When Women Lead, Design Thrives

In the spring of 2020, in response to a rapidly changing world, IIDA developed a weekly series of conversations focused on the impact of sudden change on the design community, and in turn, design’s role in impacting our collective futures.

The Collective D(esign) webinar series saw the curating of dialogues centering on topics ranging from healthcare, hospitality, and workplace design to education, product design, sustainability, and more. As part of IIDA’s 2020 NeoConnect programming, IIDA presented Collective D(esign): Women Lead Design to center the voices of women on the importance of ensuring diversity and equity in the future of design. With an eye on leadership and how women specifically lead, the panel addressed the importance of being able to see yourself reflected in your leaders and managers.

The discussion was hosted by IIDA CEO and Executive Vice President Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, and featured panelists Robin Klehr Avia, FIIDA, regional managing principal at Gensler from the IIDA New York Chapter; Gabrielle Bullock, FAIA, IIDA, principal and director of global diversity at Perkins and Will from the IIDA Southern California Chapter; Sarah Kuchar, IIDA, creative director of Sarah Kuchar Studio from the IIDA Illinois Chapter; and Angie Lee, AIA, IIDA, partner and design director of interiors at FXCollaborative from IIDA’s New York Chapter. 

Although the movement for gender-based equality in the workplace is decades-old, the recent “Me Too” movement brought to the forefront the dangers that a homogeneous workplace culture can produce, particularly when leadership roles lack diversity in gender. As society faces current challenges—an ongoing global health pandemic, and a reckoning for an urgent need for racial justice—it’s imperative to act from an intersectional lens and strive to promote leadership and equity across demographics including race, sexual orientation, age, and socio-economic backgrounds as well as career experience. 

“I believe that this is an opportunity for us to dismantle the systematic racism that exists, and address and reset our profession to truly, with eyes wide open, embrace, celebrate, and apply unique perspectives through an inclusive and just lens,” says Gabrielle Bullock. She notes that although this movement and awareness may be new to some, it has been the sustained reality for others. By encouraging change in our industry, we can better support leadership from different demographics, and more successfully design with an informed vision for a more diverse and inclusive use of interiors.

“We cannot deny the power of representation—seeing someone who looks like you, seeing them in a critical position of leadership is so  important.”

— Cheryl Durst

One of the most effective ways to elicit real change is through recognizing and honoring the differences that exist. Race, ethnicity, gender identity, orientation, and socioeconomic background all contribute significantly to the ways individuals relate to the world around them. To navigate a world, and especially a workplace environment and culture, that doesn’t take these differences into account can be difficult and create roadblocks to focusing on the work.

“Being brought up in a male-dominated profession, culture, and society, the advice that I was given and that I applied to myself would not work out most of the time.” Angie Lee explains, “I had to try everything until I found what worked for me. And it was a little challenging because it took a little longer to find my voice, find my footing.” She notes that although she didn’t always have a lot of women to lean on, she did have male figures that believed in her and pushed her to develop skills and get out of her comfort zone, recognizing that “it was always a model of leadership that didn’t fit me.”

“Give opportunity, and give it young. You might think that you’re [giving opportunity] because it’s a woman more often than you should, but I guarantee you’re probably just not doing it enough.”

— Sarah Kuchar

This process of conforming to a workforce not built for you nor led by those like you creates an added burden for young professionals. Instead of spending time developing and innovating the industry, they can spend years just learning how to navigate these settings. The experience of learning from a leader that you see yourself in and one who knows how to move through the world from a similar background is invaluable and important to remember when you move into a leadership role.

When Robin Klehr Avia was a young designer interviewing at architectural firms, she noted that she only had one interview in which she was interviewed by a woman. “Margo Walsh affirmed for me that it was possible for a woman to be recognized and rewarded. There was somebody in my image across the table and she was in charge and the boss and that had an incredible effect on me.”

Avia differentiates this experience from traditional mentorship, recognizing that although Graham was indeed a mentor, she was more importantly a sponsor. While you learn a lot about the industry and your profession through mentorship, you still need someone to put you in the room. “it’s about a sponsor opening doors for us—it’s about someone putting us in a place where we can succeed. I think that that is really what we need to be for other women. We need to be their sponsors.”

“I see it as a responsibility and honor to be able to mentor, sponsor, share, you know to anybody who needs it and wants it.”

