Diversity Isn't a Dirty Word

The IIDA is making strides to cultivate a more inclusive profession for the design

02.06.2018

Diversity Isn't a Dirty Word

posted on 02/06/2018

In his 1959 address to 26,000 students in Washington, D.C., Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. advised the crowd: "Whatever career you may choose for yourself … let me propose an avocation to be pursued along with it. Become a dedicated fighter for civil rights. Make it a central part of your life. It will make you a better doctor, a better lawyer, a better teacher”—or a better interior designer.

Dr. King’s words ring truer than ever today, and IIDA is committed to cultivating a culture of inclusivity within the profession. Designers conceive spaces that shape people’s lives and design firms should be composed of staff who mirror their clients and the communities they serve. But what steps can we, as interior designers, take to encourage open-mindedness within our own practices as well as with the users of the projects that we create?

But what steps can we, as interior designers, take to encourage open-mindedness within our own practices as well as with the users of the projects that we create?

Discomfort is often necessary for growth and the struggle for equality continues. Platforms like #metoo and #timesup empower many to take a stance by sharing their personal experiences. The collective battle cry is that the status quo is no longer acceptable. And even the term “diversity”—which is essentially defined as “differences”—is not always met with positive reactions. The 2016 IIDA Industry Roundtable explored the broader definition of diversity, from value systems to work styles. The report concluded “myriad studies conducted across all industry sectors have demonstrated that a diverse and inclusive workforce is a competitive advantage, a driver of innovation that’s good for creativity and for the bottom line.”

Cheryl Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEED AP, executive vice president and CEO of IIDA
Cheryl Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEED AP, executive vice president and CEO of IIDA

“IIDA has always made diversity a priority,” says Cheryl Durst, Hon. FIIDA, LEED AP, executive vice president and CEO of IIDA. She acknowledges that while women are a majority in the interior design profession, there aren’t many women of color, and women hold fewer than 25 percent of leadership positions in design firms. “To imagine possibilities, young people need to see examples, such as design educators and mentors,” Durst says. “And firms should take a look at their recruiting strategies—sometimes achieving diversity simply requires thinking differently and getting out of your comfort zone.”

Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA, LEED AP BD+C
Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA, LEED AP BD+C

“We all have unique experiences and viewpoints,” said Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA, LEED AP BD+C. “Diversity is not limited to race or gender; it also encompasses creeds, talents, thoughts, ideas, sexual orientation, and religion, as well as physical and mental abilities.” Bullock is the president elect of the IIDA International Board and a principal at Perkins+Will. She joined the firm more than 26 years ago, first in New York—she was born and raised in the Bronx—and later relocated to the firm’s Los Angeles office.

“Diversity is not limited to race or gender; it also encompasses creeds, talents, thoughts, ideas, sexual orientation, and religion, as well as physical and mental abilities.”—Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA, LEED AP BD+C

Bullock splits her time between managing complex, civic-focused projects around the world and serving as the director of the firm’s global diversity, inclusion, and engagement program. She evaluates challenges faced by the firm’s individual offices, gathers feedback from staff, and develops strategies to address them, such as leadership training that confronts unconscious biases or retooling recruiting and onboarding processes.

Throughout her career, Bullock has surpassed several milestones: She was the second black woman to earn an architecture degree from the Rhode Island School of Design, the first black woman to hold the position of managing director of the Perkins+Will Los Angeles office, and she is one of only 404 black women who are licensed architects in the U.S. Yet Bullock doesn’t want those numbers to define her. As the IIDA International Board president, Bullock will draw upon her experiences to build a platform focused on inclusivity. Before she takes any stances, Bullock will seek out data on demographics and statistics related to timely topics, such as licensure and certification.

“The interior design profession includes many people who are positive, engaging, and energetic,” Bullock noted. “But beyond the fabulous parties, we need to celebrate that by engaging our communities, emphasizing the importance of design, and telling our personal stories that convey the inclusivity and diversity within our profession.”