Council Post: Expanding Diversity In Design

By Ashley Sharp, Executive Director at Dwell with Dignity.

When you love what you do, you want to uplift your industry — and because I love interior design, I’m constantly discovering ways to move the field forward and develop new talent. First and foremost, what our industry needs is a wake-up call regarding diversity and inclusion.

The interior design profession is 86% white, and the American Society of Interior Designers reports that less than 2% of its members identify as Black. As the daughter of a Black man and the leader of a nonprofit that primarily serves Black and Brown families, this issue is near and dear to my heart.

Expanding diversity in design is not only about making sure that designers of color have equal opportunities to succeed professionally. It’s also about driving greater innovation and creativity within our field by sourcing a wider range of talent. In short, a more diverse industry is great for all of us because it brings new ideas and reduces homogeneity in design.

Just look at the wildly creative work that designers of color are already doing, from Katie Gong’s one-of-a-kind wood knot designs to Michel Smith Boyd’s fresh take on luxury aesthetics. Even in the current state of our industry, where designers of color are vastly outnumbered, they’re already bringing the heat when it comes to innovation and creativity. Imagine how innovation would explode with broader representation.

Yet, expanding representation isn’t the only step we must take as an industry. It’s equally important to make sure we’re being welcoming and inclusive of all designers through our language, actions and behavior.

For example, we need to ditch common design terms like “native,” “tribal” and “oriental,” which exoticize and alienate people of certain cultures. It’s time to focus on disability and accessibility, working to create spaces that everyone can enjoy. Diversity is paramount, but if we want to retain and build upon that diverse talent for generations to come, we must invest in inclusive design and practices. Diversity without inclusion is simply not sustainable.

If you know me, you know I hate the expression “that’s the way things have always been done.” This issue is the perfect example of why: If we keep doing things the same way, our industry will always be 86% white. We need to change the way we do things if we want to expand diversity. That means finding new pathways of recruitment and hiring, facilitating mentorship opportunities, developing a diverse talent pipeline and investing in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs that give us the tools to put big ideas into practice.

I’m lucky to work in an industry that I love, but I’m not blind to the challenges we face in interior design. Before we can call ourselves a truly diverse and inclusive profession, we need to make large-scale investments in diversity and inclusion while changing the systemic forces that have excluded Black and Brown designers for far too long. If we start taking the right steps to expand diversity in design now, we will all reap the benefits of a stronger and more innovative profession overall.

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