handle
top_graphic bottom_graphic
Mar 02, 2021 By Yasmin Spiro
Women Lead Design: Women’s History Month Edition
IIDA connects with six leading women in design as they reflect on the value of mentoring, the role of women in design, and the places they seek inspiration.
By Yasmin Spiro Mar 02, 2021
Published in Women Lead Design

Over the last year IIDA reached out to many of the women leading design in the industry to talk to them about change, growth, mentorship and equity—through the lens of design. In celebration of Women’s History Month we continue this conversation with six impressive leaders in the design and architecture field. Join us as they reflect on the value of community, where they seek inspiration, the role of women in design, and the critical role of mentorship in their lives. Mentorship is essential for most designers as they navigate their careers, it is particularly important for women and minorities to find support and sponsorship to navigate the world of design.

Here we speak to:

Susana Covarrubias, IIDA, Design Principal, Gensler
Karen Compton, Principal, A3K Consulting, LLC
Hillary DeGroff IIDA, LEED AP ID+C, Associate Principal
Meena Krenek, IIDA, Principal, Interior Design Director with Perkins&Will
Richelle Nolan, IIDA, CCIDC, Principal IA INTERIOR ARCHITECTS
Ana Pinto Alexander, IIDA, Director of Health Interiors and Principal, H


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

Susana Covarrubias:
While I have not had one single individual that I have called my mentor, I’ve been fortunate to have many incredible people in my life that have guided my path throughout the years. One of those individuals is Karen Thomas, Gensler’s Regional Managing Principal, who is a fantastic leader and mentor.

Hillary DeGroff:
My grandmother’s story always had a particularly profound impact on me throughout my career. Growing up in the 30’s and 40’s and then starting a family out of high school, she didn’t have the same opportunities I was afforded. She persisted and when all four of her children graduated college, she returned to college in her early fifties for interior design, graduating from Virginia Commonwealth University. She taught me perseverance.

At Perkins Eastman, we have a phenomenal mentorship program for our team members. I’ve had the benefit of working closely with Laurie Butler, one of our senior living leaders, in a project capacity, as well as through the formalized mentorship program. She taught (and is still teaching me!) how to be a true leader and inspire our teams to face challenges head-on together.

Richelle Nolan: I have had many wonderful mentors over the course of my career, and hope to have many more. Each one brings a different perspective and inspires personal growth. Typically, these relationships happened organically through the profession and were a part of inspiring a new path or career trajectory for me. A mentor doesn’t always identify as such immediately, but then magically you both look back and realize the impact you were able to have on one another. If I had to choose one mentor in particular, it would be my mom. She started a hospitality and residential interiors firm when I was a kid and still runs it herself in Arizona. She has an incredible eye, has worked with many high-profile clients, and is constantly evolving her approach.

1
Susana Covarrubias, IIDA, Design Principal, Gensler
Susana Covarrubias, IIDA, Design Principal, Gensler

Meena Krenek: Joan Blumenfeld was the global head of interiors for Perkins+Will. She is a dear friend and I text her often to ask her any challenging questions I’m dealing with. She taught me how to impact clients with bold design ideas, how to make sure we, designers, have a platform, and constantly seek out ways to integrate both architectural and interior design to create solutions that cross boundaries, and encourage emotional connections with space. She has been the biggest influence on my career.

I like to tell emerging designers that you must have your own personal executive board, have people that "really get you" and believe in you. Joan Blumenfeld is on Meena Krenek’s executive board. It’s been an honor to work beside her and learn ways to empower creative confidence with my teams with the leadership she has instilled in me.

Ana Pinto Alexander: As I reflect on this question, I believe during my career growth, I have had sponsors that saw potential in me, and have hired coaches to help me navigate through challenging times. I feel that my sponsors have opened doors for me, and it was up to me to take the opportunity to grow into a leadership position.

1
Meena Krenek, IIDA, Principal, Interior Design Director with Perkins&Will
Meena Krenek, IIDA, Principal, Interior Design Director with Perkins&Will

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

SC: I find great inspiration in mentoring others. This is one of the most rewarding aspects of what I do. I still remember my first years in the U.S. when I didn’t know anyone, and I had to learn the hard way through trial and error. Because of this experience, I strive to make other designers’ paths smoother by guiding them or providing a safety net that I did not have when I began my career.

HDG:
Yes, and I always feel like it is more of a rewarding experience for me than it is for the mentee. I love getting to know people and learn from their backgrounds and stories. We are in the ‘people’ business. The best design work comes from understanding the people for whom you are designing. What better way to exercise your listening and communication skills than to develop a connection with someone with similar passions.

MK: The foundation of our industry is apprenticeship and having a growth mindset; to continuously be curious and learn from others. I have been privileged to work with some of the most talented designers in the country. One of my main initiatives as a design leader at Perkins&Will is to harness and embrace the talents of individuals that question the norms in our society and are nonconformists. To build a culture that supports risks and innovation we must develop the language to persuade, influence, and entice new and fresh ideas to colleagues and clients. My goal with mentorship is to provide a culture with the psychological safety that encourages our teams to use their rebel talent to push design to new levels. The reward is the work and the teams and the clients are moved by design in profound ways. Creativity Takes Courage, as mentors it’s our duty to provide the space to allow for creativity to prosper.

