New AIA Course Program Aims to Diversify Industry Leadership

This week, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) announced the launch of a new initiative called Next to Lead that aims to bring more “ethnically diverse women into AIA leadership positions.” Read on to learn more about this program’s eligibility, and why the AIA found it necessary to create it in the first place. 

Next to Lead Details

“Next to Lead is a two-year education pilot program designed to give ethnically diverse women better access to leadership positions.” Photo source: AIA

Next to Lead is a two-year, AIA funded, education pilot program designed to give ethnically diverse women better access to local, state, and national leadership positions. 

During the first year, participants will utilize an online curriculum to learn essential leadership skills from successful and diverse women leaders with decades of experience. During the second year, participants will engage in a year long volunteer leadership opportunity within the AIA where they’ll serve on a collaborative project developed with a local or state component.

The pilot program launches this fall with an initial class of 16 AIA members. Here are some more details:

  • The deadline to apply is April 30apply here after completing your AIA login
  • To apply, you must be a racially/ethnically diverse woman, an AIA member, and have at least five years of experience in architecture
  • AIA covers most program costs including curriculum, virtual meetings, and related AIA conference travel and attendance. Participants are responsible for purchasing books and resources ($295)
  • Along with their formal application of interest, applicants must also submit their resume and two letters of support

According to the AIA, “Next to Lead is how we’re ensuring the next generation of leaders is more diverse and that everyone’s voice and unique perspective is heard.” 

The Need for Diversity

According to a 2020 demographics report from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), only 35% of newly licensed architects in 2019 were women, and only about half of that percentage were women who identified as “not white.” While these numbers show improvement compared to previous years, NCARB says there’s still more to do to close the gap.

Specifically, only 4% of women who completed the process of becoming fully licensed in 2019 identified as Black or African American. “This suggests that there may be additional barriers preventing African American women from progressing in the profession,” stated the study.

Next to Lead Creation Process

Glaring disproportional demographic data within the industry was one of the driving forces behind the AIA developing the Next to Lead program. In 2018, the AIA passed Resolution 18-3: Diversity Pipeline and National Representation – which aimed to prepare more leaders among ethnically diverse women. A year later, a seven member task force came together to figure out what would eventually become the Next to Lead program.

“I think [this program] will provide a new look at what leadership is and who our leaders can be.” – Gabrielle Bullock, FAIA

“What I wanted from the group was really to provide their own personal and professional insight on what a program for diverse women would look like,” said task force chair Gabrielle Bullock, FAIA.

In the early stages of developing First to Lead, all seven task force members used their personal insight by adopting personas that mirrored women who might apply to the program. Those personas included a midlevel Latina architect from Chicago who might not have the money to attend, along with the owner of a recently opened small firm who is looking to branch out into a more prominent leadership role.

Bullock is very confident that when students complete the Next to Lead program, it will forever change the idea of “leadership” within AIA and beyond. “I think, once this gets started, it’ll be a train that will be hard to stop,” she said. “This program will be unique, and hopefully one to be mirrored by other organizations and firms. I think it will provide a new look at what leadership is and who our leaders can be.”

Architects Training Institute applauds this effort to create a more diverse group of industry leaders, and we hope you’ll share this information about this program with anyone who could benefit from it.

And of course, be sure to check out our AIA-approved online continuing courses to stay licensed and continue your career journey!