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5 ways we’re acting on diversity and inclusion in design

August 24, 2021

By Anton Germishuizen

An informal self-examination yields actionable ideas for increasing diversity and inclusion in design teams and design process

This article first appeared as “Taking action on diversity and inclusion in design” in Stantec Design Quarterly, Issue 12.

The events of 2020 surrounding equity and justice in our pluralistic societies inspired and motivated many of us to take a new look at what we are doing in our daily lives to manifest a more just world. As designers for a global firm, we know that we live in a diverse world—and we must design for that world. Furthermore, we believe good design responds to and serves our communities—diverse communities.

But is there more we can do?

In the fall of 2020, we embarked on a proactive initiative to prioritize diversity and inclusion in our design outcomes in direct response to the market, the rapidly changing composition of our clients, and our own organization.

It’s important that we proactively assemble diverse design teams and understand positionality.

We looked to our people. We undertook an informal self-examination with a series of small, frank, group discussions on diversity and inclusion in design. These conversations were intended as a forum to collect perspectives and to yield ideas we could use to formulate actions for our global design practice. As a result of this effort, we have identified areas where Buildings could improve the design process, staff, and client engagement in design and deliver design solutions that better respond to the communities we serve.

Our professionals agreed that diversity and inclusion are complex and important in design. They believe more work needs to be done. They see that nurturing a more diverse profession and project teams is important, but they also recognize that there are inherent issues in how design is practiced every day that we must address. Our designers are passionate about design’s social power. Several ideas for action emerged from our discussions that could help promote diversity and inclusion.

From these conversations, we developed a list of actions that we plan to implement at Stantec Buildings to promote diversity and inclusion.

1. Assemble diverse teams

Proactively assemble diverse design teams. Understand positionality.

We must drive broader engagement and inclusion of cross cultural, multigenerational, and diverse voices throughout the design process. By assembling a diverse team with intentionality around the project, we can exploit the talent and resources we have across the organization.

Ethnic, demographic, and cultural diversity within our teams will surface alternate points of view and design insights. We can be purposeful about selecting people with different backgrounds when assembling our design teams.

2. Welcome input, crowdsource ideas

Welcome design input early and often.

We should make room for input from earlier career designers early in the design process. To elicit and welcome the insights and ideas that can make better designs, we must create forums and environments that make this engagement possible in the early stages of design. Lunchtime charettes and critiques are excellent forums to increase participation and harvest perspectives.

Crowdsource design ideas across our network of expertise.

As a global organization we are rich and diverse in our composition. We can virtually crowdsource alternative perspectives from across our design community. Teams can access and exploit internal talent across our geography, ethnicity, and cultural perspective and apply it to the benefit of a project.

As designers, we must go the extra mile to prepare and research the project and client context.

3. Engage the community

Do your homework.

As designers, we must go the extra mile to prepare and research the project and client context. The better we can understand the larger social, ethnic, and cultural context, the richer we can make our design response. The more we know about local sensitivities and culture, the better our design insights. By adding an ethnographic element to the design thinking process, particularly during the early conceptual design phase, we can address social and cultural dimensions of the project in the design.

Create open forums for collaboration with clients and community members.

As designers, we should apply a growth mindset when we engage clients, community members, and other stakeholders in conversation. We must invite open conversations that allow for authentic engagement from all participants—and invite a wide range of stakeholders to the table. We must recognize the value of “Street PhDs,” those whose insights come from lived experience.

Ask questions, listen.

Use the research of the client and the project to prepare and ask questions that yield insights. Drill down into challenges and be provocative. Get people out of their comfort zone but be respectful.

And listen! Bringing more voices to the table should test and strengthen our ideas, not weaken them. As one participant suggested, the ideal is that “everyone gets their say, not everyone gets their way,” and the best idea wins out.

Bringing more voices to the table should test and strengthen our ideas, not weaken them.

Implement processes that view design through more perspectives.

Our participants endorsed codifying diversity and inclusion and widening perspective more formally as an aspect of the design process through checklists and the use of representative personas. We will offer tools and processes that enable designers to utilize a checklist or create personas and questionnaires to see projects from diverse perspectives. We will consider a tool like a Diversity Audit to set metrics that can be measured throughout the design process.

4. Promote diversity in the industry

Promote diversity in AEC industries through mentorship, internship, and outreach to educational institutions.

A more diverse design profession starts in primary school. We will look for opportunities with AIA, universities, and primary schools to promote AEC professions and education in design and engineering to the generations to come.

Through our offices, Stantec is already involved in mentorship and organizations that promote diversity in the industry such as the ACE (Architecture, Construction, Engineering) Mentor program. Stantec has mobilized our internal community to engage in relationship building with identified Historically Black Colleges and Universities and national organizations like the National Organization of Minority Architects (NoMA) or the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) to identify and attract minority candidates to our organization. We have established an Equity Scholarship program and have a young professionals mentorship program launching that pairs minority professionals with students as peers.

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Through our offices, Stantec is already involved in mentorship and organizations that promote diversity in the industry.

5. Recognize the social power of design

Celebrate the powerful social impact of space.

The quality of space influences our emotions, behavior, and well-being. Spaces can make us feel uncomfortable if they do not accommodate the right functions and interactions. Design elements such as material finishes, spatial configuration, and levels of transparency must support and reflect cultural norms for privacy, safety, and comfort. Comfort is key to utilization.

We need to continue to share stories about design that successfully serves public needs with measurable outcomes for communities. And we can also highlight the creative and aesthetic possibilities for more inclusive design through competitions—as we’ve done with sustainability.

Diversity and inclusion are critical

We are committed to improving our design process to make it more diverse and inclusive. We will use these action items as benchmarks against which we periodically evaluate our progress. Our efforts are ongoing.

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  • Anton Germishuizen

    A senior vice president, Anton fosters a commitment to design excellence and the growth of Stantec’s design culture

    Contact Anton
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