RN: My goal as a leader and mentor is always to thoughtfully engage with people and provide them a safe space to grow into their best selves, as well as the freedom to explore new ideas. As a leader within my office, I have worked closely with a number of designers on my team, and the reward is observing how the team grows, seeing how a designer blossoms, or how a designer helps a client achieve a project goal. One of the best parts of being a mentor is that I grow as well—everyone who I mentor has a personal impact on me. The true reward is to be able to learn from others and expand my own perspective while watching my team flourish.

APA:
I am constantly mentoring and sponsoring others—students, junior designers, and senior designers. I also enjoy sponsoring talented, curious, and rigorous designers. Mentoring young people and seeing their individual growth and helping them find the significance in the work we all do is extremely rewarding. It gives purpose to why we do what we do.

What do you see as the role of women in design in light of the past year and the ongoing work we are all doing to stay balanced amidst change?

SC: This is a very charged question! The pandemic and the way we are interacting with each other is forcing us women to be more deliberate. To quote Audre Lorde, “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.” This statement has been on my mind a lot recently. When I think about the word deliberate, I think about care and balance. More than ever, we have to be clear with our intentions and walk that fine line between being deliberate while going about it with care and balance.

1
Richelle Nolan, IIDA, CCIDC, Principal IA INTERIOR ARCHITECTS
Richelle Nolan, IIDA, CCIDC, Principal IA INTERIOR ARCHITECTS

quote
I am deliberate and afraid of nothing.
Audre Lorde
quote
Audre Lorde

Karen Compton: This is such an interesting question. Kimberly Crenshaw, who I believe is professor at Columbia and UCLA coined the term intersectionality 30 years ago to describe a way in which people's social identities overlap with other aspects of being disadvantaged. Nowhere is this more clear (to me) than for women of color and certainly women in design. We bear a disproportionate load in terms of advancing equity, and inclusion on the go forward—and that's challenging because many of us are also working jobs.

But I think back to women like Rosa Parks who was also working a job when, as a member of the Southern Leadership Conference, she played such a pivotal role in the civil rights movement and the Montgomery Bus Boycott. So I think there are women that have gone before us upon whose shoulders we stand. I think what becomes critically important is that we realize that this is a marathon and not a sprint, and that nothing about it is simple or easy. We need to focus on the area(s) where we have the ability to impact change (focused); and not lose ourselves as we try to take care of our communities.

HDG: Our work is only just beginning. We have to continue to lift each other up, inspire each other, and demonstrate the value of having us sitting around a boardroom table. This is a team effort—there is always the teammate who throws the assist. They are just as important as the person scoring the goal.

RN: Women have more responsibility than ever to the interior design industry and all professionals within it. We have achieved so much and broken down so many barriers, both perceived and real, but we’ve also seen so many women leave the industry due to inequality. To give up on design, or your own voice in design, or leadership in design is heartbreaking. As a mom, I know the challenges of the balance of family, running the work, and finding the ‘me’ time—it ebbs and flows.

Women and women as leaders are vital to the success and future of our industry. Through empathy and thoughtful approaches to ensuring that everyone has a seat at the table, women will continue to be at the forefront of design and architecture.

We’re expert multitaskers and creative innovators; we balance the creative and the practical logistics of running a business seamlessly, and it’s crucial to lead by example and mentor others in their roles.

1
Karen Compton, IIDA, Principal, A3K Consulting, LLC
Karen Compton, IIDA, Principal, A3K Consulting, LLC

What or who inspires you?

SC: Love, gratefulness, and joy, and the people and places where these expressions are manifested.

KC: As probably only one of a handful of women in this article who is not an architect or interior designer, what or who inspires me are the hundreds of women of color who allow me to sit in their presence and learn from them, as design professionals. While I am not an architect, I am focused on the practice management side of architecture, I have the great privilege of working with them and seeing and understanding their challenges and issues. I've been honored, in that journey, to work alongside presidents and principals to articulate the need(s) for change and to effectuate it in other ways. But, it's the everyday women of color that inspire me—the Mavis Wiggins, the Gabrielle Bullocks, the Dina Griffins that deserve the spotlight.

RN: I just moved back to San Francisco, a city that truly inspires me. I love the access to nature, but also engaging with the urban landscape. I’m an avid hiker and I draw inspiration from being outside on an adventure.

APA: I am very inspired by the young and powerful women who are transforming the world through their talents, beliefs, and passion, such as the poet laureate, Amanda Gorman; the environmental activist who challenges world leaders, Greta Thunberg; and the vocal advocate for women’s education and Nobel Prize winner, Malala Yousafzai.

1
Ana Pinto Alexander, IIDA, Director of Health Interiors and Principal, HKS
Ana Pinto Alexander, IIDA, Director of Health Interiors and Principal, HKS
Featured Articles
View All Articles
View All Articles