July 1, 2019

Takeaways from AIA Chicago's First LGBTQI+ Alliance Panel

AIA Chicago’s new LGBTQI+ Alliance recently hosted the first Out In Architecture event, featuring a panel of industry leaders talking about equity, diversity and inclusion of LGBTQI+ members throughout the A/E/C space. The event was organized and supported by AIA National, and moderated by Marcia Jones (MJ) Calloway, that group’s Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (far left, below).

Panelists included (left to right, below): Yiselle Santos, the Director of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion at HKS in Washington DC; Katherine Georgeson, founding principal at Stage Architects in Milwaukee, WI; Chris Morrison, managing director of Perkins + Will in Washington DC; and Dan Earles, founding principal of Earles Architects in Chicago.

Our own Michael Kmak and Debora Favaretto attended on CannonDesign’s behalf, and share their takeaways from this groundbreaking event here:

Michael Kmak, AIA, LEED AP BD+C

  • First, the kind of shocking part: The AIA Chicago’s LGBTQI+ Alliance – and this panel discussion – is a first-of-its-kind alliance for the AIA – in 2019. The architecture industry appears to be paces behind others when it comes to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. As the panel responded to the audience Q&A, my mind kept returning to the long-standing image of the “boy’s club” of architecture – historically white cis men. How is it, more than any other industry, we can’t seem to break down this barrier?
  • There’s something universal to architecture – as place-making, as residence, as school, as workplace – that intends itself to be universal. This becomes an aspirational hope that unites us; a great denominator. There is a distinct power in that and excellent vision. But that great denominator can also be greatly reductionist. We are only now realizing how to become many voices under one roof, and not just be the designers of a roof.
  • Regarding a generational divide within the industry, the youngest generation is already fully aware of issues of fluidity, gender, and race. They don’t just want change – they expect it to have already happened.
  • Diversity, inclusion, and equity are about visibility. There are many paths forward, but ultimately it’s about telling our stories and being visible.
  • Katherine Georgeson, FAIA, spoke about her coming out as a transwoman later in life, saying she approximated losing maybe “one to two” clients on the issue. She said everyone else who stood by her reflected back the same sentiment: “It’s not presentation we’re buying, it’s brain power.

Debora Leighton Favaretto, AIA

  • The major messages that resonated with me were intention, the power of every individual voice, and the importance of providing platforms from which people can share their stories.
  • I found interesting the discussion about client demands being the drivers that shift culture in large firms. It’s no surprise that clients want to spend their money supporting companies that align with their values – and that values are becoming only increasingly inclusive.
  • On a personal note, I was invited to this event by a previous coworker, now close friend, and the co-chair of AIA Chicago LGBTQI+ Alliance, Sara Fetterolf. When she invited me, she expressed to me that she wanted me there because I was such an important influence on her decision to be out at work. It was incredibly heartwarming and empowering. It was a huge reminder that like each of us do, I have the opportunity moment by moment, to impact the lives of everyone around me by being more authentically myself. Through authenticity, we create safety and opportunity for others to create their own space and reflect themselves authentically.
  • I want to hear what other people have faced, what others have overcome, and more importantly, where people are struggling and haven’t yet found how to be authentically themselves in their work lives. So, I’ll ask: Where can we take the conversation from here? What is your day-in-the-life of story to share?
  • The more we are conscious and intentional about how we show up, the more of our voice we share, and the more voices we hear, the more creativity can flow and fulfilled we can be. I also believe the responsibility is on each of us to be ourselves and to support each other towards our greater becoming.

Event photo courtesy AIA Chicago.

Learn more about our Diversity + Inclusion Council >