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Why Diversity Initiatives Need a Data-Driven Approach

Jan. 30, 2019
When it comes to diversifying the architecture and design workforce, International Interior Design Association (IIDA) CEO and vice president Cheryl Durst emphasizes the need for a data-driven approach to measure diversity success.

What does the next phase of diversity look like? Whether it’s in the workplace, in education or in media representation, the concept of diversity will soon stop being an ongoing conversation and start becoming an implemented reality.

But that’s still easier said than done. If you look up “diversity at work” think-pieces, narratives detailing the struggles of organizations executing plans for diversity are replacing those that discuss the necessity for a diverse workplace. When it comes to diversifying our workforce, sometimes we’re underequipped, sometimes we’re lost and sometimes we aren’t 100-percent sure where to begin. We need real numbers, and we need to know how to use them.

The Future of Making Diversity in Design a Reality

Professionals and industry leaders have to start by recognizing the need for accurate and robust diversity statistics, then developing and implementing more reliable ways to get them. These data mining initiatives may be databases, web interfaces and applications or public programs and education. In this way, the goals to measure the success of diversity initiatives can become data-driven in their interpretation and approach.

The design industry is in a special position to describe diversity in the workplace due to the nature of the work we do. Good design is inherently built on a foundation of diverse perspectives. In order to properly function and be utilized for the greater good, design as a profession and concentration has to rely on diversity of thought and opinion.

Design Diversity Data and Next Steps

Diversity in the workplace, however, has only recently begun to look like a day-to-day reality for some in our industry. Presently, more women are taking on leadership architecture and design roles. This is promising, but it’s not a reflected fact for other groups of people across the board. According to the forthcoming 2019 IIDA Compensation Report, the majority of the 2,208 IIDA members who responded to the compensation surveyabout 85 percent—identified as white. While we excel in some areas, we must challenge ourselves to improve in others.

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A 2016 global analysis of 2,400 companies conducted by Credit Suisse Research Institute demonstrated that diverse professional teams are “smarter,” having been proven to outperform non-diverse teams. This is critically important when thinking about the future of our organizations and projects. As designers, architects and other A&D professionals, our teams must reflect the realities of those for whom we are designing. You cannot successfully build for the world if you are not representative of what the world looks like.

Funding and lack of proper tools that readily dive into such performance statistics often stand in the way of truly carrying out diversity initiatives. But efforts are afoot in the A&D industry and beyond. IIDA, for example, has taken on partnerships with a number of organizations, including the City of Chicago, to implement diversity at all levels. We have also developed a number of scholarships and funds, such as the John J. Nelson Sr. Legacy Scholarship and the IA Interior Architects Diversity in Design Scholarship, to give the utmost support to emerging professionals in our field.

Data shows that diversity fosters a more creative and innovative workforce and is actually good for business. Be it a data-driven approach or a non-numerical recruitment and outreach effort, your organization should consider the meaningful initiatives it might take to further its perspectives and create an inclusive culture as we continue to head into 2019.

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About the Author

Cheryl S. Durst, Hon. FIIDA, is the executive vice president and CEO of IIDA. She is committed to achieving broad recognition for the value of design and its significant role in our society.

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