Featured Author

Robin Carathanasis

Marketing Manager

Lilker Associates

  • President 2016-17, SMPS New York
I attended the Women’s March in Albany, NY this past January. It was one of many hundreds of marches throughout the state, the country and the world. There I witnessed what was seemingly a sea of women walking strong in the streets of Albany. The march concluded at West Capital Park, which is wedged between the State Assembly building and the NY State Capital, for the speeches that sought to capture the spirit of the event. What I truly saw, in the crowd of 7,000 strong, was a canvas of women (some young, some very old), children, veterans, people of color, men, disabled people, immigrants from all sorts of places, middle aged, LGBT folks, and many others. To me, it was a continuation of the conversation of the SMPS Diversity and Inclusion lunch that I had participated in just one day prior.

Despite being in a small, upstate city of under 100,000 people it represented the microcosm of the larger marches in cities large and small throughout our country and in actuality a microcosm of the make-up of our country. It was called the women’s march, but it really wasn’t just about women’s issues, but concerns that are germane to all people especially human rights and economic freedom.

Returning to the diversity discussion, what does it mean to have diversity and inclusion in a professional services company? How do we create a culture of community engagement, both internally within our companies and externally with our clients and the built world we all inhabit? Where does the beehive of innovation, inclusion, professionalism and diversity exist and how to we keep it fueled? The issues of diversity and inclusion seem to be forever changing despite the battle against deep seated and unwavering unconscious bias; the unintentional perceptions and beliefs that we all have ingrained in us by socialization. We are not always aware of these preconceptions yet they shape us and every day they are part of our decision making process, often happening without forethought or mindful contemplation.

So is a more practiced awareness the solution in our lives and workplaces? Sure, but certainly not the complete answer. Staying present and in the moment is important when creating a culture of empowerment and inclusion in our firms. But it is a whole lot more, namely hard work and getting buy-in from all. This is just one part, however, an incredibly important one of the culture that professional service firms strive for, as it helps aid the connection to our coworkers, our clients and understanding everyone’s goals. For design, at its core is about shared values and exceeding expectations. As Rich Cavallar of Skanska said “if we’re going to connect with our customers we need to look like them.”

Connection with others is only made better when we operate from a more diverse platform. It is hard, but worthy work and just like all those marchers a few weeks ago, the first step is usually the most important one.