Representation matters and cultivating a diverse pipeline of future leaders can establish a foundation for inclusive and equitable decision making.
The current architectural, engineering, and construction industry does not accurately reflect the diversity of our society. While equitable hiring initiatives are important, education is a key tool for diversifying the future leadership pool. Through implementation of initiatives that focus on mentorship, practical skills, and community engagement, we can rewrite the narrative of a biased industry and work toward achieving a truly equitable workplace.
As a design practice that celebrates diversity and promotes social responsibility, FXCollaborative has established partnerships with multiple allied AEC educational programs with the goal of raising awareness, expanding opportunity, and creating space for a multiplicity of voices.
- Mentorship and relationship building. Building lasting relationships with individuals from all areas of the industry helps break down barriers through mentorship. The FXCollaborative/City College of New York (CCNY) Student and Professional Program is an initiative that partners our employees with National Organization of Minority Architecture Students CCNY to cultivate relationships between BIPOC architecture students at CCNY and our staff. The initiative focuses on engaging with underrepresented communities in architecture and aims to improve the experience of BIPOC architecture university students. As more than just a mentor and mentee program, it offers City College architecture students continued personal support through a strong, on-going relationship – one that becomes a friendship, and not a hierarchical association. This initiative works in tandem with the annual FXCollaborative Foundation CCNY Diversity Scholarship, which provides two students with scholarship support and a paid internship at FXCollaborative. Coupling educational investment with early opportunity for professional experience provides a solid foundation for these students as they embark upon their careers.
- Awareness and skill building. Equity is important to architectural education, but often public schools don’t have the resources to match their private counterparts. New York City has five private universities with architectural programs, but only two public ones. We recognized the gaps between these universities and sought to establish a program that could offer occupational assistance to architectural students at public universities. The FXCollaborative Mentoring Program works with undergraduate architecture students at New York City College of Technology. The focus is to provide support and skill building opportunities for students as they apply to their first design jobs. Through portfolio workshops, mock interviews, and lectures, the program supplements professional practice classes required by the National Architectural Accrediting Board. By engaging local, public design schools, we encourage a more diverse group of students to join the practice of architecture and support that path with a team of designers and other professionals sharing their time and experience.
- Connecting through community. Establishing meaningful connections with one’s community can create a framework to combat social inequity and open opportunities for growth and success. As a local ally of the architecture program at Pratt Institute, we’ve established new relationships and maintained ongoing engagement with Pratt students, faculty, and the local community. Through a joint event with Pratt in the last two years, we hosted a panel discussion and exhibit of students’ work with a focus on equitable urbanism and the relationship of academia and practice. This provided an opportunity for students to present their work, forge connections with key members of our practice, and expand their professional exposure. We’ve strengthened our relationship with the program, regularly participating in studio design reviews, providing ongoing mentorship, and collaborating on design workshops for families in the local community. Holistically engaging with a diverse group of students, faculty, and members of the local community raises awareness of future professional opportunities and takes concrete actions to cultivate a sense of belonging, support, and empowerment.
As the profession engages in diversity and inclusion initiatives, the catalyst for change in the AEC industry can most effectively be attained in the synergies between academia and professional reform. Nadeen Hassan, an emerging architect at our practice, whom we first met at one of our Portfolio Workshops, shared some thoughts on her personal experience. “Participating in FXCollaborative’s annual Resume and Portfolio Workshop provided an opportunity to showcase my work and thought process on projects that aim to serve the community. Through these interactions, professionals who later became respected mentors, received a glimpse of my professional goals and why I chose to pursue a career in architecture.” As one of our emerging leaders, Nadeen is now paying it forward to the next generation. “Having benefitted from mentorship opportunities hosted by FXCollaborative, I collaborated with FXWomxn to provide a Resume and Portfolio Workshop for students and emerging professionals in 2020. Today, as a junior designer at FXCollaborative, I’ve become a resource to the next group of aspiring architects through mentorship opportunities and firm tours.” There needs to be an overlap between teaching students skills to excel in the industry, learning about their interests, and providing resources, while encouraging them to be a resource to the next generation of students.
Through a broad range of alliances with educational institutions, FXCollaborative established a multi-faceted framework of connections, relationships, and skill building opportunities to cultivate a diverse talent pool and reframe the narrative for a more inclusive generation of future leaders. The responsibility of addressing inequity should not rest on the shoulders of those negatively affected by it. This is an ever-evolving issue and we must constantly reassess if we are to achieve true inclusivity within our industry and society.
Wendi Shafran, AIA, LEED AP BD+C is a principal and director of affordable housing at FXCollaborative Architects, LLP. This article was also coauthored by John Lura, AIA, LEED AP BD+C an associate, Martin Scott, RIBA, LEED GA an associate, and Nadeen Hassan, LEED GA of FXCollaborative.