An In-Depth Conversation With AIA’s New CEO

    Lakisha Woods, the new CEO of the American Institute of Architects, joined the editors of Architect magazine for a discussion about her career in construction, her vision for the future, and her new book, Never Get Their Coffee. Here are some highlights:

    I looked around the room, and saw that out of 150 people there, only one was a woman, and she came up to me and immediately befriended me. We had many conversations after that. Other members often assumed she was a spouse of one of the members—she was the owner of a very large aggregate company—and I would just listen to her great stories. I was a manager at this association but I wished there was something I could do about that, other than support her and help talk about her business. It was that eye-opening experience where she is the owner of a company but they’re treating her differently because she’s a woman, and I wondered, who else would would fall into that situation? I also wondered how can the industry change, because they’re really great people and that they weren’t aware of the bias that they showed?

    My favorite location growing up was Fairbanks, Alaska, where everybody is just so nice. During April, all the snow in Alaska melts in about a week, and no matter where you drive, you’ll get stuck in the snow, so you’re taught when you start driving there, if you see someone stuck, get out of your car and help them out, because you’re going to turn the corner and you’re going to be stuck and somebody’s going to help you out. So, when I moved from Fairbanks to D.C. because my father got stationed at Bolling Air Force Base, and I was stuck in my car in my first major traffic jam, I proceeded to get out of the car and tried to go meet people like strangers on the street. I’ve now lived here in D.C. long enough to know that if you are walking down the highway and trying to shake people’s hands, you’ll be seen as a crazy woman. But it was just what we were taught growing up. If you’re by yourself, go make a friend.

    AIA is committed to harnessing the passion of our members and the broader design community to advance racial justice and equity in our organization, in our profession, and also in our communities. We have an emphasis on a couple of different things: One is dismantling barriers within all AIA systems governance, honors and awards, internal policies, vendor selection, hiring and retention, and any business practice that intentionally or unintentionally contributes to injustice and exclusion, including policies, practices, and programs. We’re also expanding inclusiveness and diversity within the profession through K-12 and higher education engagements and advocate for effective pathways into the profession. Expanding the profession through the participation of racially and ethnically diverse populations, women, and underrepresented groups is also important.