These randomly scheduled missives will opine on a variety of topics, mostly intended to be germane to design, construction, capital program management, and other related issues.

For shorter trips through the countryside, take a look at our blog, also called Notes from the Road.
Notes from the Road

October 2018

The Case for Diversity – Architect VersionWomen in Architecture?

One of the business categories I know well is Architecture.  Over the years, I’ve played various roles, including employee, Vice President, and Partner.  While there, I’ve seen demographic changes in the profession, from a time of white male dominance to where we are today, with a whole lot more diversity.

Much has been written about the legal and ethical justifications for equal employment opportunity.  Apart from bureaucratic and regulatory mandates (which can be bothersome at times), there are few reasons to resist the migration.  Social justice alone provides adequate validation.

There are, however, other aspects of the value of diversity which don’t get much attention – reasons why active pursuit of gender and ethnic openness offers Architects a good human resource environment and the potential for higher quality design.  A short newsletter, such as this, can’t possible record all of the detail and nuance of this timely topic.  So, I’ll just offer some highlights, as I see them.

Men and Women Moving Up

For Architects, gender equality for education is a “done deal”, with essentially equal numbers of men and women seeking accredited degrees.  For women, though, the workplace remains a bit of a challenge, with lesser numbers rising to leadership and ownership.  Whether this is a consequence of male bias or the woman’s intentional choice may be debated (as it should be).  But, there are business deficits to this phenomenon of women stepping away.

diversityAs Architectural firms mature, and senior leaders “age out”, there needs to be some form of succession which protects the quality of the enterprise.  Failure to consider the value and competence of ½ of the incoming workforce only serves to limit the “pool” of successors.  Companies that have tended to look more at men than women for offers of management and equity are not selecting from the “best of the best”.  The “best of the rest” is not a stellar model, nor is it the best strategy for perpetuation.  There’s anecdotal evidence of numbers of women starting their own businesses out of frustration or ambition.  While this may have good reason and merit, it doesn’t “up the game” for quality succession.

Ethnicity and Culture

Sometimes geography and environment can influence staffing options.  Many years ago, when I was part of a national Architectural/Engineering firm, I participated in a management training exercise at our mid-west home office, since I missed it in our New York office.  At one point, a Director was congratulated by a Manager for having selected and supporting such a “diverse” group of people.  At that point, I looked around the room with 15 to 20 people, to count one woman and one gentleman with a Hispanic surname – all white.  I thought “This guy needs to visit us in New York”.  In fairness, these were all charming, smart, and well-intentioned people; and there was, in fact, great diversity in demeanor and interactive skills.  The immigrant population varies from place to place.

In any event, when you have choice, what’s the value of a thoroughly blended staff that approximates our population –the builders, buyers, and users of our buildings?

Design Development Considerations

Different cultures “see” things differently.  At the risk of using some trade jargon, what can vary?  Some examples:

  • Openness.  Are spaces expansive, or are they contained?  Do rooms “flow” from one to another, or are they separated by physical or visual barriers?
  • Siting.  Are buildings clustered around defined outdoor spaces, or are they separated from one another?  Are the landscape elements structured and regimented, or are they loose and informal?
  • Ornament.  Are building components sleek and unadorned, or are they complex and articulated?  Is the scale of the ornament only appreciated when you’re close to it, or do you have to step back to soak in the whole picture?
  • Usefulness.  How are rooms or spaces actually used?  Are all uses essential?  Are some superfluous?  Is dual function an option, or must uses be distinctly separated?

Of course, no ethnic group is totally rigid and predictable.  But tendencies and preferences can be apparent.  (And I won’t offer what my notions of what cultural biases there might be.)  In any event, an open, collaborative, and inclusive design process – one that incorporates the participation of that ideal staff – will produce a better product.  It will have wider appeal when appropriate, or it will cater better to a target group if that’s needed.

