Leading by example
Of the 116,000 licensed architects in the United States, only 2,300 are Black, a number which has not changed much since 1968. This means that the number of those entering the field has not outpaced the number leaving. Further still, Black female architects make up only one fifth of that number.
In 2020, the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), in partnership with the AIA Large Firm Roundtable (LFR), introduced the 2030 Diversity Challenge, which aims to increase the number of Black architects from 2,300 to 5,000 by 2030, an increase from two percent to four percent of all licensed architects, and an important step, even though Black people represent 14 percent of the U.S. population.
Page Senior Principal and AIA LFR committee member Mattia Flabiano accepted this challenge on behalf of the firm. More recently, Page Associate Principal and NOMA Dallas – Fort Worth Pipeline Chairperson Wenguel Yohannes spoke with Texas Architect Magazine about the licensure challenges facing diversity candidates.
50 x 50 Challenge
To acknowledge the 50th anniversary of NOMA, and as part of its larger diversity initiative, the organization has launched the 50 X 50 Challenge to recognize 50 newly licensed architects at its annual conference this October. Wenguel offered her experiences and advice for those going through the licensure process. She recalls the challenges she faced when trying to complete her exam series. “During that time, I had a lot more responsibilities than, let’s say, someone that was fresh out of school,” she says. “I had people relying on me or reporting to me for work. So, it was not something that I could just put off to the wayside and focus on testing.”
Wenguel postponed her last exam time and again because she was intimidated, as it was one she had previously failed. When the exam date fell on a work deadline, she was ready to postpone yet again, but her mentor and project manager refused to allow it. “He was like, ‘Take the whole week off. Go study. Deadlines will happen. We’ll make it work.’ I don’t know how many people get that kind of an opportunity.” She completed and passed that last exam, completing the series.
Speaking from experience
Now a firm leader and mentor for emerging professionals, Wenguel offers the following advice for licensure candidates: “What I always tell them is that it’s a sacrifice in time. That’s kind of a blip in your overall life and career. I think it’s always good to remind them that the earlier they take their tests, the better off they will be, because the longer you wait … the more responsibilities you have, the harder it gets. So it’s better to prioritize testing.”
She agrees that firm leaders can talk to their staff about how they can support licensure candidates in their success. Time and money are needed to take the exams, but once passed, they are a huge turning point in a candidate’s career. Anything firm leaders can do to help support diversity licensure candidates will help all licensure candidates and in turn, reinforce support and commitment to the future of the profession.
Excerpted and adapted from a larger article in Texas Architect Magazine. To view it in full, click here.
Wenguel has the kind of career that some architects only dream of. She began working at Page after receiving her Bachelor of Science in Architecture from the University of Texas at Arlington. As a native of Ethiopia, she brings a wide cultural perspective to client projects. Wenguel embodies the firm’s vision of design that makes lives better.
She has worked on projects that improve the quality of life for residents of multiple communities, ranging from Veterans Affairs health clinics to performing arts centers to a revolutionary center for brain performance within the University of Texas system. And, she also has worked on overseas projects, which she enjoys as they remind her of her study abroad program in Italy.
Outside the office, Wenguel pays it “forward” by volunteering her design skills for service activities such as Hearts & Hammers which improves housing for the disadvantaged, and “backward” by mentoring architecture students at her alma mater.