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Diversity in architecture is improving—sort of

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New NCARB data shows more nonwhite members of the profession, but attrition rates remain high

illustration of students in a classroom Sunra Thompson

Last week, the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB) released preliminary data from its 2018 edition of “By The Numbers,” an annual report about the architecture industry’s demographics, which will publish in full in July.

Like the 2017 NCARB report, the 2018 edition shows incremental improvement in racial diversity and the representation of women.

Forty-five percent of new Architectural Experience Program participants—an important early-career milestone on the path to licensure—identify as nonwhite. That represents a 3 percent increase from the 2017 report. While that statistic is encouraging, nonwhite architecture professionals are 25 percent more likely to stop pursuing licensure.

Racial and ethnic diversity in architecture is incrementally improving at the early stages of the profession.

Mike Armstrong, CEO of NCARB, attributes the rise in diverse young professionals to a number of factors. “The economy is pulling more people into the profession, we’ve improved our outreach to students around the country, and there’s growing diversity among architecture students,” he tells Curbed. “As part of an ongoing effort to make the path to licensure more inclusive, NCARB eliminated several unnecessary hurdles to navigating the AXP.”

The attrition rate for nonwhite professionals remains high.

Women represent 43 percent of new NCARB record holders—a statistic that reflects the demographics of young professionals—which remains the same as last year. Women represent 20 percent of certificate holders—a credential for licensed architects—which is a 1 percent increase from last year. Attrition rates are improving: While the rate of women achieving licensure is still low, the rate of women leaving the profession or deciding not to pursue a license is also decreasing.

The percentage of women in the field is precarious.

“There are numerous factors that could impact attrition rates for men and women, and it is unlikely that there is one singular factor that has caused them to even out,” Armstrong tells Curbed. “NCARB has been working with volunteers and licensing boards across the United States to streamline our program requirements and remove unnecessary barriers on the path to licensure.”

Long-term comparisons show women’s attrition rates decreasing.

To NCARB, attrition statistics are the most insightful data points from the report. The diversity pipeline remains a challenge for the industry as a whole since the profession becomes more male and more white as experience levels increase. While the organization has changed how its licensing program works, its focus for the future also includes changing the face of leadership. For example, only 17 percent of licensing board members are women and 12 percent are nonwhite.

“The profession must examine additional ways to encourage growth in groups that remain underrepresented,” Armstrong tells Curbed. “A key step is seeking out ways to create role models by promoting diversity in architectural leadership—at schools, in firms, and on state licensing boards.”

View the preliminary report here.