It’s essential that the path to becoming an architect is fair and equitable, and that the individuals who work in the architecture profession reflect the communities they serve.

In 2020, NCARB partnered with the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) to conduct a joint survey exploring candidates’ experiences while pursuing licensure, to assess whether there are impediments and pinch points that disproportionally affect minorities and other underrepresented groups.

The survey was sent to nearly 70,000 professionals, and received over 5,000 complete responses from licensure candidates, recently licensed architects, and individuals who stopped pursuing licensure. Over 2,300 of the responses were from people of color, and nearly 2,500 were from women.

The results suggest there is often slight, but widespread, disparity throughout the licensure process and in firm culture. While all people of color—especially women of color—are impacted by these disparities in some ways, African Americans report challenges at nearly every stage. In addition, the results revealed significant hurdles for older candidates pursuing the AXP, and highlighted ways the ARE may pose a more significant obstacle for women than for men.

Over the coming months, NOMA and NCARB will continue to analyze the survey results and release in-depth reports on key topic areas, including the AXP, ARE, and firm culture. As the findings are shared, NCARB and NOMA will determine next steps and propose solutions to address these disparities.

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African Americans Slightly Less Likely to Say Finding an AXP-Supportive Firm is Easy

Because the Architectural Experience Program® (AXP®) requires experience to be gained across six different areas, finding a firm willing to provide work opportunities in each practice area is critical to completing the program.

Most survey respondents—nearly three quarters—agreed that finding a firm to support their progress through the AXP was easy. However, licensure candidates and architects who identified as Black or African American were 5 percentage points less likely to agree than their white peers, and 4 percentage points less likely to agree than their Asian peers.

While this is a minor difference, difficulty in African American candidates’ ability to find a supportive firm could draw out the time and effort needed to complete the experience program, potentially extending the licensure process and contributing to attrition on the licensure path.

Note: “Other” includes individuals who identified as a race/ethnicity other than white; Black or African American; Hispanic or Latino; or Asian, as well as those who wrote in an alternative response for their race/ethnicity.

White and Asian Candidates Most Likely to Agree AXP Supervisor Is Supportive

AXP supervisors play an important role in candidates’ path to licensure by providing guidance, assigning experience opportunities, and reviewing experience reports.

At 77 percent, individuals who identified as White or Asian were the most likely to agree. Licensure candidates and architects who identified as Black or African American and Latino were slightly less likely to agree at 75 percent.

Though the percentage point difference is minor, the slight gap between African Americans and Latinos compared to their peers of other races/ethnicities is indicative of small but cumulative disparities for African American and Latino individuals throughout the survey results.

Note: “Other” includes individuals who identified as a race/ethnicity other than white; Black or African American; Hispanic or Latino; or Asian, as well as those who wrote in an alternative response for their race/ethnicity.

Asian and Latina Women Less Likely to Receive Variety of Experience Opportunities

To complete the AXP, candidates must learn how to competently perform 96 key tasks spread across six experience areas. It is essential that firms offer individuals pursuing licensure a variety of work opportunities so they are able to gain the required experience.

While nearly three quarters of candidates agreed their firm provided them with a variety of opportunities to gain credit in all experience areas, breaking the responses down by race/ethnicity and gender revealed small disparities. At 67 and 68 percent (respectively), Asian and Hispanic or Latina women were the least likely to agree. This is 2 and 3 percentage points lower than white men and 5 and 6 percentage points (respectively) lower than white women and African American men, who were the most likely to agree they received a variety of opportunities.

White respondents were the only race/ethnicity where women were more likely to agree than men. For each other race/ethnicity, women were at least 3 percentage points less likely to agree that they received a variety of opportunities compared to the corresponding male respondents of the same race/ethnicity.

This suggests that earning the broad experience needed to earn an architecture license may be more difficult for women of color, specifically Asian and Latina women.

Reported Ease of Finding AXP-Supportive Firm Decreases With Age

While the joint survey conducted by NOMA and NCARB is primarily exploring disparities based on race/ethnicity and gender, the results also highlighted other factors that may impact an individual’s career progression, such as age.

Breaking down results based on respondents’ ages revealed a large gap in areas related to the AXP. Just 52 percent of individuals aged 55 or older agreed that finding a firm to support their AXP progress was easy—26 percentage points less than individuals aged 18-29.

The percent of individuals who agree that finding a supportive firm is easy decreases with each age group, with those aged 30-39 9 percentage points less likely to agree than those aged 18-29, and individuals aged 40-54 20 percentage points less likely to agree.

These results indicate that despite efforts to create additional pathways to licensure, gaining the experience needed to earn a license is disproportionately difficult for older candidates.

Latinos Least Likely to Feel Confident They Can Afford the ARE

NCARB’s current version of the exam, ARE 5.0, costs $235 per division. To complete the exam, candidates must pass all six divisions.

