AIASF Equity by Design Symposium, 2016

Group Photo, EQxD 2016 | Photo Credit: EQxD

Aminah McNulty is the marketing manager at Brown, Richardson & Rowe, a woman – owned landscape architecture and planning firm in Boston, MA.  She attended the fourth annual Equity by Design Symposium in the fall of 2016 with the following synopsis.


This gathering was a testament to the power of the collective voice. 250 designers and allied professionals gathered at the San Francisco Art Institute to discuss equity in architecture. Facilitators and participants shared their stories, struggles and strategies for innovative practices within their firms.

“Equity has a strong potential as a new paradigm and social construct to succeed on multiple levels—equity in education, equitable practice in the workplace and social equity in access to basic life resources, healthy and safe communities and public space in our urban centers. The equity-focused value proposition at all these levels is rooted in transparency, education, collaboration and trust.”—Rosa Sheng, AIA, Equity by Design Co-Founder

The mission of Equity by Design (EQxD) is three–fold: to collect and publish data, understand and articulate patterns, and engage in creative solutions to advance the profession.

  • Metrics:   Research, data and accountability
  • Meaning: Connection, passion and value
  • Matrices: Creation, network and solution

Figure I | Probability of Aspiring to Principal | EQxD 2016 Survey

The 2016 survey results show that from the start of a career, women are less likely than men to aspire to become principal (see Figure 1). There are five pinch points in design careers: hiring and retention, paying your dues, licensure, care giving and the glass ceiling. Today, women make up 21% – 29% of firm leadership in top architectural firms in the country, a substantial increase from 17% in 2013[1]. Factors behind this leadership gap include lack of available mentorship, unclear methods of advancement, pay inequity, work life balance and conflicting values.

Figure 2 | Workplace Culture | EQxD 2016 Survey

The EQxD 2016 Survey showed shared values as the top indicator of job satisfaction (see Figure 2). In the breakout session Becoming a Change Agent, the group discussed the need to first identify and articulate personal values, then seek an employer with transparent values that align with your own. How a firm tracks and measures job performance is a key indicator in deciphering company values. Contrary to popular belief, time spent at a desk does not always reflect an employee’s productivity or worth. Employees who network and get to know their clients and colleagues bring in more work than those that sit at their desks late into the night. Many women also note that becoming working moms with conflicting responsibilities and priorities significantly increased their efficiency at work.

The principals of Brown, Richardson + Rowe spent their careers articulating and promoting values of equity and inclusion to their employees. Their strategies include hourly pay structure, flexible work schedules and a communal work culture. This commitment to fostering an equitable workplace builds trust and competence throughout the staff, allowing efficient use of time and energy to produce first rate designs.

Aminah McNulty presents breakout session brainstorm | Photo Credit: BRR

The overwhelming acceptance and candor showcased at this event reinforced Co-Founder Rosa Sheng’s remark: “Be vulnerable as the start of healing and making yourself whole. Fail fast, fail often. We can fail in a moment without being failures.”

For more information about Equity by Design and how to get involved, please visit their website and follow them on Twitter.


[1] “EQiA2016_EarlyFindingsInfographics.”Equity by Design [EQxD]. N. p., n.d. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.

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