Member News

Opinion: Beverly Willis on Sexual Misconduct in Architecture

by Beverly Willis, Julia Donoho | Jun 15, 2018

One rotten apple can spoil the whole barrel, and when it comes to sexual misconduct, the design profession appears to have several rotten apples. As we are beginning to see, a single practitioner of rotten activities can ruin the name and even legacy of an entire firm.

I became interested in the topic of sexual misconduct when I was trying to understand why many women were dropping out of the design field within their first 10 years of practice. These were young and talented women who had excelled in architecture school. They were also vulnerable. Recent headlines have made it clear how prevalent sexual misconduct can be when powerful men hold the keys to a person’s career and advancement. There have been too few consequences and too much looking away.

Sexual misconduct encompasses a wide array of activities. Some are criminal behaviors, while others do not rise to the level of criminality, but are still legally actionable. Some behaviors are not actionable in and of themselves, but can contribute to a hostile work environment. However, none of these activities should be confused with issues relating to equity or discrimination.

The AIA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct has a prohibition on discrimination, Rule 1.401: “Members shall not discriminate in their professional activities on the basis of race, religion, gender, national origin, age, disability, or sexual orientation.” In addition, the AIA has published a stream of statements referencing its Code of Ethics, denouncing sexual misconduct in the workplace, announcing the development of a guide for equitable practices, and outlining future actions to eliminate sexual misconduct in the profession.

Sexual misconduct is a men’s problem, and only the men can resolve it, because the men have the power—for now.

Sexual misconduct is a men’s problem, and only the men can resolve it, because the men have the power—for now.

I write about sexual misconduct as it is defined legally. It includes sexual assault and battery, which is against the law. It is a crime. You can go to jail. Sexual harassment is the basis of a lawsuit. Retaliation is against the law. If a firm retaliates against an individual, then the firm itself can be in trouble with the law.

I describe below how I would like the men of the AIA to respond.

First, the AIA should insert into its Code of Ethics a prohibition explicitly against specifically defined sexual misconducts—the term for the whole category of sexual misconducts—and add the specific legal definitions (see “Definitions of Sexual Misconducts” below) as some actions are crimes that could result in jail time or lead to lengthy litigation. It should be noted that each state has different regulations in their penal and labor codes, and federal Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) regulations add another layer of protection from harassment, discrimination, and retaliation.

Read entire article here

Read response from  Emily Grandstaff-Rice, FAIA who serves  as the 2018-2020 at-large director of the AIA and chairs the AIA Equity and Future of Architecture Committee here


Beverly Wills, FAIA has been a member of SAH since 1998.  
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