Glass Ceilings

Our editor-at-large asks how diverse the design industry really is

by Robert Nieminen

When it comes to diversity and equality, the design industry is as colorful and egalitarian as they come—or so one would think. But how diverse is the design industry, really? As it turns out, that glass ceiling is still firmly in place.

While 69 percent of the 87,000 design practitioners in the U.S. are women, only 25 percent of firm leadership consists of females, according to IIDA’s latest report, “Diversity and Design: Why Gender, Equality, and Multidisciplinary Thinking are Essential to Business.” Further, the report states that—at least on paper—interior design “is one of the least racially diverse professions.” (A copy of the Executive Report is available for download here.)

Racial, gender, generational, and cognitive diversity were among the topics discussed at IIDA’s 19th annual Industry Roundtable of 30 design industry leaders, which formed the basis for the report and will help serve as a strategic roadmap for the newly formed IIDA Diversity Council, chaired by Stacy Walker, Ind. IIDA, and director of customer experience at Milliken.

I don’t know about you, but in this day and age, I didn’t think the need for a “diversity council” was really needed—especially in the design industry! But perception is a big part of the problem. Most of the participants in IIDA’s roundtable, when asked how diverse they felt the field of design really is, indicated that the profession doesn’t have a diversity problem.

And there’s the rub: glass ceilings are transparent. So much so that sometimes we don’t even realize they’re there.