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By Shawnasia Black and Raphael Williams
From the June 2024 Issue


While a culturally varied workforce is a crucial starting point, it doesn’t automatically ensure true equity within a firm. An equitable workplace transcends superficial diversity, embracing principles of fairness and inclusivity to cultivate a genuine sense of belonging among all employees. It prompts several essential questions for employers: Are we actively listening to everyone? Are we genuinely celebrating every individual here at our company? Are we honoring the diverse contributions of all our team members?

Being Self-Aware And Calling Attention To Where Biases Lie

In today’s dynamic and diverse workplaces, fostering true equity transcends mere representation on the surface — it involves holding a mirror up to oneself and one’s organization to critically assess ingrained biases, systemic barriers, and ingrained practices that may hinder true inclusivity. This awareness extends to the ongoing and ever-evolving process of cultural humility and belonging — a journey of self-discovery and exploration that surpasses a mere checklist for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI). It becomes a foundation for continuous growth, involving self-exploration and a willingness to delve into aspects that may not be fully comprehended yet.

equitable workplace
(Photo: Adobe Stock / aFotostock)

Cultural humility and belonging in the workplace revolve around fostering transparency, self-awareness, and dismantling hierarchical structures. Transparency becomes a guiding principle, ensuring that all aspects of the workplace are visible and accessible. Concurrently, self-awareness plays a pivotal role in cultural humility to help individuals recognize and understand their biases to better appreciate the differences in others. Acknowledging power dynamics and hierarchical structures within organizations becomes crucial. Breaking down these barriers and creating a more equitable footing for everyone in the workplace enhances a sense of belonging.

In The Workplace Vs. The Built Environment

Organizations can proactively cultivate cultural humility by establishing advocacy groups or employee resource groups to serve as platforms for spreading awareness and fostering a better understanding of diverse individuals, celebrating various personalities and backgrounds. For instance, the International Interior Design Association New York Chapter (IIDA NY) Equity Council provides ongoing education for architects, designers, and industry experts on creating a more just and equitable design industry. Envisioned to foster engagement and accountability toward meaningful change in the design industry, the council encourages open dialogue and creates spaces for shared experiences to help build more inclusive environments within the industry. Clients can also play a vital role by aligning with firms that prioritize cultural humility, advocating for diversity, and supporting initiatives that contribute to a more welcoming workplace.

Embracing cultural humility creates environments where every individual feels valued, heard, and an essential part of the journey towards a more just and equitable future.

Within the built environment, imagine it as this expansive table, where everyone is invited regardless of how you look, your identity, gender, religious beliefs, or job role. In this envisioned space, everyone is an essential participant in the collaborative act of constructing meaningful places. It advocates for a collective understanding that values everyone’s unique contribution, emphasizing that every role, from the architect’s vision to the laborer’s hands-on work, holds equal significance. Cultural humility, therefore, becomes the guiding principle that invites all voices to partake in shaping the built environment, fostering a sense of belonging that transcends traditional divisions and celebrates the richness of diversity.

The Importance Of Allyship

Allyship is a pivotal element in fortifying a company’s cultural humility initiatives, serving as a vital support system within the organizational framework. The essence of allyship lies in the collective effort to share responsibility, creating a culture where allies actively step in to alleviate the burden from marginalized voices. Allies greatly contribute to the development of a workplace culture where individuals are not expected to carry such weight alone when bringing up an issue or challenge. Learning to be a proper ally involves understanding that meaningful change requires collective action from all demographics and becomes a powerful mechanism for redistributing the load.

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To show the significance of allyship and further illustrate its commitment to fostering JEDI initiatives within the design community, Equity Council has forged a significant partnership with Racial Equity Partners. Collaboratively, these two groups spearhead the Lunchtime Series, which encompasses bi-monthly virtual conversations facilitated by Racial Equity Partners, covering topics related to JEDI work like cultural humility.

The journey toward equity is a shared responsibility, propelled not by one demographic but by collective efforts. It is an ongoing process that involves self-awareness, transparency, and the dismantling of hierarchical structures. Embracing cultural humility creates environments where every individual feels valued, heard, and an essential part of the journey towards a more just and equitable future.

Shawnasia Black is the Founder/Principal of Asia B. Designs, LLC. She previously worked as an Interior Designer for Beyer Blinder Belle and Lead Interior Designer for Urban Architectural Initiative. She also serves as Equity Council Co-Chair for the International Interior Design Association’s New York Chapter (IIDA NY) and a Board Member for FIT Interior Design Advisory Board.

Raphael Williams, WELL AP, serves as Senior A&D Manager for Allsteel. He also serves as Equity Council Co-Chair for the International Interior Design Association’s New York Chapter (IIDA NY).

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at jen@groupc.com.

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