— Gabrielle Bullock

Mentorship is an invaluable part of shaping yourself as a professional. But without a sponsor, you don’t always have access to the opportunities that grow your career. “I was given many opportunities to fail,” explains Lee. She notes that as she looks back she can now see that many of the men she considered mentors were actually sponsors that gave her opportunities to grow. “I didn’t meet my mentors until I joined organizations like IIDA.”

Bullock notes that she recognizes the importance in her visibility and success. “I am a role model to some. An example of what you could be, how far you could go. As a black woman in this industry, I think of it as an honor to provide this for others.”

“I’ve been at this for 44 years. I think the best part is that I can look back and see the structure that others are building upon the foundation.”

 — Robin Klehr Avia

For some designers, it’s not enough to work within the current systems and processes. Sarah Kucher started her own business after working in larger firms and finds that being a woman-owned business leader and designer has given her the opportunity to provide the guidance and help that she had received in her career. She notes that “there is a strong movement of supporting women-owned businesses,” and credits her visibility with forming an alliance within the Chicago creative community. “I’ve connected with several female entrepreneurs in the city and creative fields we meet quarterly and we help each other.”

Leading as a woman is inherently different, and Kucher recognizes that “Leadership is about organizing people and getting people in a big group to have and feel purpose.” She reflects that being a successful leader isn’t about being the most technically skilled but rather effectively motivating and creating a collaborative space.

“How we came up through the ranks, what we want to change going forward, and how to help us dream big enough. That’s what I lost along the way trying on these models of leadership that never jogged well.”

— Angie Lee

Bullock recognizes that “there is a difference between management and leadership,” and “navigating that line in figuring out when to be one or the other has been very interesting.” 

Leadership can look many different ways, but the most rewarding aspect of leading can be observing the changes that you have actively made, and those that your visibility creates. Being that beacon for younger designers can provide the freedom to carve out their space in the industry and courage to take more risks.

“I can see women that I’ve sponsored making the world a better place; I talk to a lot of young people I work with about placing value on significance over success,” Bullock reflects. “I think it’s important in that significance isn’t like a one-off—it’s not about what you did last week or last month but it’s really about what you do over the course of many years it’s your life’s work.”

Watch the full conversation that further explores leadership and diversity in design, examining race and gender, while looking forward to the future, finding optimism during a tenuous time.

Women Lead Design: Angie Lee, Linda C. Mysliwiec, Meghan Webster

In this ongoing series, IIDA features women leading the design industry in a time of unprecedented change. Hear what they have to say on the importance of diversity in design, mentorship, inspiration, and the future of the profession. 

The significance of design in this challenging current global moment cannot be overstated; it endows us with much-needed clarity, beauty, accessibility, and problem-solving that are necessary for a rapidly changing world. The women who are making design happen, at all stages in their careers, are the leaders of a better tomorrow.

IIDA (virtually) connected with women making strides in design to discuss the urgency of this current moment, what’s next for design, and how a diversity of design thought is more crucial than ever. 

Angie Lee, IIDA, AIA, Partner and Design Director of Interiors, FXCollaborative, New York

IIDA: How do you see the role of women in today’s crisis?

Angie Lee:
Women have a unique set of strengths that we’ve cultivated long before this current crisis. As we identify the countries best managing the pandemic, I am paying close attention to the women leading those governments and can say with even more confidence that we should lean into our innate tendencies to find compassionate and intuitive resolutions. Women are long overdue to step away from the traditional leadership templates that are offered to us, but rarely fit our instincts. Instead of faking it until we make it, we should lean into the fact that we are more likely to be prepared and qualified for the positions we’re currently in, and those we will eventually fill. Our role now, more than ever, is to step into the light and stop casting our assets as drawbacks, continue banding together to amplify our voices, and design for a wider and inclusive expanse of humanity.

IIDA: Who or what inspires you in your life and work?

AL:
New generations coming into their own now are breathtaking in their clarity of purpose. They often illustrate the stark contrast between contentment and complacency. I am inspired by these young people branching off to blaze new trails started by groundbreaking women like Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Toni Morrison, Rebecca Solnit, or Tarana Burke. I find that because of the new and old guard of fabulous female game changers, I am embracing a kind of critical thinking that focuses on accountability and activism. On top of that, I am awe inspired by the movements that have swept the country and the planet in many cases. The ferocious courage of very young climate activists, the tenacity and preparedness of junior congress members, and the constant, quiet expansion of dialogue and diversity of organizations like IIDA that create new pathways toward an interconnected world of good design remind me that we will be okay again.

Linda C. Mysliwiec, AIA, Senior Associate, Studio Director, Gensler, Chicago

IIDA: Who have you considered to be your mentor and how have they influenced you?

Linda C. Mysliwiec:
I’ve had so many incredible mentors over the years, and each of them were the thing I needed in my career at that particular time. Earlier on, I had mentors who encouraged me to answer my own questions and find solutions to challenges that came up; that helped me build confidence in my skills, knowledge, and design point of view. And today, now that I’m more experienced, the best mentors challenge my way of thinking, opening my mind to a broader range of possibilities.

IIDA: Have you been a mentor and was this rewarding for you?

LM: Mentorship is a major part of my day-to-day, and I find it incredibly rewarding. Being open, being someone who speaks my mind, and bringing humanity to work every day – those are the things that allow people to feel they can approach you. Rather than simply telling someone what they should do, I try to advise on a few different scenarios or options and let them decide what to do next. The way they take that advice and make it work for their own particular situation, personality, and set of opinions is what makes the relationship so rewarding. I don’t desire to go at it alone; in architecture and design, we’re better together, and it makes the journey so enjoyable when you have a team around you to support and be supported by.

IIDA: What do you see as the role of women in design in light of our current crisis?

LM: In all facets of life, we talk a lot about how women are socialized to be more empathetic, to multitask, to take care of others. While those may be traditionally feminized characteristics that we’d like to extend to everyone regardless of how they identify, those classically gendered traits can absolutely work in our collective favor right now. When we can find ways to leverage our ability to balance life and work and our affinity for connecting, women can be a powerful guiding light through this crisis for our families, colleagues, and communities.

IIDA: What or who inspires you?

LM:
People inspire me. They always have, but it’s particularly magnified during this pandemic. I’m someone who prefers small groups and one-on-one interactions; I get excited learning about someone’s background or hearing stories about their life. Skip the small talk—when I’m able to have a meaningful conversation with another person, I always leave with the opportunity to rethink and expand my own viewpoint.

Meghan Webster, AIA, Principal, Gensler, Chicago

IIDA: Who have you considered to be your mentor and how have they influenced you?

Meghan Webster:
My passion is people, and learning about how they perceive and operate in the world, and this has framed how I’ve learned from mentors. I am drawn to people who I most emulate and deeply respect, and I learn from those qualities that define them. This approach ties philosophically to Gensler and our “constellation” of talent, so in a way, I think of our firm as a place full of a constellation of mentors.

IIDA: Have you been a mentor and was this rewarding for you?

MW: I owe my career to so many mentors, and probably the most important thing I’ve learned from them is to pay it forward. My hope is that the impact of my mentorship on others’ careers enables a similar level of growth that I experienced. I think the most rewarding aspect of mentoring others is watching where they head in their own careers and learning from the new lens and perspective they bring to my own growth. It’s a completely reciprocal process that can’t be manufactured or superficial.

IIDA: What / who inspires you?

MW: One of the women that inspires me most is Christine Lagarde, current President of the European Central Bank and former Managing Director of the IMF. Her grace and intellect in the way that she leads is stunning. As it turns out, she is also a former member of the French National Synchronized Swimming Team, and she credits the sport with teaching her a vital leadership skill, “Smile. And grit your teeth.” As a former synchronized swimmer myself, thinking of that quote adds humor to almost any situation.

Empowering Design: A Report from the 2019 IIDA Educators Roundtable

This post was contributed by Krista Sykes, a writer and editor with a background in architecture and design. She has worked with many practitioners, institutions, and publications in the industry, including Contract magazine. 


The following is a condensed version of the 2019 IIDA Educators Roundtable. An in-depth report on this roundtable event will be available on iida.org in June.

Educating the Future Design Professional with Enhanced Focus on Culture, People, and Research

To empower the design profession, educators and practitioners must embrace increasing diversity, expand established modes of thought, and champion education and research as invaluable, interlinked components. That was the primary outcome of an invigorating dialogue between educators, practitioners, and students from across the country at the 2019 IIDA Educators Roundtable. Presented by IIDA and hosted by Milliken at its Roger Milliken Campus in Spartanburg, South Carolina, the two-day event in March 2019 engaged participants in a series of lively, in-depth discussions on how best to equip the next generation of designers for success.

