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.

Women Lead Design: Gina Berndt, Tara Headley, Nila Leiserowitz

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. 

In case you are still monitoring the passage of time, March was Women’s History Month. Though many celebrations, big and small, were overshadowed by the turmoil of a global pandemic, we are reminded that even in the most uncertain times, creating space to honor and celebrate others remains just as important. The significance of design during this unprecedented 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 at varying stages in their careers, are leaders of a better tomorrow, and so we extend this focus beyond March. 

IIDA (virtually) connected with Gina Berndt, FIIDA, ASID, principal and managing director at Perkins and Will; Tara Headley, Assoc. IIDA, intermediate designer at Hendrick; and Nila Leiserowitz, FIIDA, FASID, business consultant and former regional managing principal at Gensler, 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.

Gina Berndt, FIIDA, ASID, Principal and Managing Director, Perkins and Will, Chicago

IIDA: Who has been an important mentor to you over the course of your career and how/why?

Gina Berndt: I’ve had many mentors in my career, but if I had to name one it would be my father. Though he died when I was just 24, I learned a great deal from observing him in his work and life. He was generous and related well to humanity in the broadest sense. I am very grateful for his influence on me.

IIDA: Have you had the opportunity to mentor others? Has that been rewarding and how?

GB: I hope I have been a mentor to others. It is most rewarding to see individuals blossom in their careers as leaders, whether at Perkins and Will or at other firms. I am proud of their inherent talent, but also their compassion, business acumen, engagement in the community, and success. I dream of having a lovely dinner with all of them to express my gratitude one day.

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

GB: Women often lead with honesty, patience, empathy, and compassion. These are always valuable attributes, but this crisis demands that we all lead with these gifts.  

IIDA: What or who inspires you?

GB: Many things, but at my core, my family. I am inspired to be a role model for my daughter, nieces and nephews, a good life partner to my husband, and a trusted friend to my sisters. I am also inspired by beauty overall which is why I have always been drawn to design.

Tara Headley, Assoc. IIDA, Intermediate Designer, Hendrick, Atlanta

IIDA: Have you mentored others? Has that been rewarding and how?

Tara Headley: I have always viewed mentorship as a vital part of our industry. I believe there is true value in helping the next generation of designers overcome challenges by offering insight from the perspective of someone who has faced similar situations. I have been able to be a mentor through my position on the IIDA Georgia Chapter Board as a campus center leader, and I am hoping to step into the Vice President of Student Affairs role in the near future.

In addition, this academic year I have the privilege of being the alumni mentor for the SCAD Atlanta interior design department. Visting the campus, sitting in on classes, giving feedback on presentations and theses, and now shifting to virtual lectures—those interactions with students have been extremely rewarding. Several students have since reached out for one on one career advice and I’m humbled to be seen as a valued mentor. Knowing that the path I’ve taken inspires others is motivation for me to continue giving back.

IIDA: What or who inspires you?

TH: I am inspired by women of color in leadership positions. They are the ones that have blazed a trail to success and set the example for design professionals like myself to follow. Knowing the obstacles they have had to overcome to make it to a position of power inspires me to fight to achieve that as well. Seeing them makes me believe in myself even more.

Nila Leiserowitz, FIIDA, FASID, Business Consultant and Former Regional Managing Principal, Gensler, North Central

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

Nila Leiserowitz: I am a strong believer that mentorship is vital to a career in design. A mentor can remain the same throughout your career or you may have different mentors at different points in your life. If I had to identify an important mentor throughout my career, it would be women leaders at all levels—my peers, bright emerging women, and women in other industries that are risk-takers. Right now, my most important mentors are women from the International Women’s Forum.

IIDA: What do you think is the role of women in today’s crisis?

NL: Women have an innate quality to see minutia and at the same time understand big strategies or moves that need to be made. We know how to pull the problem apart and look at all the components of the problem in order to have a thoughtful approach to moving forward. Looking at all the parts, we can celebrate the good within the problem, which is very important right now. We then also have a clearer picture of the core issues that need to be solved. We can then define a strategy and team to accomplish the right results. I am always so amazed by how women think. We are blessed!

IIDA: Who or what inspires your practice?

NL: his is not a simple question to answer. I do try to live in the moment as much as I can, so inspiration shows up in my life in unexpected ways at different times. Sometimes, small and simple things inspire me; other times, inspiration can be as big as being on top of a mountain and seeing the world like so few people see it. If I had to narrow down to two overarching inspirations, it would be people and nature. In the best situation for me, it is when nature and people collide. That is an amazing thing.