After members pointed out the lack of diversity in its leadership ranks, the American Institute of Architects created the Next to Lead program. The two-year program will help 16 ethnically diverse women become more involved and prepared to lead.
In recent year, American Institute of Architects members recognized that there was a dearth of diverse female leadership within the ranks of the association—from local and state chapters all the way up to the national leadership. In order to help combat this, AIA launched its Next to Lead program this month, which is designed to help spur ethnically diverse women to join the organization’s leadership.
“This program focuses specifically on association leadership,” said Nissa Dahlin-Brown, Ed.D, AIA director of higher education, diversity, and emerging professional engagement. “It’s not about building your business; it’s about the association leadership. It’s to get more women of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds into the leadership pipeline.”
The Next to Lead program will select 16 women to participate and provide two years of leadership-focused courses and training.
“The first year, they are going to have 90-minute courses once a month, online, and our consultant is going to talk about communication skills, leadership skills, grit, all those things,” Dahlin-Brown said. “We’ll feature staff and other experts to address specific issues, like legal issues, how you work with volunteers, all those various things that go into a membership organization.”
During the second year, the participants will get a chance to practice what they’ve learned. “It is very much an experiential learning program,” Dahlin-Brown said. “They will be able to take a project and work on that project in that second year, taking what they’ve learned in that first year and putting it into practice.”
In the short time that the program has been announced, AIA has had over 120 women start the application process, which Dahlin-Brown sees as a good sign for the need. She is especially excited about the fact that the women who are selected will have an opportunity to bond.
“They will go through this as a cohort group, supportive of each other,” Dahlin-Brown said. “Some of the literature on mentoring and sponsorship and how to gain those diverse perspectives into your field says they don’t feel comfortable because they don’t see themselves per se. So, this is a way to help them feel more comfortable, to make them feel safe in discussion groups.”
Current AIA staff and leadership are expected to play a role in the online courses delivered. “We have a session in January on AIA governance structure, and we’ll have someone from our legal office and our governance office,” Dahlin-Brown said. “AIA [staff and leadership] will definitely be involved. We’re going to be putting out a call for mentors as well to mentor these women along the way.”
At the completion of the program, AIA hopes to see more women join local, state, and national leadership positions. Next to Lead will begin this fall, with orientation in October and online sessions starting in November. Dahlin-Brown said she thinks the program will be a great learning experience for everyone involved.
“This is a pilot program; we want to learn,” she said. “I am looking forward to learning from these women on how we can help and how we can be supportive and make it a much more inclusive profession.”