8 TZL: What advice would you give to a leader who wants to engage in a discussion about diversity but isn’t sure where to start? LSB: I would advise them to do a review of their entire company from the top to the bottom. Review how inclusive they are within their company leadership, and if that looks exactly the same as it did even five years ago, redo the entire process. I would also advise them to look at how their sellers or seller/doers are building their teams when pursuing contracts. Are you looking at numbers (because you have to) or are you looking at value? Are you allowing the younger generation to help you make some decisions? How many African American men or women do you have in leadership? How much diversity is in your human resources department? What type of footprint do you have in urban communities? Are you recruiting from historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and do you have internships available with said HBCUs? None of these things have anything to do with charity. Minority businesses are not asking for handouts. We are asking for a fair and level playing field and to be treated like you would treat anyone that you respect. Once you add these things to your company culture, then the discussion about diversity can begin. TZL: How often are you the only person who looks like you in a meeting? How does being aware of being a black woman influence the way you interact in meetings, handle disputes, or negotiate? LSB: Within the region I am in, nine times out of 10, I am the ONLY black female in the room. There’s an illustration floating around on the internet of a black woman sitting in a chair facing a panel of 10 white males and the caption reads “Describe what you can bring to this company.” As soon as I saw that, I was like there it is, that is what it feels like! I have had this issue my entire career. And like most, if not all women (especially women of color) I have to be the one in the room who knows the most but doesn’t “intimidate,” feels the most passionate but doesn’t come across “emotional” or “angry” etc. And, as a woman you have to demand attention that doesn’t involve someone undressing you with their eyes. It can be an interesting juggle at times, but I have worked in corporate America my entire career, so I know enough to be effective and maintain my dignity. I am not the type to conform but because I am passionate about what I do, I feel that my authenticity speaks volumes in situations like that. Real is the only thing I have an interest in being and if that is not what someone wants from me, then we are not meant to do business with one another. I am often looked at with shock because of the level of industry knowledge I have and how I conduct myself in high stress situations. I’m not sure why the shock is there but I can venture to guess it comes from what I look like and that I am the one in the room least likely to be there. TZL: Many AEC leaders that we work with feel like race and gender don’t matter, individual characteristics and capabilities do. How would you respond to that? LSB: I respond to that by saying until the shoe is on the other foot, there will always be people who think that. I AUTHENTICITY, from page 7
was told by a colleague that I have known for at least 10 years that they were reluctant to put me on their team because they had “subs” that couldn’t perform in the past so they had to just write them a check and perform the work for them. I was confused by this because I wasn’t sure what that meant. So even though you have to add “subs” to the team, you were hesitant to add mine because of your experience with another “sub”? You know my characteristics and my capabilities, but you are still categorizing me because of an experience that could have happened in any situation. So even when you are not aware of privilege, it happens all the time. My response to that is like any other entrepreneur, if you don’t see my value, there is someone else out there who will. I don’t take it to heart because I don’t have time to do so. Ignorance is bliss and if living in that makes you happy, then you are not the client I want to work with anyway, friend or not. I have never shied away from an open conversation with people that feel this way because it is important for me to know exactly where we stand because time is of the essence when you are trying to build your firm and wasting it is not an option. TZL: ICMS is celebrating its fifth anniversary this summer. What accomplishments do you take the most pride in from the past five years? Where do you see ICMS in another five years? LSB: The accomplishments are wrapped up in the staff of professionals I have working for me. Knowing that the people who make ICMS what it is continue to believe in my direction as a leader makes me feel accomplished. I see our company being respected as a high performance-based firm that takes every project (big or small) and turns it into something that all stakeholders can be proud of. I also see us priming more contracts and working with the firms that supported us as a teaming partner now, as teaming partners of the future. My goal is to be a household name amongst the AEC community with a stellar reputation and amazing cast of individuals making that a reality every day. Bigger has never been my goal; better is always what I strive for. Like my husband says, “Just focus on the rock, Sugga.” And that is what I am doing, focusing on “the rock.” TZL: What role could design professionals in the AEC community have in creating more inclusive spaces? LSB: For starters, the thought that there is only room for “one” has to be removed from the scenario. If you look at the landscape of our industry, how often do you see more than one African American firm at the table in communities that are less populated with diversity? I can say from experience that those opportunities are far and few between which cause more competition within competition. The idea that if my other black colleagues are at the table, there’s no room for me makes for a non- inclusive space. If firms open the idea up to this, then it opens more doors for people of color to enter. Thinking with the mindset of us cancelling each other out brings forth less opportunities for growth on all levels of the spectrum and in all spaces within the industry.
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THE ZWEIG LETTER JUNE 22, 2020, ISSUE 1350
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