May 15, 2009
  The AIA Addresses the Diversity Business Case and Return on Investment During Its Second Diversity Plenary

Summary: The AIA held its second annual Diversity Plenary on Tuesday, April 28, in San Francisco. “Value: The Difference—a Toolkit for Firms,” brought together AIA Board members, collateral organizations, related organizations, firm representatives, interns, and students to identify tools, resources, and approaches to increase diversity and inclusion within architecture firms.

The facilitator for the meeting was Amri Johnson of Cook Ross. The plenary keynote speaker was Douglas Freeman, CEO of Virtcom Consulting and founder of the World Diversity Leadership Summit. Freeman spoke eloquently about the business case for diversity, specifically focusing on the changing workforce, creating inclusive environments and the buying power of ethnic minorities, noting that firms that are not aware of the buying power of diverse groups are potentially leaving money on the table. He also challenged participants to consider their own diversity blind spots and be aware of the “like me” syndrome when hiring, developing, and promoting employees. “Often leaders are not aware of the tendency to focus on the individuals who look like them, went to the same schools, or are from the same economic background,” Freeman said. “This lack of awareness is a blind spot.”

Of particular significance attesting to the institutional importance placed on diversity and inclusion was the presence of the current, future, and four previous AIA presidents: current President Marvin Malecha, FAIA; President-elect George Miller, FAIA; and past presidents Marshall Purnell, FAIA; RK Stewart, FAIA; and Douglas Steidl, FAIA. EVP/CEO Christine McEntee attended as well.

This historic plenary also included presenters from the Boston Architectural College, Devrouax and Purnell Architects, EHDD Architecture, Gensler, HDR, HOK, PBS&J, Pei Cobb Freed and Partners, Perkins+Will, Rosser International, Turner Associates Architects and Planners, Inc., and the University of Cincinnati School of Architecture and Interior Design.

The final outcome of this meeting will be a diversity toolkit for firms—an online resource designed to assist firms in a variety of topic areas. Subjects addressed at the meeting include: diversity management, HR policy, pipeline development, recruitment into architecture schools and the profession, succession planning, and women within the profession.


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Value: The Difference—a Toolkit for Firms, will be available on the Diversity page of in September.

The Minority Fellows Reception at the 2009 AIA convention brought celebrants to the Xanadu Gallery designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Cosponsors of the reception with the AIA were Perkins+Will and Michael Willis Architects. Photo by Sherry Snipes.