What knowledge and tools do emerging designers need to excel and enrich the profession as a whole? Over the course of the roundtable, moderated by IIDA Deputy Director and Senior Vice President John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Assoc. AIA, 10 educators/practitioners, four practitioners, and three students shared experiences and brainstormed ideas for how all members of the design community can collaboratively support today’s students. Their insights hinged on a critical factor: the next generation of designers will be increasingly diverse. “In a global context, as travel, communication, and the means of conducting business have become easier internationally, the education of the future design professional has to accommodate a broader scope and context,” said Czarnecki.

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John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Assoc. AIA, Deputy Director and Senior Vice President, IIDA

Depending on their school and location, many Roundtable educators noted high numbers of international, first-generation, and non-traditional students. For interior design programs, there is no longer a “standard” student type, and to advance the profession in line with changing student demographics, schools and educators must rethink the way they support students of myriad backgrounds. Drawing from their own classroom- and studio-based experiences, Roundtable participants united around this topic, highlighting critical aspects of the educational experience that can empower emerging designers, those who educate them, and the profession as a whole.

Big Conversations

At all levels, from the institution to the department to the classroom, a lack of adequate and clear communication is a major issue that the educators noted. Schools need to initiate conversations across and within departments about demographic shifts and the resulting impacts, for both the students and the institutions themselves.

“Educators have to completely change the way they teach,” said Liset Robinson, IIDA, associate chair of interior design at Savannah School of Art and Design (SCAD) in Atlanta. “Educators have to review fundamentals, terminology, and methodology for students who have received their education from other countries. This allows them to work off of the same page and then fly.” While Robinson refers to international students, her comment applies to all students.

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Jane Hughes, IDEC, Assistant Professor, Interior Design, Western Carolina University (foreground) and Ana Pinto-Alexander, IIDA, Principal, HKS (background)

Emotional Intelligence

Professionalism encompasses a combination of hard skills and specialized knowledge, educators noted, as well as soft skills such as self-regulation and competence. Soft skills may be hard to measure, but they are nonetheless vital for an emerging designer’s success. As director of strategic projects at Gensler, Darris James, IIDA, a senior associate at the firm’s Washington, D.C. office, spearheads initiatives to strengthen the skills, knowledge, and leadership abilities of the firm’s employees worldwide. James says soft skills—namely emotional intelligence—are highly important for new hires. “Emotional intelligence is absolutely critical,” said James. “The ability to cultivate relationships with people, have some level of self-awareness and social awareness, and be able to manage emotions and relationships are fundamental skills designers must learn before they go into the workforce.”

Design Research

As evidence-based design expands beyond the realm of healthcare to inform all project types, from workplaces and schools to hotels and restaurants, designers and educational institutions are increasingly prioritizing design research. many firms increasingly focus on research-based practices, they will seek out designers who are well-versed in design research—who think like researchers, can undertake research projects, and translate their findings into actionable results.

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Amy Campos, IIDA, Founder and Principal, ACA, Tenured Associate Professor, Chair of Interior Design, California College of the Arts

Tomorrow’s Educators

In response to demographic shifts, top educators are evolving their teaching approaches to empower today’s emerging designers. Yet, the profession depends not only on its emerging designers, but on the next cohort of educators.

A worsening shortage of well-qualified interior design educators may be an issue in coming years, participants noted. To counter this pending educator shortage, students must be exposed to design education as a viable career path. Current educators can consciously mentor and encourage students who show an aptitude for teaching.

Coupled with the need for more educators overall, the composition of interior design faculty at many schools is not nearly as diverse as the student populations that they teach. A concentrated effort must be made across interior design programs to hire ethnically and culturally diverse educators, especially those that mirror institutions’ student demographics.

Educators and practitioners must work together to champion diversity, strengthen connections between education and practice, prioritize design research, and promote greater public appreciation for interior design.

