- Member, SMPS-NY
- Public Relations Committee
Political and social hyper-awareness has shifted many conversations across our nation and in our industry. With this awareness, however, can come movement and action, a response. SMPS-NY recognizes the need to talk about how these movements can enact change in our industry.
On Friday 1/20/17, SMPS-NY organized a panel discussion at the Cosentino Showroom to hear from a panel of experts on how their corresponding agencies are responding to the rising needs of Diversity & Inclusion in the A/E/C Industry, how it’s evolving, and how it can differentiate a firm.
Are things changing out there? How is diversity and inclusion addressed in your firm? These are a few of the things we looked at – but first, let’s meet our panel:
Moderater Julie Chang, Principal/General Manager, Sam Schwartz
Julie asked pointed questions to each of our panelists, but also included her viewpoints on combatting stereotypes in the industry.
Venesa Alicea, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP BD+C, Associate, Dattner Architects & Co-Chair, Diversity & Inclusion Committee, AIA New York
As a Latina woman who grew up in New York City, Venesa’s role on the AIA New York Diversity & Inclusion Committee is incredibly important. Venesa afforded the group a look at the current initiatives and research that the organization is developing to create an atmosphere of equality in the organization.
Cynthia Phifer Kracauer, AIA, Executive Director, Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation
Cynthia provided an introduction into the mission of Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation and the strides her firm has taken to advance diversity and inclusion. As a practicing architect, Cynthia was invaluable in shaping our perception of the industry from her unique perspective.
Sarah Reynard Epifano, Sr. Director, Business Development, SKANSKA
Having re-entered the industry after taking time off from an established career, Sarah gave the group an idea of what it’s like to identify changes in the workplace and how to adapt to the modern A/E/C firm. Sarah shared a video about SKANSKA’s current diversity and inclusion program, carrying messages like “Diverse Thought comes from Diverse People…”
Cassandra Leyden, Sr. Mechanical Engineer, Diversity & Inclusion NY Office Representative, Arup
Cassandra offered an interesting viewpoint as someone who has spent great amounts of time all over the world. She shared her challenges with the American A/E/C Industry and how she got her start at Arup.
Cheryl Petersen, Head of Talent Acquisition, Arup
Cheryl is passionate about creating a culture of belonging – which is what she does at Arup as Head of Talent Acquisition. The programs she coordinated at various top-tier corporations (Starbucks, to name one – heard of it?) gave her a wealth of information on how to begin diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Once we heard from the panel on their various programs, Julie opened the floor to questions from the audience. A few of those questions revolved around the human resources sector of the A/E/C Industry, but generally, we all wanted to know which initiatives have been the most successful and how they move a firm forward. The panel discussed how these programs can differentiate a firm.
Another significant discussion was on the topic of unconscious bias and how it plays a part in our everyday lives in the A/E/C Industry. Kracauer noted that as an architect, having the opportunity to meet a diverse group of people, over time, has made it possible for her to understand that unconscious bias does, in fact, exist. She offered her challenges to herself on overcoming unconscious bias, in turn, challenging the group to do the same.
“The most amazing thing about unconscious bias is that you’re not aware of it – the uncomfortable moment at exposure of unconscious bias comes from yourself, which is where you begin to grow,” Kracauer said. “Uncomfortableness has the potential to stretch an organization.”
Petersen added that often, those unconscious bias’ can come from the interview process itself – and challenged the group to ensure that our respective HR departments are truly living up to the diversity and inclusion message that we, as marketers, deliver to the industry.
Overall, we learned a lot from our panel how diversity and inclusion programs are impacting our industry. A final piece of advice came from Leydon: “Understand your firm’s culture and hold leadership accountable.”
(To also see live tweets of the panel and add your own thoughts, please follow @SMPSNewYork