IIDA DEI Industry Spotlight Series – LPA Design Studios

The IIDA DEI Industry Spotlight Series celebrates design firms and organizations that are leading the charge in DEI efforts. Making strides towards improving diversity, equity, and inclusion can be a slow and challenging process. Our intention is to give insight into the journey, highlight the efforts being made, and inspire others by sharing goals for the future. The ‘work’ is never complete, yet there is value in acknowledging the advancements being made. Progress over perfection. 

LPA Design Studios

LPA Design Studios has long been a supporter of diversity, as the firm takes an integrated and informed approach to design—one that leverages the collective insights of their multidisciplinary team to spark innovation and maximize value. 

In 2019, a few architects and designers had the opportunity to attend the AIA’s Women’s Leadership Summit and were inspired to develop an inter-office platform for open discussions about the realities and challenges that many architects and designers have in the industry. With support from LPA’s CEO Wendy Rogers, the LPA Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion focus group was born. It quickly gained a foothold with the LPA staff and morphed into LPA EDI Council, including members from LPA’s executive leadership and all levels of staff. 

LPA’s EDI Council is proud of the achievements that have been made thus far. Some of the most notable items are:

1. Development of quarterly EDI Studio Group meetings, where the EDI Council engages all staff to participate in an interactive session to discuss current events and strategize on EDI initiatives for the firm. The EDI Council has seen a 17% increase in participation since the first EDI Studio Group session.

2. Introduction of LPA’s Interdisciplinary Diversity Scholarship, which was created to help stimulate the pipeline and foster the growth of underrepresented cultures in the Architecture, Design and Engineering fields. Read more about the scholarship here: https://learnmore.scholarsapply.org/lpa/

Just recently, LPA has awarded the first recipients of the Interdisciplinary Diversity Scholarship and will be awarding funds and beginning the associated mentorship program in Summer 2021.  The Press Release on the Scholarship Awardees for 2021 can be found here – https://lpadesignstudios.com/press-releases/lpa-awards-first-grants-in-new-interdisciplinary-diversity-scholarship-program

3. Receipt of their JUST label from the International Living Future Institute, highlighting their current standing in areas such as Diversity & Inclusion, Equity, Employee Health, Employee Benefits, Stewardship, and Purchasing & Supply Chain. Learn more about the JUST Social Justice Label for organizations here: https://living-future.org/just/#overview 

4. Conducted the first Annual EDI Engagement Survey to provide data and metrics that will be measured against regional and national demographic data. The information will also be used to establish a baseline and help to track growth and advancement of employees year over year.

Natalie Zweig with LPA Design Studios, a project manager for the Workplace Interiors division and member of the LPA EDI Advisory Council.

1. What advice would you share with individuals who are interested in starting DEI initiatives at their firm? 

Natalie: One of the most powerful things we have learned over the past couple of years is that a motivated, organized grassroot effort can create change. Start by gathering a group of diverse voices from your organization to strategize on the top 3-5 ‘big ideas’ that resonate with the majority. Prepare a brief, yet direct action plan to share with your organization’s stakeholders and be prepared to put in the work to make progress on your initiatives. 

2. What is an upcoming DEI initiative that your company is working on? 

Natalie: We’re currently creating the Project Leader Academy, which will be focused on developing and advancing talent from within the firm. We heard in one of our first studio sessions that designers were hungry for more specific growth and learning opportunities. For example, our Design Coordinators (similar to a Job Captain) are interested in learning more about the creation of proposals, contracts, monthly billings, and the project planning aspects of the Project Management role before they are officially given the title. We’re working on developing a specific curriculum and framework for each level and also the protocol for how staff will get involved with the program. The goal is to ensure that all staff are provided with an equal opportunity for advancement.  

3. Tell us about a challenge that you have encountered while developing and implementing DEI initiatives and how are you overcoming it? 

Natalie: Luckily, our CEO has been extremely supportive of our EDI efforts from the beginning, but it has not been as easy to convince all members of LPA’s executive leadership that our initiatives are beneficial. Our EDI Council has decided it is important for us to provide frequent reports back to the executives where we share positive feedback from the staff, provide data/metrics to track our progress, and re-prioritize our goals for the future. We were also able to bring in a wonderful DEI consultant who gave a presentation titled “Why DEI is good for business” where she shared data showing that organizations who prioritize Diversity and Inclusion continue to be higher performing and have better recruitment and retention than organizations that do not. The EDI Council recognizes that progress is a marathon, not a sprint, but by staying consistent and determined, we can continue to make improvements. 

4. What resources were used to guide the development or implementation of the DEI initiatives? 

Natalie: Dr. Shirley Davis is a Diversity & Inclusion global thought leader and she has been a wonderful resource for our firm. She led a variety of trainings for the LPA staff, focusing on Unconscious Bias Training and highlighting the financial benefits of incorporating DEI initiatives into our company structure and culture. We also incorporated a firm wide engagement survey by Gallup to develop small group actions plans that were team focused and achievable. The EDI Council regularly references guidelines and recommendations from other professional organizations, such as the AIA’s Guide for Equitable Practice and their updated glossary of terms. https://www.aia.org/resources/6246433-guides-for-equitable-practice 

5. What suggestions do you have for young students or emerging professionals on how to persevere through some of the challenges of our industry? 

Natalie:  Join organizations like IIDA where you can make connections with your peers and find a mentor to guide you through the tough situations. Sometimes it’s helpful to just find someone who is willing to listen and can say “yes, I’ve been there and here’s how I handled it.”  IIDA’s DEI group is comprised of some pretty successful and experienced folks who are all doing amazing work in the industry and they are all dedicated to helping to advance the next generation of young designers.   

CLOSING: Whether the organization you work for has a well-developed DEI strategy or burgeoning commitment to DEI efforts, we would love to spotlight it! Email us at [email protected].

“Real change, enduring change, happens one step at a time.” – Ruth Bader Ginsburg

A major component to increasing diversity in the workforce is supporting the pipeline of future design professionals. Many organizations are showing their support by providing scholarships, grants, and mentorship opportunities to help springboard the next generation into educational success.  We are looking to share as many resources as possible, so if you know of a great scholarship or mentorship program that we should highlight, please email us at [email protected] to have your opportunity spot lit. 

This quarter’s scholarship spotlight is the The LPA Interdisciplinary Diversity Scholarship Program. The scholarship offers a renewable $5,000 award to historically underrepresented groups in the Architecture, Design, and Engineering fields. It is paired with a mentorship opportunity so students can receive direct support from professionals who are well established in the student’s selected career path. Applications for the 2022 academic year will be accepted soon. For more information, visit https://learnmore.scholarsapply.org/lpa/

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