Miller Hull

Perspectives. That’s JUST what I’m talking about

1-29-2019 | Perspectives

By Ron Rochon, FAIA

When we completed our first JUST certification with the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) four years ago, we knew we were committing to some serious conversations within the firm because of the rating system’s drive toward transparency. That’s the cool thing about JUST. You measure your strengths, but it highlights areas that need improvement, helping define the work yet to do.

In some categories, even when you achieve all of the points, you’re still not there! For instance, on our first JUST label we achieved all three points on Gender Pay Equity. Yay! Our discrepancy between male and female pay was less than five percent.

Wait, what? Why was there any discrepancy?

We did not have a good answer for the difference, so right then and there we committed to adjusting our compensation so the average woman’s salary in every staff category is equal to the average man’s. 2019 marks the third year we have achieved this.

Although we had been considering it for some time, going through the JUST process gave us the final encouragement we needed to institute a Paid Parental Leave Policy at 100 percent salary for four weeks. These funds supplement the California Paid Family Leave Law for our San Diego studio and the soon-to-be Washington Paid Family Leave Law for our Seattle studio. Both states are set up in a way that our new parents can obtain their full salary for a minimum of 12 weeks! (Washington State is taxing for this leave in 2019, with distributions set to start in 2020.) So far, eight parents on our staff have been able to take advantage of this benefit.

Occasionally, you take a step back when you re-certify. On our first certification we were able to achieve two out of three points on Living Wage, i.e., our lowest paid employee was making more than 10 percent above the living wage for Seattle as published by MIT (two adults, one working). But, the composition of an architecture staff is very dynamic. People leave and new entry-level employees join us. Our current lowest paid full-time regular employees do not exceed the MIT set-point for living wage, but I am proud to say that they do exceed minimum wage by 43 percent in Seattle and 108 percent in San Diego (with 100 percent health care in both studio locations)!

One area where we have gone beyond is in Diversity. We have always had an equitable gender mix here at Miller Hull, hovering around 50/50 depending on the current cadre of interns, but on Ethnic Diversity where we also counted all three points, JUST helped the firm start a conversation about what we could personally do make our profession more accessible to underserved populations. This led to an initiative we call Open Studio. Open Studio is a three-part, broad introduction to architecture held during the summer in our Seattle studio for high school girls from underserved communities. Last year we enrolled 12 girls in the inaugural year, and this year our goal is to enroll 24!

Other changes that came out of our JUST label include committing to donate 0.5 percent of our profit to animal welfare, investing our portfolio in Socially Responsible Industries and increasing the available time off for personal volunteer work to 32 hours per employee each year.

We have received many positive comments from our staff about the transparency that the JUST program has engendered, which has led to discussions about how we can achieve more in our next certification cycle. JUST certification has shed a light on our industry and it is exciting to see the changes within our firm and hopefully it encourages other firms to do the same.

If you’re interested, check out Miller Hull’s JUST label here.