the demographics are continuously changing. Additionally, greater self-awareness and acceptance promote a workspace wherein the employees come from a plethora of backgrounds culturally, socially and economically. This calls for measures to be put in place to ensure that firms embrace diversity in the designing process to produce optimal results for a diverse group of clients they serve.
The aforementioned concept of J.E.D.I. resonates with the gravity of inclusivity in a profession as diverse as architecture and establishes a basic outline to be followed to initiate the process of imbibing Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity as key values of architectural practice.