by Emily Langner
In the second episode of season two of the Build Better podcast, Anastasia welcomed Yiselle Santos Rivera, a senior medical planner and the director of equity, diversity, and inclusion at HKS Architects’ Washington D.C. office.
Rivera is the co-founder of Latin American Interior Designers, Engineers and Architects (LA.IDEA), and the founder of Women Inspiring Emerging Leaders in Design (WIELD).
She joined Anastasia to share her thoughts on the importance of creating spaces for those in minority communities to have their voices heard, and providing development opportunities that can create truly equitable workplaces.
In her role as the director of equity, diversity, and inclusion at HKS, Rivera and the team have put important structures in place to make real change at the company. Rivera emphasizes that making progress in the long term requires more than appointing a single individual. At HKS, there are four positions dedicated to the firm’s justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) practices.
Those positions include a director; a JEDI Council, a group of leaders to implement strategies at a high level; JEDI Essential Enablers, HR professionals and professional development and marketing teams; and JEDI Champions, the “boots on the ground” that are embedded in communities such as ACE mentorship, NOMA, and AIA chapters. Rivera points out that most often these roles can be filled by people who are already with the company, and that they don’t need to be full-time appointed positions.
Rivera says it’s important to create a genuine feeling of belonging within a firm or organization. By “engaging the full potential of each individual, where innovation thrives and the views, beliefs and values of everybody are integrated,” you foster an environment where people are more creative and feel like they have more psychological safety. This gives people an opportunity to bring their best to the table, and for the company to utilize their talents in the best way possible. The result is high performing teams that are creative, innovative, and that challenge the industry.
In order to truly move forward, Rivera comments that leaders need to be vulnerable, welcome the opportunity to be challenged, and not be afraid to make mistakes. She encourages people to ask themselves, “Are we representing our communities right now? Are we really representing the people who will be impacted by our designs?” She says it’s important to move to a place where we “create metrics and benchmarks, hold ourselves accountable, and set goals for the future.”