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Sep 16, 2020 By IIDA HQ
Women Lead Design: Ronnie Belizaire, Rachel Rouse, Kia Weatherspoon
Women making strides in design to discuss the urgency of this current moment, what’s next for design, and how a diversity of design thought is more crucial than ever.
By IIDA HQ Sep 16, 2020
Published in Articles

In this ongoing series, IIDA features women leading the design industry through change, innovation, and progress. Hear what they have to say on the importance of diversity in design, mentorship, inspiration, and the future of the profession.

The significance of design in our often-challenging and rapidly changing world cannot be overstated; it endows us with much-needed clarity, beauty, accessibility, and problem-solving. The women who are making design happen, at all stages in their careers, are the leaders of a better tomorrow. IIDA (virtually) connected with women making strides in design to discuss the urgency of this current moment, what’s next for design, and how a diversity of design thought is more crucial than ever.

Ronnie Belizaire, IIDA, Corporate Real Estate Manager, Americas, Daimler

IIDA
: Throughout your career in design, how have you been a mentor to others? Has that been rewarding?

Ronnie Belizaire
: I’ve had the opportunity to serve as a mentor, both formally and informally, on various occasions, and the one thing that always reigns true for me is the overwhelming feeling of gratitude I have for being trusted and able to pour into another person’s professional growth and development.

IIDA
: What do you see as the role of women in design—particularly in light of our current times?

RB
: It is simply good business to ensure that women are celebrated and elevated into leadership roles within the design industry. I remember being in design school over 15 years ago and the only woman I studied as a design savant was Florence Knoll in my textbooks and course curriculum. While Florence was brilliant, I’m pretty certain she wasn’t the only woman who did design work worthy to be celebrated. Women bring a certain ability to translate the needs of all into their designs all while leading with empathy, and the design industry could benefit from that type of energy.

IIDA
: What or who inspires you in your life and work?

RB: I am inspired by the lives of everyday people from all walks of life who make the world we live in more interesting and meaningful. Before COVID-19 began, I was an avid traveler both personally and professionally. I was adamant about visiting and seeing parts of the world that gave me a different perspective on what it means to live a life. While I enjoyed the finer things all these places had to offer, I was also intentional about always including stops where everyday people of a place live and work so I could truly have an immersive experience that I knew would leave a lasting imprint on me. My interactions with everyday people in any place I visit are usually some of my favorite moments of any trip. One of my personal mottos is “See the world, and bring it back home with you through the memories made.”

Rachel Rouse, IIDA, Principal, Director of Interiors, HOK

IIDA
: Who has been an important mentor to you over the course of your career and how?

Rachel Rouse
: I try to remember that everyone I meet knows something that I don’t and has something to teach me. As a result, I have had many mentors throughout my career who pushed me to grow in different ways. The one that really sticks with me is Kim Hogan, my predecessor at HOK. She saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. She took the time to actively recruit me to come work for her and then she stretched my limits by providing me with opportunities to interview directly with clients and learn from my mistakes in real-time. She passed early this year, and I was never able to ask her why. In some ways, I think I continue to push myself for her.

IIDA
: Have you mentored others? Has that been rewarding and how?

RR: I love working with my team to help them grow. I encourage my team members to reach for the next step and am a particular advocate for licensure. The best part of my job is growing with people and seeing someone you’ve worked with succeeding in their career feels like success for me too.

IIDA
: What do you see as the role of women in design?

RR: We can be the change we wish to see in the world. I hope to see a more equitable society for my children. Our industry can be tough, particularly on parents and women of color. It’s the role of all women to lift each other up and do everything in our power to help each other grow and thrive.

IIDA
: What or who inspires you?

RR: I draw inspiration from film and theater performance. Something about a form of creativity that is so different from my day job is not only inspiring but often brings me joy and refreshes my mind.

Kia Weatherspoon, Principal and Interior Design Advocate, Determined by Design

IIDA: Who has been an important mentor to you over the course of your career?

Kia Weatherspoon: As a woman of color, I never saw designers who looked like me in leadership roles early on in my career. I had to learn to be my own hero. While the landscape lacked diversity, it did teach me that no one is going to advocate better for me than me. Once you can advocate for yourself, then you can advocate for others.

IIDA
: Throughout your career in design, how have you been a mentor to others? Has that been rewarding?

KW: Due to my early experiences in the industry, I decided to become the leader I wanted to see. I adamantly make myself available to support any emerging designer or student through the various stages of their careers. Currently, I am actively mentoring and sponsoring ten emerging designers. Whether working with individuals or speaking to audiences, I am committed to sharing all the “secrets” no one told or offered me.

When speaking at Virginia Commonwealth University in January 2020, a student of color said to me, “You are the first interior designer of color I’ve ever met. When I saw you and heard your story, I could see myself in you. I needed that because I was tired of being the only one!” This student was considering dropping out of the program. I believe my success, presence, and willingness to show up are how I mentor every day. It is because of stories like this that I have returned to teaching. It is a call to action. There is a need for more diverse design professionals in academia.

For me, mentoring is not about reaping personal rewards, it is what I am supposed to do—a calling if you will. There is work to be done, so I will show up to be there for the industry. It is about empowering designers, and it is long overdue. If we can empower individual designers, we will elevate the profession as a whole.

IIDA
: What do you see as the role of women in design—particularly in light of our current times?

KW: Women can better position themselves by acknowledging that our innate level of empathy and understanding make us an asset to a team and/or deal. We can position ourselves for greater success by using empathy as a value add. We put others first, which is a strength. This allows us to take into consideration the whole person or team experience as it relates to the end-user as well as for relationship and team building. I think we need to use our empathetic lens to create more intentional, inclusive design outcomes and teams.

IIDA
: What or who inspires you?

KW: Dawn Myers, Founder of THE MOST! She’s not in the A&D space, but she is an entrepreneur disrupting and innovating technology in the beauty industry. I love a disrupter who will pull the curtain back so you can see where change needs to happen. She’s tackling venture capitalist spaces and their inequities head-on. Simultaneously, she is creating a technology infrastructure that doesn’t exist in the beauty market for women of color. Also, Damon Lawrence of Homage Hospitality Group. He’s building a Black-centric boutique hotel brand. It pays homage to all things Black and African culture in the hospitality space—down to the products in his hotels. Another disrupter and founder!

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