Built environment design professionals are responsible for myriad spaces that contribute to positive or negative effects on societal health, well-being, and happiness. Who designs the built environment (representation), and how they do it (equitable practice) matters. Improving the representation and retention of design practitioners from historically excluded racial and ethnic minority groups and developing more equitable and inclusive workplace practices is imperative to reduce the negative effects of white supremacy in built environment design practice and the built environment itself.
Many racist barriers in need of removal exist within the design professions, from K-12 to post-secondary education to professional development and leadership. The scope of this research focuses on workplace culture as it relates to the retention of employees from underrepresented racial and ethnic minority communities.
Workplace culture is traditionally seen as top-down and defined by the leaders of a firm or organization. However, as workplaces become increasingly adaptable to a rapidly changing world and workforce, employees are expressing more agency in shifting workplace cultural norms and expectations. Independent of who creates workplace culture, it is ubiquitous to all firms and organizations, unspoken, and dynamic. Positioning workplace culture as a tool for or against white supremacy in the workplace places significant social and ethical responsibility onto those designing or influencing workplace culture. This research asks built environment design professionals to identify weaknesses within their workplace cultures and to empower professionals with information and concrete options for improving equitable practices.
The Applied Research Consortium (ARC) is a new program within University of Washington’s College of Built Environments that links graduate students, faculty members, and firms to research a topic collaboratively. Now in my final year of UW’s MLA program, I am leading a year-long research project through an ARC Fellowship. The research is focused on racial equity within built environment design practice. More specifically, I am looking at how perceptions of workplace culture within design practice affect employee retention and goals around equity and inclusion.
To better understand existing perceptions of workplace culture, I have created a short, anonymous survey aimed at design professionals. Through this survey, I hope to learn what aspects of workplace culture need the most improvement and provide a set of recommendations for how workplaces can positively shift their culture.
Your help is needed! The survey closes at the end of March. I am seeking participation from landscape architects to reach the respondent goal. Please feel free to share it widely with your professional networks. All responses are completely anonymous and highly valued.
The research project began in September 2020 with goal setting, a literature review, and scoping process. One of the goals that emerged from this early phase of the project is to widely share the findings, and subsequent recommendations for an industry-scale impact. In the spirit of sharing research, I would like to share a few key takeaways thus far:
The Built Environment is Racist
The built environment is a physical manifestation of our nation’s cultural and political history, and that history is racist. Some well-known examples of racism in the built environment include exclusionary redlining policies, the targeted siting of urban renewal projects, toxic industrial sites, and waste sites within communities of color, oppressive architecture of low-income housing projects, and inequitable urban economic development policies.