The architecture industry is not the easiest field to enter, especially when it comes to Black people.

According to the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards’ annual report in 2018, nonwhite architecture professionals are 25 percent more likely to stop pursuing licensure with a nonwhite professional that represents 45 percent of the participants in the Architectural Experience Program.

Black women make up the smaller margin when it comes to diversity in the sector, but Deryl McKissack, owner of McKissack & McKissack, took a leap of faith, using her savings to start her career.

“Architecture was in my blood,” the president and CEO told Black Enterprise. “I’m the fifth generation in our family to go into the architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) business.”

She also opens up about not being represented in the space and why it has always been so important for her to change that.

“It is definitely a double-whammy, so the challenges have been many and varied.  But as Black women, we are always second-guessed and often not taken seriously on projects,” said McKissack. “Also, as a Black woman, I was often the only person in the room, or at the table, who never had a voice. And it’s equally hard to get in the room or get a seat at the table if you’re a Black woman.”

McKissack also wants other Black professionals to know that they too can get into the architectural field if they don’t underestimate themselves and learn that it’s okay to carve your own path.

“People ask us how we made it through slavery, Jim Crow, and all the civil rights uprisings across the country in the ’60s, and I always say it’s because we didn’t allow others to define us,” said McKissack. “We defined ourselves as leaders, as builders, and as architects, and we charted our own paths.”

McKissack’s firm is now responsible for overseeing projects that include the Museum of African-American History and Culture, the Lincoln, several Martin Luther King, Jr. memorials, and the Obama Presidential Center.