Why Diversity Matters: Perspectives on Black Representation in the AEC Industry

featuring Ashley I. August, Meaghan A. Williams

February 27, 2024

Ashley I. August and Meaghan A. Williams

When younger generations can see themselves in a successful person they relate to, whether a TV personality, chef, or architect, it only increases their motivation to pursue the career that inspires them.

Across the entire AEC industry, fewer than 2% of U.S. architects and 3% of U.S. designers currently identify as Black. In U.S. commercial real estate firms, only 7% of all full-time employees are Black. Page is a longtime supporter of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives that educate and inform minority students of all ages about the many opportunities available to them in architecture, engineering, construction, design, and beyond. The earlier they discover that they can be part of this vibrant and diverse community, the sooner they can pursue their dreams without hesitation.

Ashley I. August, Page Associate Principal and Mechanical Engineer, and Meaghan A. Williams, a Page designer, recently participated in a career fair held at Houston’s Prairie View A&M University. In this Q&A, they reveal the importance of diverse perspectives, the benefits of attending a historically Black college or university (HBCU), and why they love supporting younger generations.

Prairie View A&M University Career Fair

Ashley I. August and Meaghan A. Williams attend the Prairie View A&M University Career Fair and discuss the benefits of attending and recruiting from a historically Black college or university (HBCU).

Meaghan is on the design team for Midway East River, a sprawling mixed-use redevelopment site near downtown Houston.

Why did you attend an HBCU?
Meaghan: It’s a melting pot of personalities and backgrounds. You feel like you’re in a very safe space. It’s empowering to have been educated at Prairie View – it’s smaller than most, so you get that intimate setting. It’s like a family.
Ashley: I earned degrees at Xavier University of New Orleans and North Carolina AT&T and am a huge fan of the community that’s fostered at an HBCU. It’s a wonderful environment to learn and grow in. You have the space to learn valuable lessons at an HBCU – a sense of community, working together, owning who you are – and [bring] them to the business world.

Describe the value of career fairs.
M: It’s important to scout at HBCUs because there aren’t a lot of people who look like me in this industry. I graduated from Prairie View in 2020 and found out about Page through a diversity career fair.
A: I’m a big proponent of career fairs and attend whenever I am invited. I especially take pride in coming back to recruit talent at HBCUs. I’ve seen a lot of growth since I began my career 15 years ago, and although it’s better than when I first started, it still lacks a lot of talent that looks like me.

Why do diverse perspectives matter?
M: Many Black people don’t think about going into architecture. It starts with children in grade school, showing them that yes, Black architects exist. I have a cousin who now wants to major in architecture. We need a larger presence in this industry.
A: Oftentimes, we are in pursuit of projects that are headed by individuals who are not the majority. It’s important to have someone who speaks the language effectively, who understands the culture, who understands how to navigate their way through some conversations. The perspective I bring is not going to be the same as my counterpart, so the two of us working together provides a wider range of insights and communication that benefit the project.

One of Ashley's current projects is the City of Houston Central Police Complex, featuring a three-story renovation and new construction garage.

Who is your biggest inspiration or champion?
M: My first professor, Professor O’Kellough, was my mentor who saw a spark in me. When I chose architecture as my major, there was less than 1% of Black women in this career field. I felt it was important for me to excel.
A: My father was a chemical and industrial engineer. He was also one of the earlier African Americans who worked at BP. The first experience I had with engineering was him bringing home blueprints that I got to play with. It was the influence of seeing him work with really cool tools and do really cool things.

How does it feel to make an impact in the AEC industry?
M: It feels amazing to come back on the other side [at a career fair] because you see the fresh faces and remember you were once in that position. I want to see more Prairie View alumni at Page in the future.​​​​​​​
A: The ability to make an impact is exceptionally important. A few years ago, I went to an event at an elementary school. A mother came up to the table and said, “My daughter’s very shy. She likes putting things together, and I think she’d be a good engineer. It would be so nice if you said something to her because we’ve not seen anybody like you.” That was the best thing ever. Anytime Page asks me to attend these events, of course I’m going to do it, because you never know the impact.

Ashley I. August

Mechanical Engineer

Meaghan A. Williams