By: American Society of Interior Designers (ASID)

During 2018’s The Leadership Experience: Presented by ASID, participants in the “Women Who Lead” panel discussed the current and future state of the interior design profession as it pertains to women and what individuals, employers and organizations can do to initiate and foster equal opportunity. Those who took part in the conversation included BJ Miller, FASID, CCIM, president of The Vision Group Studios; Kay Sargent, ASID, CID, LEED AP, MCR.w, WELL AP, senior principal and director of workplace at HOK; and Jennifer Busch, vice president of A&D at Teknion.

ASID: What inspired you to pursue a career in the design profession?

BUSCH: In my case, I just fell into it. When it was time to transition out of my editorial career, the one thing I knew for certain was that I had to stay in this industry. I had such belief in the power of design to effect positive outcomes for clients and society at large, that I could not imagine being anywhere else.

MILLER: As a passionate art student in high school, I found interior design as a way to combine my creative side with my business acumen.

Kay Sargent, ASID, CID, LEED AP, MCR.w, WELL AP, senior principal and director of workplace at HOK

SARGENT: I have always had a love for designing spaces. Even as a child, I designed spaces and created space plans. During high school, I took a drafting class and I was the only girl in the class. I’ve been hooked ever since.

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ASID: What is one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a woman in the profession?

Jennifer Busch, vice president of A&D at Teknion

BUSCH: Having my voice carry equal weight to a man’s.

MILLER: We are in a female-dominated profession working in a male-dominated industry. A blessing and a curse depending on the day, but always challenging.

SARGENT: Back in the 1980s, construction was primarily a man’s world. Being taken seriously as a woman on a job site then was often a challenge. But I have always powered on and known that the only things that change opinions are actions and proof. I never wanted to be known as a “female designer” – I just wanted to be respected as “a designer.”

ASID: What changes or initiatives can organizations, or individuals, take to move towards greater gender equality within the design profession?

BUSCH: First, there’s the obvious step of recruiting, hiring and promoting more women, and practicing equal pay for equal work. Then, managers across the board need to be supportive of women (and men) who elect to have and raise families, allowing an appropriate amount of time off. These ideas factor into the concept of “well-being,” which is something we all endorse to our clients every day. Businesses that do not align with these shifting expectations may get left behind in the talent wars.

BJ Miller, FASID, CCIM, president of The Vision Group Studios

MILLER: I’ve chosen to hone my real estate investment skills, achieving CCIM status in 2005 and holding managing director positions in two real estate development companies I co-founded. We must not let ourselves get trapped by labels.

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SARGENT: Respect everyone. This isn’t just about women. It’s about respecting what each and every one of us brings to the table and realizing that diversity drives innovation and we are all better together.

ASID: What advice do you have for the upcoming generation of women looking to build a career in design?

BUSCH: It’s not easy out there! While I am a strong advocate for organizations supporting work/life balance, I think it is incumbent upon each individual employee to rise to the occasion. Work hard and earn the trust of your managers, so that when you require flexibility, there is no question that you will still get the job done. I also want to offer advice to the current generation of industry leaders who are women: Support work/life balance for the upcoming and future generations of designers. Use your leadership positions to drive change. Too many of you have not done that.

MILLER: We have always had to work harder to demonstrate our value and this is no time to let up. Set your goals high, believe in yourself and don’t think you have to stop at the exit doors of a building.

SARGENT: Be true to yourself. Believe in your abilities. Work hard. Be honest and kind. Pass it forward.

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