Being Black Women in Architecture and Design: Challenges, Triumphs, and Opportunities


Cheryl Dixon, Assoc. AIA, Technical Designer, Gensler

Telicious Robinson, AIA Assoc., NOMA, Technical Designer, Gensler

About 2% of all licensed architects identify as Black or African American, and .4% are Black or African American women. While racial diversity in the architecture field is slowly growing, there is a wide gap to fill. In today’s episode of the Gensler Design Exchange podcast, two Gensler employees engage in a candid conversation on their varying experiences as Black women in the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry and share how they’ve successfully pursued careers in architecture and design.

A two-time alumna of Tuskegee University with degrees in construction science management and a professional degree in architecture, Cheryl Dixon is a technical designer in Gensler DC’s Work 4 Studio. Telicious Robinson is a technical designer in Gensler DC’s Community 1 Studio where she specializes in design for health and wellness projects. Telicious holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from Bowling Green State University, Kent State University, and Boston Architectural College, respectively.

“When I was interning at a firm in Alabama, there were only nine Black women who were licensed as architects in the entire state, at the time. That was a motivator for me; it made me want to become one of those numbers and fueled me to get to where I am today.” — Cheryl Dixon, Technical Designer, Gensler

While both landed jobs as designers at Gensler, Cheryl and Telicious have very different origin stories. In the first part of this discussion, the two share their upbringings, inspirations, and challenges of childhood and early adulthood. As they made their way through college, the importance of support systems, mentorship, and diversity manifested in different ways. Cheryl’s experience as a student at Tuskegee University, a prominent southern historically black college and university (HBCU), was a stark contrast to Telicious’ experience as a student at several non-HBCUs as one of a handful of Black students and professors.

“What you went through and what I went through, as Black women in this profession, highlights how different we are, but also how much we are the same. We’re both working at the same company and experiencing similar things in the workforce, even though our backgrounds are different. In the end its about working together and talking about our shared experiences in order to make things better for others.” — Telicious Robinson, Technical Designer, Gensler

Cheryl and Telicious describe their experiences facing adversity in achieving their goals of becoming licensed architects, like racism, sexism, and imposter syndrome. As their careers developed, areas of opportunity and places for change were revealed. Through determination, tenacity, and the help of their networks — noteably connections through the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) — their paths led them to their current roles in Gensler’s Washington DC Office. Now, knowing the important role that mentorship and community have played in shaping their careers, they’re committed to giving back to students at their alma maters through Gensler’s University Connect program and NOMAS — the student branch of NOMA.

Their stories are a testament to the power of perseverance, and an inspiration for younger generations to come.

“The more we get into this field, the more we can create change. Nothing will change if we forget what we went through to get here. It’s important to be a voice for the community to help others — whether its through giving advice or by being a shoulder to lean on. It matters.” — Telicious Robinson, Technical Designer, Gensler

Tune in to hear the full conversation. As always, thanks for listening!

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Gensler Design Exchange Podcast

Gensler Design Exchange Podcast

The Gensler Design Exchange creates a dialogue between design experts, creative trendsetters & thought leaders to discuss how we can shape the future of cities.