2019 IIDA Educators Roundtable Participants included:

MODERATOR, FROM IIDA

John Czarnecki, Hon. IIDA, Assoc. AIA, Deputy Director and Senior Vice President, IIDA

FROM IIDA

Ryan Ben, Student Engagement and Advancement Manager

Aisha Williams, Senior Director of Industry Relations and Special Events

REPORT AUTHOR

Krista Sykes, Ph.D.

FROM MILLIKEN

Michael Eckert, Director of Marketing and Strategy

Robin Olsen, Customer Experience Concierge

Leslie Roberts, Product Launch and Customer Experience Manager

Mark Strohmaier, Vice President of Marketing

PRACTITIONERS

Allison Brown, Assoc. IIDA, Interior Designer, Perkins+Will

Darris James, IIDA, Senior Associate, Director of Strategic Projects, Gensler

Ana Pinto-Alexander, IIDA, Principal, HKS

Felice Silverman, FIIDA, Principal, Silverman Trykowski Associates, Inc.

EDUCATORS/PRACTITIONERS

Katherine S. Ankerson, IIDA, AIA, Dean, College of Architecture, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Amy Campos, IIDA, Founder and Principal, ACA, Tenured Associate Professor, Chair of Interior Design, California College of the Arts

Pamela K. Evans, Ph.D., IIDA, Director, Interior Design, College of Architecture and Environmental Design, Kent State University

Amanda Gale, Ph.D., IIDA, Assistant Professor, Interior Architecture, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro

Jane Hughes, IDEC, Assistant Professor, Interior Design, Western Carolina University

Jon Otis, IIDA, Founder and Principal, Object Agency (OlA), Professor, Pratt Institute

Michelle Pearson, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Texas Tech University

Liset Robinson, IIDA, Associate Chair, Interior Design, Savannah College of Art and Design

Virginia San Fratello, Associate Professor of Design, San Jose State University

Hepi Wachter, Professor and Chair, University of North Texas, College of Visual Arts and Design

STUDENTS

Ying (Crystal) Cheng, California College of the Arts

Shelly Gregg, Western Carolina University

Xinchun Hu, Pratt Institute


Learn more about the IIDA Educators Roundtable and read the previous roundtable report.

Cultivating a More Diverse Design Profession

This post was contributed by Krista Sykes, a writer and editor with a background in architecture and design. She has worked with many practitioners, institutions, and publications in the industry, including Contract magazine. 


The 2018 IIDA Student Roundtable series looked to the future of design with a focus on diversity. Interior design students and key speakers, including some IIDA International Board Members, participated in conversations that took place in New York and Los Angeles. The following is a summary of those discussions. A full in-depth report about the series will be released by IIDA in March.

As the world becomes increasingly diverse in terms of culture and ethnicity, the interior design profession faces a distinct challenge: how can practitioners create environments that support and celebrate these rich differences? And how can the design profession better reflect a more diverse world? In fall 2018, IIDA presented the IIDA Future of Design Roundtable Series—two roundtable events in New York and Los Angeles—where a total of 35 interior design students and 11 educators and practitioners gathered to discuss this issue. What emerged in the series, sponsored by OFS, was an unqualified call for change. Specifically, to successfully design for diverse audiences, there must first be a push to cultivate diversity within the interior design profession. For this to happen, it is up to all, in every level of the profession, to take action.

Diversity itself is a complex issue, encompassing different expressions of race, religion, sexual preference, income level, cultural background, generational affiliation, and one’s stage in life as well as geographic location. As expected, the conversations in New York City and Los Angeles sounded quite different, as would those in any other city. Nevertheless, both roundtable discussions echoed common themes that offer broader lessons about diversity’s essential role in the future of the interior design profession.

Promoting Change

The many advantages of diversity in the workplace—including greater innovation, better decision making, and increased financial performance—have been well documented and, on the whole, widely embraced within the design community. Yet, many individuals and organizations remain unclear on how to cultivate and fully utilize diversity. Here, the presentations by renowned practitioners and educators proved invaluable.

At the Los Angeles discussion, Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA, principal and director of Global Diversity at Perkins+Will, and 2018–2019 IIDA International Board President, highlighted Perkins+Will’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Engagement program, an initiative she spearheaded and now directs across the firm’s 2,200 employees. Annie Chu, FIIDA, FAIA, 2018–2019 IIDA International Board Vice President, principal at Chu-Gooding Architects, and professor at Woodbury University’s interior architecture program, emphasized the current need within the profession to making different voices heard and underscored each designer’s personal duty to position themselves as a leader.

