That’s the answer we received when asking Kia Weatherspoon why it was so hard to find Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) entry level Interior Designers to hire. We met Kia after her talk at the New Year, New You event put on by our South Florida International Interior Design Association (IIDA) chapter back in January. Kia had shared her passion for designing dignified spaces that serve marginalized communities. She was raw and authentic, with a slight edge and both Jaclyn and I fell in love with her immediately. I think we might have even yelled “PREACH!” a couple of times during her talk.
For over a year, we have been brainstorming ways to educate students about the Interior Design industry as we are constantly reminded of how little the general public understands about what it is we do. Hearing Kia’s answer to our question lit a fire within us and we’re dedicated to doing our part in improving the talent pipeline, specifically with BIPOC students. Our aim is to make the Interior Design industry more inclusive.
It’s often too late to inform high school students about the Interior Design profession as many have developed their interests. Entering education even earlier in middle and elementary schools can spark that imagination and lay the groundwork for their developmental track. We intend to meet with children within marginalized communities by depending on local nonprofits who serve these groups. We will inspire and encourage young kids of color in all areas. We’ll start with small groups in after school programs and one day we’ll venture to large gatherings of students.
As a white woman, I understand the importance of not being at the forefront of these presentations. The BIPOC students will be more likely to see the possibility for themselves if they relate to the appearance of the presenters. We’ll include design professionals in various aspects of our industry, including but not limited to Interior designers, lighting consultants, sales representatives and furniture dealers. JTI will provide the presentation materials, logistical support and scheduling but neither Jaclyn or myself will be presenting the information.
Our vision is to improve Interior Design by adding diversity to its workforce. As commercial interior designers, the spaces we create are seen and used by people of all races and ethnicities. It’s imperative that the talent pool includes Black creatives throughout the entire design process. Currently, our talent pipeline is broken. It’s homogeneous and lacks variety. We see a future for our profession that consists of people across all walks of life. As Austin Channing Brown said “The work of anti-racism is becoming a better human to other humans”.
“The American Society of Interior Design (ASID) reports that less than 2% of their membership identifies as Black.” Cheryl Durst, the President of IIDA also has shared these statistics. Here is a graph by zippia.com that further emphasizes the disparity in race in our industry:
I believe kids will be surprised to learn what the profession is really about since shows like Fixer Upper and Property Brothers cast a very specific (and residential) view on the profession. Students who love math will appreciate the analytic approach we take to problem solving. Kids prone to enjoying science will be surprised to find the amount of research that goes into not only each project, but each product within that project. The anatomy of a human body is considered in all our designs from the location of electrical outlets within a wall to the size, shape and function of chairs.
I’m confident that we’re going to be confronted with questions by students and that some of them will be unexpected. These inquiries will provide us with insight into their position and point of view. These interactions will be invaluable to us, allowing us the opportunity to shift future conversations with students towards generationally relevant content.
It’s imperative that we start as soon as possible. The world is culturally divisive and each and every inhabitant of earth must do our part to work towards unity. While it may seem obvious, the rewards from these efforts far outweigh the cost. This won’t happen overnight but it's worth it. Once more students learn about the possibilities available to them in our industry and in turn, pursue a career in Interior Design, the influx of racially diverse creativity will lift our profession. Interior Design will be immeasurably stronger if these efforts come to fruition. To quote Antionette Carroll, "Diversity in design means diversity of experience, perspective and creativity - otherwise known as diversity of thought - and these can be shaped by multiple factors including race, ethnicity, gender, age, sexual identity, ability/ disability and location, among others."
If you’ve read this far, I’m confident you’re part of the solution. We would love to join forces with you and are open to any collaborations you have in mind. After all, many hands make light work.
Here are some resources that I used in writing this article, I encourage you to check them out: