Diverse Perspectives: HCM Women in Leadership

Recently, two female HCM Principals from different offices and Studios convened at the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards’ (NCARB) annual business meeting in Detroit. While HCM would be proud to have any of its Principals represent the firm on the board, this situation is particularly unique due to the nature of diversity in architecture as a whole. According to NCARB, in 2016, women accounted for 36% of newly licensed architects and 42% of new ARE (Architect Registration Examinations) candidates. Although still low, this is an improvement from previous years, as only 19% of current NCARB certificate holders are women.

What is NCARB?

The National Council of Architectural Registration Boards is an organization that brings together the architectural licensing boards of 54 states and territories. “Architecture is a regulated profession, and architects are licensed to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public,” said Mary Morissette, HCM Principal and NCARB board member. “Not only are we regulators, but we are also evaluating and shaping the future of the profession and serve as a resource to the public.”

While the size of state boards as well as terms and processes vary by state, most positions are appointed by that state’s Governor.

Who are the NCARB board members from HCM?

Cynthia Shonaiya, AIA, LEED AP, leads HCM’s Senior Living Studio in Baltimore. She was nominated by Maryland’s former governor, Martin O’Malley, five years ago and has been re-appointed by current governor, Larry Hogan, for a second five-year term.

Mary Morissette, FAIA, NCARB, LEED AP, leads the firm’s Healthcare practice in our Denver office. She has also recently been re-appointed by Governor John Hickenlooper for her second four-year term. Mary is the first architect and female to serve as Board Chair since 2006 when the architects’ board was combined with the professional engineers and professional land surveyors.

Why is diversity important for institutions like the state boards and NCARB?

“It is important to have diversity on the board, so the board represents the makeup of the profession and society,” Morissette said.

Shonaiya agrees. “First and foremost, we are architects, and professionals. If there’s anything that being a female board member does, however, is that it adds just a slightly different perspective from the viewpoint of a population that is currently underrepresented.”

For Shonaiya, that means considering the path to licensure for women in the workforce. “Statistics show that even though in architecture schools, enrollment might be 50/50, when it comes to licensure, there’s a huge drop-off,” she said. “For a variety of reasons, women are not getting licensed at the same rate as they are graduating architecture school. As female members of the board, we try to make sure that we highlight unforeseen or unacknowledged barriers that make it more difficult for women to become licensed.”

One way that NCARB and state boards have done that in recent years is by introducing Integrated Path to Architectural Licensure (IPAL) programs. “The 3 Es of architecture – Education, Experience, and Examinations – used to happen in consecutive steps,” Shonaiya said. “Now if you’re in an IPAL program, these steps can all be concurrent. You can start the examination and gain experience while still in school, which can shorten the path to licensure. While this benefits everyone, it may particularly help address the unique challenges faced by women in the workforce, as well as other minorities, who often have to contend with family and financial challenges that can make it difficult to see an extended path to licensure through to the end.”

What does having two female HCMers on the board mean for the firm?

“I believe that my involvement on the Colorado Licensing Board and in NCARB makes me a better architect, knowledgeable not only in Colorado’s statutes, but those of the other 53 jurisdictions,” Morissette said. “Through my knowledge, I can serve as a valuable resource to the firm in developing policies that ensure compliance with state statutes, and training of staff to deliver projects that meet the standards of care.”

Beyond benefitting from having an insider look at the board’s policies, Shonaiya thinks having two representatives on the board says a lot about HCM. “These are public positions and our meetings are open to the general public, so our participation affirms HCM’s commitment to community service; to health, safety and welfare; as well as to the profession as a whole,” she said.

It also symbolizes HCM’s larger commitment to diversity in architecture. Through programs like our Architect for the Day initiative that involve inner city and public schools, as well our investment into scholarships at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), we are committed to engaging broader and more diverse audiences, especially at a younger age.

“The profession of architecture continues to have very low percentages of women and minorities. This is not going to fundamentally change until the profession reaches down to middle and high school students to educate on the option of architecture as a profession,” Morissette said. “Once students are in college, it can be too late.”

From engaging broader audiences at a young age to taking pride in our diverse representation on state boards and NCARB alike, Hord Coplan Macht is committed to increasing diversity in architecture as a whole. Sound like a cause you can get behind? Join us.