In New York, Jon Otis, IIDA, 2018–2019 IIDA International Board Vice President, Pratt Institute professor of interior design, and the founder and principal of multidisciplinary design studio Object Agency, discussed his recently launched Diversity By Design Foundation (dxdf), a nonprofit initiative dedicated to increasing awareness of design careers among people of all backgrounds.

The ensuing rich discussions with the roundtable participants generated concrete and manageable ideas to guide all students, educators, and practitioners on the crucial path toward achieving greater diversity within the profession. These practical next steps as well as additional insights regarding diversity in the interior design profession will be described in the detailed report about the discussions.

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Participants of the IIDA Student Roundtable in Los Angeles.

Moving Forward with an “Activist Mindset”

With rising frequency, design firm clients are younger, more diverse, and demanding design teams that echo the demographics of their own organizations. Likewise, firms are seeing more community-related projects, which require designers who reflect and understand these communities’ specific cultural and socioeconomic issues. Bullock notes that all practitioners have a role in cultivating these designers. Professionals have a duty to inspire individuals with different backgrounds to enter the profession, engage with global content and society’s shifting demographics, and to foster diverse workplaces where all contributions are valued.

The roundtable participants—students, educators, and practitioners—agreed that, while discussion is encouraging and must continue, action must happen now. “We are currently in an advocacy role. And it’s time now to shift into an activist mindset,” said Angie Lee, IIDA, AIA, 2018–2019 IIDA International Board Vice President and principal and design director of interiors at FXCollaborative in New York. “Advocacy works within the established structure and rules, and we do everything possible to leverage the power we have. But when we adopt an activist attitude, we start to rewrite the rules. The work we do along established paths is important, but we also need to break out of the comfort zone and just do what’s right.”


The Student Roundtable series brings together interior design students and local practitioners to engage in informal discussions on both the current state of the profession and the future of design. Learn more about other topics discussed from the previous roundtable report.

Diversity in Architecture: A Promise for the Future

It is 2018 and only 36 percent of newly licensed architects in the U.S. are women and only two percent are Black. But those numbers are changing. With the benefits and necessities of diversity in the workplace undeniable, firms big and small are setting new goals for themselves and having active, sometimes uncomfortable, conversations about diversifying the field.

But what does “workplace diversity” really mean when the leaders of these discussions are often not the ones who directly face discrimination? The 46th Annual NOMA Conference attempted to pose, answer, and challenge the questions around diversity from the personal perspectives of people of color. Through a series of events, lectures, and panels, “NOMA UNBOUNDED – The Convergence of a Legacy” was a weekend devoted to celebrating and defining diversity within the architecture and design fields.

IIDA hosted NOMA participants and members at IIDA Headquarters on Saturday, October 20, for the panel discussion “Because…Design,” sponsored by Mohawk and moderated by IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO, Cheryl S. Durst, FIIDA and IIDA International Board President Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA. The panelists present were George Bandy, vice president of sustainability and commercial marketing at Mohawk Group; and Dina Griffin, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA, owner of Interactive Design Architects (IDEA).

The event positioned itself as less a formal discussion and more an intimate exchange among four people on racism, equity, culture, and loving their jobs. “We’re not going to have images, you’re not going to look at a PowerPoint,” Durst announced to the audience members. “We’re just going to have a conversation. The power of conversation is underrated and we need it now more than ever.”

Bandy began the discussion with how he perceived a growing importance of sustainability and well-being going hand-in-hand with a push for diversity within design, architecture, and manufacturing. Communities of color often bare the brunt of unsustainable, cost-cutting development practices, and now the conversations around helping those communities are being led by a diverse crowd. “There has been an influx of people being able to express themselves more freely as it relates to the importance of design,” Bandy said.

Bullock echoed the notion that diversifying the workplace is critical for bettering the lives of diverse communities. “I wanted to become an architect because I wanted to improve how people live,” she said.

Architects are thinking about the environment on a personal, micro level, and in turn, discovering how important a diverse workplace is for generating and maintaining sustainable practices. It seems that the A&D industry is actively rediscovering the workplace as a microcosm for society, and as Durst noted, “You can’t design for the world if you are not of the world.”

