In the United States, across industries, women earn approximately 80 percent of what men make—or $0.20 less per dollar. The design professions are no exception, but a new initiative called the “20centchallenge” asks architects to commit to changing that.

Architect Adam Rolston, the creative and managing director of New York–based INC Architecture & Design, launched the effort this week with the support of his business partners Drew Stuart and Gabriel Benroth. The 20centchallenge invites firms make a public pledge that they will work toward achieving pay equality for men and women within one calendar year.


20 Cent Logo

Rolston tells RECORD that he was inspired by an op-ed architect Jeanne Gang wrote for Fast Company, in which the Studio Gang founder suggests practices move toward workplace equality by examining “the fundamental issue of respect in the workplace—pay.” Gang called unbalanced compensation the “simplest component of workplace inequality to fix,” going on to note that her Chicago-based firm has achieved gender pay equity.

Taking a close look at salaries within his own 50-person office, which employs an even split of men and women, Rolston says he was “super disappointed in myself, and in us, to find disparity.” Over the course of a year, INC evaluated the mean and median salaries for different roles in the firm, which employs both architects and interior designers, then took steps to eliminate pay inequality, through hiring (i.e., paying women the salary the firm has set for a role, even if it’s more than they request) and giving raises to existing employees.

Rolston admits this is just a first step toward workplace equality. In initial meetings with his staff about the idea, he tells RECORD that he thought, “This is all just a money issue. Give women more money and what follows is decision making, power, work environments that are more fair, and you’ll solve the problem. But women in my firm said, ‘Not so fast—it’s more complex than that. It’s a cultural thing.”

As the firm wrote in its release about the 20centchallenge, “It’s a bridge to deeper, more honest conversation that is still to come. Now is the time for men, and women, across the industry to hold up a mirror and ask if they are a part of the problem, or a part of the solution.”

Firms that participate will be listed on the 20centchallenge website.