Feb 23, 2021 By IIDA HQ
IIDA Member Spotlight: Rashanda Udekwu
We speak with IIDA member and Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) for IIDA’s Northern California chapter.
By IIDA HQ Feb 23, 2021
Published in

IIDA 'sat down’ with Rashanda Udekwu, Ind. IIDA to discuss the past year, work-life balance, inspiration, and her newly created role, Vice President of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) for IIDA’s Northern California chapter.

Tell us a little about your current design role?

I am a Director of Business Development at KBM-Hogue, one of the country's top Knoll dealers.

Who or what inspires you?

Currently, people who choose to find the silver linings in 2020 inspire me.

What has been the most significant change to your work and life routine in 2020, aside from working remotely?

I started at KBM-Hogue in 2020 and so I have never actually met any of my colleagues in person. Navigating that gave me important insights into the experience of the workplace, and what shifts when you can meet your collaborators in a real space, in real-time. We’re doing a lot of thinking around returning to the office and being able to attract and retain talent. There are wonderful aspects to our virtual worlds, but there are some things that cannot be replaced, that can only happen when you engage in person in the workplace—shared space builds trust, sparks creativity, and a sense of community. Technology has led the way in terms of thinking of remote work as a lifestyle and as a way for us all to stay connected, but it’s also clear that physical connectivity is so vital to innovation.

How have you engaged with the design community and found yourself reaching out to your professional community during this time?

Knoll hosts wonderful virtual events and programs that I often share with my network, and I’ve just done a lot of reaching out and connecting. There have been lots of internal shifts in the industry so I’m always touching base and connecting with people as well as asking the questions of those around me, “Who else should I be in touch with?” Always building and contributing to the community is key. I like to ask, “How can I bring value to the projects and how can I help create a better road towards achieving your goals?”

How can designers help to better build community?

I think being more aware and choosing to discover our own blindspots to create a better world starts with us.

When you're not working and designing, what fills your day?

Connecting with friends and family, reading, and learning new ideas. Oh, and thoughtful podcasts. I recently started playing tennis!

Who are your favorite designers or architects?

There are too many amazing designers to only choose one! As far as architects, Zaha Hadid, the first woman to design a museum in the U.S.— her work is truly phenomenal.

What person, living or dead, do you most admire?

I hold true admiration for the real people in my life. My grandfather, my mother, people that I know in a deeper way and understand all aspects of them. There are many folks whose work and accomplishments I deeply respect, but genuine admiration is always something closer to home for me. And getting a true honest look into someone's life through personal interaction is what strengthens that admiration.

What are you looking forward to in 2021?

New year, new opportunities, and possibilities!

What are your goals and priorities in the newly created role of VP of DEI for IIDA Northern California?

I think it’s important that DEI moves beyond those three letters—that it does not just represent a race or a small segment but becomes really expansive. I want those three words to become a lifestyle, and to approach this role in a broad sense. We’re not doing this work to check a box, we’re doing this work to create a way of life in our community so that we can all begin to see and experience the world in a more equitable manner. For designers, architects, and the firms and organizations we all work for—we can and should move beyond just hitting a number. I’m not an expert, but I have my lived experience and a passion for people that inspires me to continue to be curious as to what we can all learn together, and explore what we can tackle if we take on a challenge collectively. We all have the power to create ripple effects if we approach it this way.

I also think it’s important to note that it is a community effort. There isn’t one of us that can do this work alone—we can all seek to partner with others to move these efforts forward.

What is your advice to young and emerging designers seeking to promote and support equity in design?

Design is incredibly inspiring, but I know that once you enter the workforce it’s not uncommon for that creativity to dwindle as we become absorbed into our firms and workplaces. The things that made us curious and attracted to the field in the first place don't always get the nourishment they need. So my advice is to continually do things that challenge yourself to get outside the box, and to learn about others around you and learn their stories. This opens up our world and feeds our creativity, as well as creates a sensitivity to others and our environment. Continuing to be curious about the world around you will help to create more equity in our lives.

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