“I’ve had clients that have given us work because we are diverse,” expressed Bullock, “and that’s been happening more and more.” Many Perkins+Will projects focus on communities; this necessitates diversifying those working on community projects and helping improve the quality of life for a broad range of people. Diversity is a “spoken strategy” in the Perkins+Will offices.

The panelists also described the ways in which their firms are taking the initiative to ensure diverse hires, which range from overhauling the hiring process to having ongoing dialogues about racism and inclusion. 

“Because…Design” concluded with the question “Does architecture still excite you?” (an unequivocal ‘yes’), along with advice from the panelists: “Bring the voice of your culture and your ancestors to work with you every day, ” Bandy stressed. “Don’t leave your street sense at home; bring it to work with you. Bring your true self to the table.”


Visit NOMA Unbounded for more information about the conference.

*An earlier version of this post cited that only 36 percent of licensed architects in the U.S. are women and only two percent are Black. It should be only 36 percent of newly licensed architects in the U.S. are women and only two percent are Black (as of 2016). 

Turning a Conversation About Diversity Into a Movement

In January 2016, IIDA hosted its 19th annual Industry Roundtable. The two-day event held a mirror up to the design industry, showing us that while we are well-intentioned about increasing diversity – as a whole, across racial, gender, generational, etc., lines – in our workforce, we must be assertive about transforming our discussions about diversity into an action plan.

To that end, IIDA is excited and proud to share the executive report from that day. Tackling the topic of diversity and inclusion in the design industry, the report, “Diversity and Design: Why Gender, Equity, and Multidisciplinary Thinking are Essential to Business,” summarizes the lively and productive discussion of 30 design industry leaders from the Roundtable and provides a strategic roadmap for the newly formed IIDA Diversity Council, chaired by Stacy Walker, Ind. IIDA, Director of Customer Experience at Milliken.

“IIDA approached the subject of diversity in the design industry by taking stock of our Association. From chapter events to continuing education programs, to the headquarters of our partners in manufacturing to our own board of directors—diversity, or the lack thereof, was apparent,” said IIDA Executive Vice President and CEO Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEED AP, who moderated the Roundtable. “This report and the formation of the IIDA Diversity Council are the first steps of many toward a more diverse industry—in race and gender, and thought and discipline.”

The Industry Roundtable report features research highlighting the myriad benefits of diversity in business, statistics illustrating the current state of diversity in the design industry, and personal accounts from industry leaders who shared their experiences as African-Americans creating opportunities for cultural awareness and inclusiveness both in their own firms and across the profession.

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE REPORT

By the numbers

69 percent of the 87,000 practitioners in the interior design industry are women. Yet, female design firm leadership is only 25 percent.

There are 347 total licensed women architects in the United States. Of this, 0.3 percent are African-American. (Correction: There are 347 total licensed African-American women architects in the United States, representing 0.3 percent of all registered architects.)

What’s one of the top five least diverse professions? Architecture.

By the stories

“Designers have a powerful impact on the environment, and I want more people who look like me to have a say in that. Growing up, I had seen what architecture does to our communities; they suck. I wanted to change how my people live.”

-Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA, LEED AP BD+C, Director of Global Diversity, Perkins+Will

“There was a group of us in D.C.; we used to see each other around and at meetings, and do the ‘black nod.’ One day we were like, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to meet up?’ So we created an informal group for black designers—interior designers, architects, and manufacturers. The size went from 20 to 35 to 75. Then brokers wanted to come, people from the periphery of the industry. Last time, we even had students. It was nice. You don’t realize the impact of just being there together.”

-Jeffrey Gay, Ind. IIDA, Architecture + Design Representative, Herman Miller

Looking forward

“There’s a misunderstanding that design is only accessible to a privileged few. Because of the lack of exposure at the early educational level, many minority groups do not choose design as a professional path.”

-Edwin Beltran, IIDA, Assoc. AIA, Principal/Designer, NBBJ

Targeting the talent pipeline – the next generation of interior design professionals – is key to an inclusive industry. It is our responsibility as professionals in the field to become more involved in schools in disadvantaged communities and introduce them to career options in design. Inspiring role models and mentors representative of minority groups also need to be more visible.

You can download and read the full report on the IIDA website.


How has your company addressed diversity in the workplace? Tell us and share your feedback about the report in the comments.