Next to Lead: A leadership pathway for ethnically diverse women

Women in leadership

Claiming a seat at the leadership table requires first getting a foot in the door. AIA’s new leadership program, Next to Lead, is designed to guide ethnically diverse women through every step in the process.   With its focus on association leadership and management, and a strong networking component, Next to Lead not only identifies the pathways to leadership; it is a pathway to leadership. By joining, participants take concrete steps in elevating their careers to the next level.

Launching its application process March 30, Next to Lead will provide leadership and experiential education, mentoring, and experiences for 16 ethnically diverse women AIA members who have a minimum of five years of experience in the architecture field.

Next to Lead was initiated by a member resolution, which asserted “a need for a national leadership pipeline of ethnically diverse women candidates for positions on the Institute Board of Directors and Strategic Council.” Since AIA membership approved the resolution in 2018, that need has only become more obvious and urgent.

Fewer than one in five new architects identify as racial or ethnic minorities, and just about two in five are women, according to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards. Those numbers are reflected in AIA leadership positions. The Board of Directors membership includes just 14% who identify as underrepresented racial and/or ethnic groups, and just 36% are women. Membership for the Strategic Council is almost identical (12% underrepresented racial and/or ethnic group; 35% women), according to AIA’s latest demographic report.

The pilot Next to Lead program is one way AIA is activating its commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion in membership, the field of architecture, and throughout society.

A dynamic curriculum is being developed by Mariama Boney (LMSW, CAE), president and CEO of Achieve More, LLC. Certified as a Small, Women and Minority-Owned (SWAM) business, Boney’s team is designing Next to Lead based on its extensive association experience and deep understanding of the unique challenges faced by racially and ethnically diverse women.

“We know being a woman professional is harder in this society based on certain dynamics like pay equity, benefits, and more,” Boney commented. “Being a woman of racial and ethnic diversity, we know that’s additionally harder. As a minority consultancy – a faculty that is primarily women of color providing this instruction for women of color – we get it. We get how hard it is. We get the challenges. We also understand the triumphs, triggers, and traumas that people have gone through, and we look at the intersectionality of being a woman along with race and ethnicity.”

Recognizing that the pandemic has compounded demands already faced by women juggling professional and personal obligations, Boney stresses that Next to Lead will be “rigorous, but not cumbersome.” Through a combination of virtual listening sessions, networking events, and projects, participants will finetune skills around communication, partnership, and collaboration while learning the fundamentals of AIA’s governance structure at component and national levels. “You’re not just going to be sitting in a regular webinar because you’re going through this experience with a cohort of other women, and that is very unique,” Boney added.

The program will kick off with self-assessment exercises to help participants evaluate their strengths and identify which resources and networks they need to excel. Integral to the program is extensive interaction with current AIA leadership. “We want those partnerships, so part of the partnership process is building a relationship,” Boney explained. “As we look to these women serving at greater levels within AIA leadership, they have to begin to get to know the people they’ll be serving with. And AIA leadership also has to reach in to support and get to know the women selected for this program.”

In the second part of Next to Lead, participants will apply what they’ve learned through completion of  a leadership project they will select and develop in collaboration with their local component. This opportunity for hands-on experience and networking is at the heart of the Next to Lead curriculum, and it illustrates how the association structure can be part of cultivating greater professional success.

It’s a dynamic Boney understands well from her own experience: “The things that I learned from my association leadership by investing the time and effort into an association position, I couldn’t have learned on the job. There are just nuances about how you partner with people, how you communicate with people, how you lead people, how you manage and check yourself, how you develop networks with people that can then help you and catapult your career and connect you to new opportunities that you just aren’t going to get on the job. Our workplaces are not the end all, be all, and we have to recognize that we are in a position to serve, and through that service, we then pour into ourselves.”

Of course, it’s not only the participants who will benefit from the program. AIA and the broader architecture profession will also gain from more fully utilizing the talents of ethnically diverse women.  “This is a huge opportunity to really highlight and appreciate the skills and talents of women who are racially and ethnically diverse within the profession and the role that these women have played and will continue to play in terms of innovation and helping architecture continue to be bold and brave for the future,” said Boney.

In conversations with women of color in the architecture field, Boney says a common theme is a feeling of isolation, and a question: “We’ve been talking about this for a long time, when are we actually going to do something about it?” Next to Lead’s central mission is to serve as an answer to that question.

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Women in leadership

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