Advocacy has had an important role in American society, which has become obvious in recent years.
For architect Jane Greenwood, principal of Kostow Greenwood in New York City alongside her business partner Michael Kostow, advocacy is part of her legacy. In the 1990’s, Greenwood co-founded the Organization of Lesbian + Gay Architects and Designers (OLGAD), which lead to the formation of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project. She has been recognized as an advocate for minority populations, including the LGBT community and women’s rights through organizations such as the Women Builder’s Council and the New York Business Journal.
In November 2017, Greenwood was recognized as one of OUT magazine’s annual OUT 100—a celebration of “the most influential LGBTQ people of the year”. She was the only representative from the architecture and building/construction community for the 2017 year.
In response to the award, Greenwood stated, “I’m incredibly humbled to be one of this year’s OUT 100 honorees. I was proud to be out 30 years ago and I’m still proud. There has always been a cause worth fighting for in our community. The topics may change, but the need to speak out has not. I’m still fired up after all these years.”
interiors+sources recently discussed with Greenwood her role as an advocate and mentor, and the importance of advocacy in the design industry.
interiors+sources: What has been the importance of advocacy in your life, particularly in speaking on behalf of equality in the workplace?
Jane Greenwood: I’ve been lucky from an early age as I was always encouraged to speak up and speak out, so I felt as though I belonged at “the table”. Yet, I could see that this was not always true for my peers. Whether a gender or racial bias or a lack of opportunity for growth or a glass ceiling to break, obstacles often keep talented people from succeeding in the workspace. If I can help even one person break through whatever barrier they face then that’s one less person held back.
i+s: You said, “The topics may change but the need to speak out has not. I’m still fired up after all these years.” What do you think are some of the topics that need to be spoken up about in 2018?
JG: Inclusion, acceptance, speaking out about sexual harassment, bullying in the workplace, and the age-old standard bearer – equal pay for women. All topics for 2018 and for as long as it takes!
i+s: Do you have any advice on how to stay passionate/not get burnt out?
JG: It’s all about balance and focus. I’m passionate about my work, advocacy, and my community, but I balance this with down time with my family and friends. If we don’t take care of ourselves we can’t help others.
i+s: How can interior designers and architects help create a more diverse community?
JG: Leaders and employment decision-makers need to make it their priority to diversify their firms. But that’s not enough—we need to encourage young professionals and reach the next-generation to spread the message that the design community is inclusive. If future design professionals see a multicultural work environment they will likely feel empowered and welcome.
i+s: What is the importance of diversity in the design/build industry?
JG: In the same vein, diversity always has an upside in that the employment pool is naturally larger. Personally speaking, I sense the construction industry is less diverse than the design industry, though I have no statistical information other than my own observations.
Many comment about the “Polish plumbers” and the “Irish carpenters” or the “Jamaican roofers” – not only does this marginalize the design/build industry, but it sets a tone of acceptance as that’s just the way things are. I know many large construction companies are working to change this stereotype by maintaining diversity and inclusion programs.
i+s: What is the current diversity of your team?
JG: We’re always proud of our multi-cultural makeup. Today, we are 55 percent women, 45 percent minority, 28 percent LGBTQ, and one-percent four-legged mascot.
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i+s: How does the work of Kostow Greenwood Architects benefit from a diverse team of professionals?
JG: We design commercial spaces that are populated by a diverse community, so why wouldn’t we have a diverse design team to create these beautiful spaces? Everyone brings their unique design sensibility to the creative process and the amalgam of these diverse views enriches the outcome. Today, our commercial clients are including nursing and parenting rooms, egalitarian office spaces, and quiet rooms – all informed by an inclusive, equitable design process.
i+s: What resources are there for interior designers and architects who have experienced prejudice?
JG: Hopefully, their firm has an employee handbook that addresses the protocol for any claims of prejudice, so that’s the place to start. If not, then speak to at least two senior staff and request a pro-active investigation and document everything. There are many legal channels including the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).
i+s: Why have you chosen to mentor students from high school through postgraduate?
JG: It’s great to see a young person’s enthusiasm and naiveté and know that they are so open to learning. I also have a selfish motive knowing that I may find a future star for my firm. Ultimately, it’s all about opening a door. A young student may not have an opportunity to learn about design or even be aware of the possibilities in our profession, so bringing our profession to them at an early age is a gift for everyone.
i+s: What is the importance of the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project? How can someone get involved in advocacy?
JG: What began as a mission to shed light on the rich cultural history of the LGBTQ community evolved into the NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project (www.nyclgbtsites.org), a cultural initiative and educational resource that is documenting historic sites connected to the LGBT community throughout New York City.
This stake in the ground has paved the way for greater acceptance to where general interest travel books and magazines identify cultural landmarks important to formally marginalized communities. The AIA and IIDA, among other professional trade organizations, promote advocacy to their membership.
i+s: What advice would you give to young people who feel out of place in their environment and/or disheartened by current events in our country?
JG: Speak up, stand out, join together, and be visible. Find a nurturing place to work—live and seek out those who will encourage and support your passion. I’m still charged up when I think about all the untapped talent and energy that young people bring to our community.
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