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Mar 11, 2022 By IIDA HQ
Women Lead Design: Women’s History Month 2022 Part 2
Ronnie Belizaire, FIIDA, Ana Pinto-Alexander, FIIDA, and Kay Sargent, FIIDA, FASID, share their insights, experiences, and pathways for the future of design.
By IIDA HQ Mar 11, 2022
Published in Articles

In celebration of Women’s History Month, IIDA continues the conversation series, Women Lead Design. This segment highlights three inspiring women in the industry: Ronnie Belizaire, FIIDA, IIDA international board vice president and vice president of JLL, Ana Pinto-Alexander, FIIDA, principal and director of health interiors at HKS, and Kay Sargent, FIIDA, FASID, senior principal and director of workplace at HOK. They discuss the impact of mentorship, their sources of inspiration, and women as a powerful force that drives design forward.

Who has been an important mentor to you over the course of your career? Have you mentored others? What impact has mentorship had on you?


Ronnie Belizaire:
I’ve had a number of formal and informal mentors throughout my career (both women and men) and it's too difficult to single out just one. These mentors have helped me navigate my professional journey with the confidence that their support has cultivated in me. Because of all the mentorship I've received throughout my career, it was quite clear that I would need to pay it forward, and I've happily served as a mentor to others.

Ana Pinto-Alexander:
More than a mentor, I had and have sponsors—individuals that saw my potential and gave me the opportunity to grow into the leader that I am today. I am particularly grateful to Don Altemeyer and Monte Hoover, past presidents of BSA Life Structures, who gave me an incredible opportunity to build my own business. I also mentor and sponsor designers and students. Through mentorship I have been able to grow and have a better understanding of the dynamics in the partnership between architects, clients, consultants, and interiors. The mentoring I have received has given me confidence and empowerment.

Kay Sargent: Things are evolving and changing so quickly today I think we need to rethink mentoring. At HOK we have embraced the concept of cross-mentoring, where our more senior designers share our experience and expertise with upcoming professionals, and they share their knowledge and new techniques with the older, or shall we say, more “seasoned” designers.I’m truly inspired by the younger designers and emerging talent I get to work with. They have high expectations, push for more and they inspire and impress me each and every day. They drive me to think about the legacy we are leaving for the next generation. I often think that the best thing we can do for them is to lay the path and then get out of their way.

Where do you look for inspiration?

RB: International travel inspires me. I'm always amazed at how much it connects me to my own humanity because I thrive on watching how people live their life and recognize the beauty and resilience seen in everyday people of any place I visit around the globe.

AP: I look for inspiration in cities, artwork, and nature. The dynamics of a city life with provocative street artwork, lovely architecture and efficient Urban Planning are inspirational. However, I also find inspiration in the natural environments. The juxtaposition of color, light, and texture make for wonderful design inspiration.

KS:
As designers we all work hard, so it’s important that we all strive to find balance, even if in small ways. Before the pandemic I was running 100 miles an hour, traveling extensively, and working long hours—and loving every minute of it. But that takes a toll. The pandemic gave me an opportunity to reset and do a little self-care. Now I start each day right by rising early and exercising. I try to be active, move throughout the day and eat healthier. I retreat to walks in the woods to recharge and have even started painting and gardening again.

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Ronnie Belizaire, FIIDA, IIDA international board vice president and vice president of JLL
Ronnie Belizaire, FIIDA, IIDA international board vice president and vice president of JLL

What do you see as the role of women in design in light of the past few years?

RB:
I've always believed that women are the key to thoughtful design processes and the past few years have amplified just how women-led design teams tend to be far more collaborative and conscious of the people their designs impact.

AP:
I believe that now more than ever women are transforming the world through their talents, beliefs, and passion, such as the environmental activist who challenges world leaders, Greta Thunberg. Women are being elevated and valued in every setting and type of business. It is a good business decision to have women in leadership positions in architecture and interior design.

