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Design Connections Day 1 Recap: Thoughts on Diversity
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Last night at the opening reception of the sixth annual Design Connections in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, a distinguished keynote panel delved into the weightier issues of equity and diversity in leadership—and the positive disruptors that help enable change in an industry that is still characterized by disparity (see our February issue for more).
The lively discussion was led by Kourtney Smith, president of National Office Furniture, who asked each of the panelists to share their perspectives on the importance of equity and diversity in workplace leadership. Lindsay Wilson, president of Corgan; Jennifer Treter, principal at Hendrick; and Denise Rush, interim dean, School of Interior Architecture, Boston Architectural College all shared examples of positive ‘disruption in action’ stories that impacted them in their careers and in their businesses.
Diversity for Design Connections
The group took a broad view of diversity to include age, ethnicity, gender and culture—all of which help to build strong organizations that foster creativity and innovation. Rush opened the conversation by emphasizing the importance of active listening and valuing people’s backgrounds that ultimately result in a better product.
Treter shared her experience in being a part of ONE Global Design, a consortium of 18 design firms working together collaboratively to improve design services, and how the diversity of ages has helped its members stretch their thinking—with young and older designers pushing each other to look in new directions. Wilson noted that design only improves with a diverse team, but that there must be a deliberate effort to bring multiple voices and perspectives to the table.
Recruitment was a key challenge that all the panelists shared in common. In academia, Rush pointed out that the student body is getting more diverse, but colleges also need to reflect diversity in their leadership and faculty. At Hendrik, Treter said the company has benefitted from the fact that their leading principals are both black and white, as well as male and female, which offers a variety of perspectives that she says makes the team stronger.
Likewise, Wilson says Corgan has a good sense of gender diversity within its practice, but they must ensure that equity rises through the ranks into leadership. She added that “recruiting can be a trap to homogeny,” especially as design firms tend to recruit in the same regions or from the same schools, adding that they need to look for talent in different parts of the country and around the world.
The panelists also explored how leadership can impact diversity; the common theme that emerged is that design principals need to be role models of the values they want their firms to embrace. The panel’s closing remarks seemed to sum up their advice best: be open to change and opinions to make design better; to be present, open-minded and welcome new ideas; and that to affect change in equity and diversity, firms must lead by example.