Human Resource Considerations

Once again, gender and ethnic diversity can instigate valid and helpful responses.  What can vary?  Some more examples:

  • Commitments to family.  This often plays out in who is willing and ready to work before or after “normal” work hours.  A strong desire is neither good nor bad – it just “is”, and supportive management needs to respect it.
  • Work ethic in the office.  I once joked about how a coworker would not know if he was chained to his desk, since he rarely moved.  Some people (and groups) are like that.  Others need breaks or stimuli to refresh.  If nothing else, this is “good to know”.
  • Ability to integrate.  For some, there is comfort in like-minded associations.  For others , “breaking out” is desired.
  • Salary and advancement expectations.  Some groups may “take it as it comes”.  While others can be quite assertive about what they feel are just rewards and compensation.  From a manager’s viewpoint, it’s helpful to learn and know which is which.  Just because someone is modest, that can’t be justification for taking advantage.

Where’s the Value?  A diverse workforce forces managers and owners to develop and refine leadership and supervision skills.  It also affords the advantage of flexibility to the organization.  If you’re all of “one kind”, sometimes it can be hard to adapt and adjust to changing circumstances or requirements.

Management Considerations

Although, at times, it is not easy to understand and assimilate unfamiliar groups, with the inevitable variations the human race has to offer, I contend that it is arguably “good for business”.

  • Perpetuation of a respected business is improved.
  • Design quality and responsiveness to need is enhanced.
  • Ability to cast and create teams in improved.  Much like a hit play, a good team has stars and role players – maybe even a chorus.  With diversity, there is more to choose from when making this assembly.  The “machinery” of the workplace is much more refined and customizable.  (How many mixed metaphors can I string together?)
  • DiversityThe nurturing and advancement of staff is facilitated.  At the risk of offense, when there is a lack of diversity, a “herd mentality” can result.  With a more diverse staff, this is less likely.  Consequently, managers have more options for action.
  • Adaptive, responsive leaders are developed.  Sure, when most people appear alike, fewer challenges may be presented.  But, development of some empathy and understanding of the goals and aspirations of a varied staff is positively supportive of a manager’s usefulness not only in the office; but in many other venues.  “Moving up” is much more likely.
Bottom Line
While integration, socialization, and offering of employment opportunities may be argued as worthy pursuits on their merits, this is not my thrust.  Fair treatment of an intentionally diverse work force is good for business.

Missed earlier newsletters? Find them here:

June 2018  “A Capital Idea”
March 2018  “Me Too?”
January 2018  “R U Trending?”
October 2017  “Do You Measure Up?”
August 2017  “I'm an Architect and I'm Here to Help”
January 2017  “The Future of Higher Education”
November 2016  “The Owner as CM?”
August 2016  “Don't you just hate...”
June 2016  “Duck Testing”
April 2016  “Once Upon a Time...”
January 2016  “I want to take you higher”
November 2015  “Moderating in all Things?”
July 2015  “Alphabet City”
May 2015  “Acey Trey Trey Trey?”
January 2015  “Nature or Nurture?”
August 2014  “Acey Trey Trey?”
June 2014  “The Seven Deadly Sins”
March 2014  “Thar She Blows!”
November 2013  “Giving Thanks”
September 2013  “Back to School?”
June 2013  “What Time is It?”
March 2013  “Acey Deucey?”
January 2013  “A Swamp Full of Alligators”
October 2012  “Plan to Live Forever, Part Deux”
July 2012  “A Midsummer Dream”
May 2012  “Are you Virtually Working?”
March 2012  “Your Huddled Masses”
January 2012  “Observing Observations”
October 2011  “I Want What I Want”
August 2011  “A Beach Read”
May 2011  “NeoLuddite or Technophile?”
March 2011  “Do Your Silos Leak?”
January 2011  “Plan to Live Forever!”
November 2010  “May I Have A Plan, Master?”
September 2010  “How do we choose?”
July 2010  “Good People Behaving Badly”
May 2010  “LEED: LEADing or Dead Weight?”
March 2010  “Why does it cost so much?”
January 2010 “Design/Builders show us your softer side.”
November 2009 “What the Facilities?”
September 2009 “Why Do Architects Make Good Owner’s Reps?”

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