When asked whether they feel confident in their ability to afford taking the ARE, just 22 percent of Hispanic or Latino respondents said yes—6 percentage points fewer than Black or African American respondents.

For most races/ethnicities, the largest proportion of respondents selected “somewhat.” Hispanic or Latino respondents represent the only ethnicity where candidates were slightly more likely to select “no” when asked if they were confident in their ability to afford taking the ARE.

Many survey respondents across all demographics indicated the cost of the exam was a significant challenge to practice; however, this barrier may disproportionately impact Latino candidates.

Note: “Other” includes individuals who identified as a race/ethnicity other than white; Black or African American; Hispanic or Latino; or Asian, as well as those who wrote in an alternative response for their race/ethnicity.

Latino and African American Candidates Least Likely to Receive Firm Support Toward Cost of the ARE

Some architecture firms assist candidates in managing the financial burden of licensure by paying for the cost of the exam—although many respondents indicate this financial assistance is only available if they pass the ARE division.

However, just 41 percent of Latino candidates and 43 percent of African American candidates indicated that their firm would contribute to the cost of the ARE—9 and 7 percentage points (respectively) below their white and Asian peers.

This suggests that white and Asian candidates may receive better access to firm support while pursuing licensure.

Note: “Other” includes individuals who identified as a race/ethnicity other than white; Black or African American; Hispanic or Latino; or Asian, as well as those who wrote in an alternative response for their race/ethnicity.

Latinos and African American Women More Likely to Spend Over $500 on Study Materials

In addition to the cost of scheduling an exam appointment, many candidates purchase study materials.

When asked roughly how much they had spent on study materials, 48 percent of Latina women and 45 percent of Latino men indicated they had spent over $500, 11 and 8 percentage points higher (respectively) than their white male peers. African American women were the next most likely to spend over $500 on study materials, with 43 percent selecting this option—6 percentage points higher than white men.

With Latino and African American candidates already among the least likely to receive firm support toward the cost of the ARE, this is an additional expense that could contribute to candidates’ inability to afford the exam.

Women Twice as Likely to Stop Pursuing a License After Taking ARE Division

In addition to licensure candidates and recently licensed architects, the survey was also shared with individuals who decided to stop pursuing an architecture license.

When asked at what point in their career they decided not to become an architect, 26 percent of women no longer pursuing licensure selected “after taking an ARE division.” This is 13 percentage points higher than their male peers.

African Americans Less Likely to Agree They Are Fairly Compensated Compared to Peers

In addition to exploring respondents’ experiences navigating the licensure process, the survey also examined firm culture and career development.

At 53 percent, white respondents were the most likely to agree they feel compensated fairly compared to their peers. Comparatively, just 45 percent of Black or African American respondents and 47 percent of Asian respondents agreed to the same statement—8 and 6 percentage points fewer, respectively.

Note: “Other” includes individuals who identified as a race/ethnicity other than white; Black or African American; Hispanic or Latino; or Asian, as well as those who wrote in an alternative response for their race/ethnicity.

Two-Thirds of African Americans Cannot Identify People Similar to Themselves in Firm Leadership

Representation in firm leadership is an important component of firm culture, and has been shown to lead to benefits such as higher employee retention and higher financial performance, among others.

When asked if they could identify people in leadership at their firm who are similar to themselves, two-thirds of African American respondents indicated they could not—40 percentage points higher than white respondents. In addition, Latino and Asian respondents were 22 and 21 percentage points (respectively) more likely to indicate they could not identify people similar to themselves in firm leadership, compared to their white peers.

Note: “Other” includes individuals who identified as a race/ethnicity other than white; Black or African American; Hispanic or Latino; or Asian, as well as those who wrote in an alternative response for their race/ethnicity.

African Americans Most Likely to Face or Witness Discrimination at Work

When asked if they had faced or witnessed discrimination in their work environment, 40 percent of African Americans said yes—14 percentage points higher than their white counterparts. Asians were the next most likely to report they had faced or witnessed discrimination at work, with 28 percent selecting yes—still 12 percentage points fewer than African Americans.

This statistic highlights the disparity in the profession, even among underrepresented groups.

Note: “Other” includes individuals whoidentified as a race/ethnicity other than white; Black or African American; Hispanic or Latino; or Asian, as well as those who wrote in an alternative response for their race/ethnicity.

People of Color More Likely to Stop Pursuing Licensure While Working at a Firm

When asked at what point in their career they decided not to become an architect, 50 percent of people of color who are no longer pursuing licensure selected “while working in an architecture firm.” This is 7 percentage points higher than their white peers, suggesting that people of color are more likely to fall off the path to licensure due to experiences at a firm.

Given the cumulative disparities apparent in the experiences of people of color at various points throughout the licensure process when compared to their white peers—in gaining experience, receiving firm support while taking the ARE, and in firm culture—the higher level of attrition is both understandable, and potentially preventable. These findings highlight the need for culture and systematic shifts throughout the profession.