KS: Women have come a long way in the past 60 years. In recent years the number of women enrolled in college has exceeded men. And towards the end of 2019 and through February of 2020, the number of women in the workforce also exceeded men for the first time in history. But that milestone was never acknowledged or celebrated because of the instant impact of the pandemic. COVID-19 had a significant impact on that progress as it upended our daily routines and, in many cases, women bore the brunt of that. The demands of family and housework, often still covered by women, led to a female exodus from the workplace. Two-thirds of jobs lost permanently to COVID were held by women. And by September 2020, an eye-popping 865,000 women had left the U.S. workforce—four times more than men. It’s left many rethinking their priorities and reassessing how we work. My fear is that we have lost decades of progress towards advancing women in the workplace. And we are seeing a larger percentage of women and minorities request the ability to work remotely than their male colleagues. If more women and underrepresented groups are spending the least amount of time in the office and proximity bias sets in, it could hinder their professional opportunities, promotions and career advancement. That flies directly in the face of what most companies are trying to do, diversify, and before long we could see a negative impact that is rooted in what we do today.

What do you do to remain balanced amid change?

RB:
It may sound cliche, but regular therapy and exercise have done wonders for my mental health and keep me grounded in the midst of change.

AP:
Maintaining self-awareness and being true to myself. I complete a 10-minute breathing meditation almost every day. The power of a conscious breath is calming and brings clarity of thought.

KS: As designers we all work hard, so it’s important that we all strive to find balance, even if in small ways. Before the pandemic I was running 100 miles an hour, traveling extensively, and working long hours—and loving every minute of it. But that takes a toll. The pandemic gave me an opportunity to reset and do a little self-care. Now I start each day right by rising early and exercising. I try to be active, move throughout the day and eat healthier. I retreat to walks in the woods to recharge and have even started painting and gardening again.

1
Ana Pinto-Alexander, FIIDA, principal and director of health interiors at HKS
Ana Pinto-Alexander, FIIDA, principal and director of health interiors at HKS

What's the best piece of advice you can give to emerging women designers?

RB: Believe in yourself, be bold and seek out trusted allies.

AP:
I would advise them to design with “People First” in mind. With our profession comes a great deal of responsibility towards mother earth. As designers, we have an enormous potential to make a difference in the world. And if we become knowledgeable and curious, we will become resourceful. Asking manufacturers for the Health Product Declaration (HPDs) to provide a full disclosure of the potential chemicals of concern in products is essential for material selections and recommendations. We have been able to influence manufacturers to remove phthalates and PVC from their products without sacrificing efficiency and functionality. We can truly make a difference in the construction industry. Sustainability is no longer a choice. It is a mandate, and it should be in our design DNA.

KS: We are witnessing the evolution of the workplace, and design can be a powerful tool in that endeavor. What designers have always done well, the art of design, is being enhanced with the emerging science of design. By creating environments that support well-being, inclusivity and inspire those within them, we can drive powerful outcomes and create spaces that reflect our humanity. We need to design with courage to achieve the possible. My advice would be: Be True to Yourself. Believe in your abilities. Work hard. Be honest. And pass it forward.

What is one thing you wish more people knew about women in design?

RB:
I wish everyone recognized how women are truly the fuel that keeps the engine of design going.

AP:
Most women are aware of everything around them and are highly intuitive. Therefore, we can read a room to bring inclusivity to the meeting. We are highly collaborative; we can check our egos at the door and make decisions for the best of the collective. One day, you will discover what makes you tick. You will find your significance. Shifting from being successful to having significance in your life is when you really define the reason why you are here in this world. Somehow, the universe will open to you, in magical ways. You will find yourself in an intangible synchronicity, and you will start designing with a purpose and intention.

KS: Being the mother of five has taught me skills that have aided me in many situations, including the workplace. It’s also a huge motivation to excel, not only to support my family, but to set an example for them as well. So we should embrace motherhood. Women also make excellent leaders. According to a study by WPP Group, eight of the top ten competencies desired for modern leaders are viewed as feminine. Those traits include: expressive, plan for the future, reasonable, loyal, flexible, patient, intuitive, and collaborative. The two traits that were viewed as being perceived as masculine were decisive and resilient. Women tend to have more self-doubt and question their own abilities, but we need to learn to believe in ourselves and stop self-sabotaging. Women also tend to score higher with EQ skills and the ability to multitask. And women tend to lead by consensus versus being dictatorial, which is a big benefit with an empowered workforce seeking more input and options. Hence, women are well positioned to lead us forward in times that require empathy, flexibility and inclusion.

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Kay Sargent, FIIDA, FASID, senior principal and director of workplace at HOK
Kay Sargent, FIIDA, FASID, senior principal and director of workplace at HOK

Read Part One of the 2022 IIDA Women Lead Design series here.

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