#Justice: Carrying a Moment into a Movement with Anna Leach

Blog Post | January 7, 2021

Voices and Perspectives is a series from CallisonRTKL to elevate the perspectives of our people. We are grateful for their commitment to facilitate and celebrate equality, diversity and inclusivity in our firm and beyond. Today, we’re talking to Associate Vice President Anna Leach about her commitment to bringing conversations of injustice beyond an explosive moment and into a sustained, progressive movement.  

Anna Leach

Associate Vice President 

Anna is a design-savvy, technical architect and project manager with over ten years of experience across project types including retail, workplace, and hospitality. Her key skills include translating conceptual designs into reality and managing high-speed delivery of complex projects. She was awarded the 2019 Rising Star Award from the Planning and Visual Education Partnership (PAVE) for her outstanding leadership on retail projects both nationally and internationally, as well as her expertise in implementing new brand concepts and scalable prototype designs. She has worked with a multitude of major brands, including ABC-Mart Grand Stage, böhme, Janie & Jack, Finish Line, Dacor, Cole Haan, and more.

In the wake of the BLM protests earlier this year many of us are wondering, ‘What can I do?’

One action we can take right now is to start talking about racial justice. But how can ‘just’ talking about issues drive real change?

In the fall of 2017, as the #MeToo movement started gaining momentum, I began thinking more about the gender inequities in the design profession. Only around 20% of licensed architects are women, and, like many women in architecture, I’ve experienced moments where it’s seemed like my gender is held against me. But what could I possibly do?

It was in this context that the idea for the “Equity Roundtable” emerged. We invited everyone in our office to participate in a once-a-month small group meeting to discuss short readings and news articles on gender and equity issues in the workplace. Groups were randomized each month to encourage new connections between colleagues who might not work together on a day-to-day basis. We provided some discussion questions to help guide the conversations on the readings.

Interest far exceeded expectations: over 60 people in the Seattle office– including senior leaders– participated in the six-month series. We encouraged groups to share notes on their conversations, which allowed us to gather a substantial pool of feedback and ideas. Seeing and hearing from so many people on this crucial topic allowed us to see commonalities and trends, which we crafted into a summary document outlining potential action items to address the concerns we were seeing.

We completed this research in 2018; to see that CRTKL leads the way – especially compared to many other large architecture firms – is reaffirming.  Critical benefits like expanded paid parental leave policies and increasing training and professional development opportunities are some of the advanced efforts aligned with our research. Our recent commitment to pursuing the JUST label will go even further in our commitment to organizational transparency for equity and social justice.

Following the success at CRTKL, we brought the ‘Roundtable’ concept to AIA Seattle. In partnership with the Women in Design Committee and Diversity Roundtable, we ran a 6-month discussion series open to the entire Seattle architecture community. For the AIA series, we focused on the Equity Guides, which address equity and justice issues specifically through the lens of architecture. Participation in the city-wide series was also strong, with several meetings exceeding the capacity of our space.

The enthusiastic participation in both series reflected pent-up demand to openly discuss equity in our profession, which is a lesson we can apply to the current need to examine racial justice. The discussion format we used supports a few interconnected goals:

  • Structured opportunity and space to talk directly about issues affecting our profession that we don’t always look at head-on
  • Enhances the importance of equity and racial justice by dedicating time and space to conversation
  • A stage to amplify voices not usually heard – for example, junior staff or people from minority groups who might otherwise feel uncomfortable sharing their positions
  • Social connections with others in the firm or local community creates opportunities to find mentor/mentee relationships
  • Promotion of data and ideas that can be built upon to drive real change.

The conversation has proven to be a powerful tool with real impacts, and this discussion format is flexible and easy to execute at various scales. CRTKL’s guide to Architecture, Race and Culture provides some excellent jumping-off points to discuss how we might work to advance racial justice as designers and architects.

The most important thing is to keep talking about these issues – they should no longer be allowed to go away after the first burst of energy dies down. We keep tackling them every day, and to do that; we need to keep talking to each other and not shy away from challenging topics.