Evolving & Diversifying in 2021

An Interview with SDNOMA President, Michael Robinson


SDAF, in partnership with SDNOMA, held an event last week, Overcoming the 2%: Seeking Equity and Diversity, where we discussed the lack of diversity in the built environment industry. We sat down with the president of SDNOMA, Michael Robinson, to get his feedback on how it went and what we can do moving forward.

Do you have any takeaway thoughts following last week’s Context webinar?

President, SDNOMA, Michael Robinson

For the most part, I thought it was good to hear the experiences of other ethnic groups compared to my own. I am familiar with instances similar to the situation recalled by a panelist when she spoke about the denial of her participation in a meeting due to the conservative nature of the clientele. I’ve had experiences similar to those myself in my career. So, I can understand and agree with what she was talking about. As far as the cultural biases some Asian American and Pacific Islander individuals have dealt with on their own – I was unaware of that. And it was good to be able to hear that. And most of the responses received from the different panelists – I was very happy to hear those, even though some of their reflections were sad. It’s good to know that at least those stories are being told.

Were there any experiences or other themes that resonated with you in particular?

Yes, I think the big thing is trying to find ways for individuals to impact their firms. It’s important to make a difference with hiring practices and help individuals of color move toward the management level of their firms into senior leadership. And that’s a missing link right now, even though you’re looking for individuals to attend college, graduate, and enter the workforce. There should also be a way for these individuals to move up to management within firms. I think that’s very important.

That’s an excellent point: focusing on building future leaders. Did you learn anything new?

I know now that many individuals have been affected in different ways and, there needs to be some work done to make the industry more diverse, more inclusive, and more equitable. Still, it’s good to know that some initiatives are underway or fostered to help with that effort.

Is there anything that you hope others took from the webinar?

Context Vol 7, 2021

Just the fact that they can see things through the lens of another individual, which can help them to be more compassionate and more inclusive, hopefully. That is what I would hope would come out of that conversation.

Are there any other personal thoughts or opinions that you wanted to share on the subject?

I think there is a systemic condition that has existed over a great period of time. And we are all aware that architecture is a white, male-dominated profession, and there’s room for other nationalities in this profession. And I think that, rather than some organizations who only offer word-of-mouth solutions or want to check a box, there should be more intense scrutiny and development of programs that will bring more individuals of ethnic diversity into the profession. These efforts will also keep them in the profession compared to wanting to leave due to some of the difficulties they may encounter.

Digital Rendering, Pedestrian Bridge by Michael Robinson

SDNOMA is a relatively new chapter for San Diego. What are your plans for the near future?

We will continue to make DEI – diversity, equity, and inclusion – a significant part of the mission of SDNOMA, and we will continue to cooperate with other organizations like SDAF and Women in Architecture and national organizations like the AIA. We can foster relationships for ethnic minorities moving forward, and that will remain a primary objective and goal for our organization in the future.


For more information or to become a member of SDNOMA, please follow this link

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