How We Are Creating a More Just, Equitable, Diverse and Inclusive World: 2021 Update

How We Are Creating a More Just, Equitable, Diverse and Inclusive World: 2021 Update


2020 was a year of reckoning. As we at HKS recognize the one-year anniversary of the killing of George Floyd, we also acknowledge the losses of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tamir Rice and many others. And the deaths have not stopped.

Adding to our grief, recent attacks of Asian American and Pacific Islanders remind us that hate transcends any one race. We must do more to root it out, promote justice and ultimately, achieve social equity.

“We have a moral imperative to play a bigger role in promoting justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in our firm, our profession, and our world,” says Dan Noble, HKS CEO. “At HKS, we view this moment of reckoning as a chance for renewal and reinvention. We reaffirm our values of relationship, character and purpose; we renew our support for the growth and enrichment of our people; and we recommit ourselves to improving the lives of people everywhere.”

To show transparency about the work we have done as well as the work we have yet to do, we offer the following update on progress we have made toward the commitments we laid out a year ago.

We have a moral imperative to play a bigger role in promoting justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in our firm, our profession, and our world.

Our Firm

To ensure that HKS better reflects society’s diversity, we supported and expanded our Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (J.E.D.I.) team led by its Director, Yiselle Santos Rivera. Now in its third year, our J.E.D.I. governance structure continues to provide representation and accountability through:

  • A J.E.D.I. Council that provides thought leadership creating, leading, and implementing firm-wide initiatives including education around genderless bathrooms, the future of architecture and K-12 school outreach.
  • A J.E.D.I. Advisors Group comprised of Firm-wide cross-sector practice leaders that support J.E.D.I. initiatives and their implementation. This group reviewed our Employee Manual for inclusive language, policies and practices. They also helped create and moderate the LIMITLESS panel series described below.
  • J.E.D.I. Champions, who lead office or sector J.E.D.I. teams in building culture through workplace initiatives and grassroots efforts including J.E.D.I. Listening Conversations, office J.E.D.I. surveys and our J.E.D.I. intranet page.
  • We expanded our perspective around resilient design to be more inclusive and morphed our annual sustainability event into the ESG in DESIGN™ event.
  • We surveyed our employees and found that 83% report feeling a sense of belonging at HKS.
  • We submitted two entries to the Bill & Melinda Gates Equality Now Challenge. One of them, created in partnership with the Architects Foundation and Center for Work Life Law, “Fast Tracking Women in Architecture,” was a finalist. The second, “Community CBLOC – Villages of Care” is published here.
  • In January 2021, we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with an official paid holiday for all US employees for the first time, while also increasing our internal education around Juneteenth, ensuring that our teams understand what it is and why it matters to us all. In addition, we began offering a floating holiday for all employees to have an opportunity to select and celebrate a holiday that is personally meaningful to them.

We committed to increase the diversity of our Board of Directors.

  • We increased Asian participation on our Board and are committed to developing a more diversified Board in 2022 and beyond. We are evaluating our leadership pipeline, our training and mentoring programs, and our election protocols to determine how to improve the diversity of our leadership teams going forward.

We promised to promote more diverse candidates.

  • One of our greatest learnings in the past year is that measuring and understanding racial demographics is a nuanced process. We continue to learn as we seek to understand how we can achieve greater equity and diversity. We are pleased that the demographics of our Forum and Associate level employees continue to diversify, and we are working to mentor and retain employees who will advance through the ranks of our firm. The leadership and policy assessments mentioned above will help us to achieve greater results next year, and to know that our data is as accurate as it can be. To that end, we clarified all job descriptions across our firm. We are broadening our Promotions Committee’s oversight to also include Recruitment and Retention of our top talent and to help ensure we are meeting our J.E.D.I. objectives and key results. We are also modifying the Promotions Process by utilizing our J.E.D.I. metrics to better inform our decision making.

We will attract and retain a greater number of diverse design professionals.

  • Despite increasing outreach to more diverse candidates, our attraction and retention demographics remained flat. We are carefully analyzing why so that we learn what we must do differently to achieve better, more diverse results as we move forward in the coming year.

We increased our engagement and talent acquisition efforts with Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

  • We hosted our first NOMA Foundation Fellow in the winter of 2021 and look forward to having our 2021 NOMA Foundation Fellow join us this summer.
  • We made a five-year commitment to partner with Prairie View A&M University by funding, supporting and mentoring an HKS Design Studio Laureate.
  • We supported the Florida A&M University School of Architecture, Engineering & Technology (SAET) by hosting Design 4.2 Studio.
  • Additionally, we have increased our outreach and engagement at Tuskegee and Howard Universities.

We increased our investment in firmwide education on unconscious bias and implicit bias.

  • We have consulted with Dr. Jonathan Jenkins, who facilitated a firm-wide conversation on race. We also invited DeDe Church to give a firm-wide presentation on unconscious bias.
  • We have incorporated implicit bias education into all our core leadership competency trainings, which address topics such as conflict resolution, delivering feedback, inter-generational communication, reaching agreements, and emotional intelligence.

We funded NOMA (National Organization of Minority Architects) dues for all employees who wanted to join.

  • As a result of this change to firm policy, we realized a 30% increase in NOMA members in the last year. We accepted the 2020 Southern California NOMA DEI Challenge as an inaugural DEI Challenge ally.

Our Profession

The diversity levels within design professions are still not where they need to be. To address this, we increased our efforts and investments in identifying and removing the barriers that inhibit people of color from pursuing careers in design.

  • To attract more diverse students to careers in design, we hosted Virtual Career Days targeting a high school audience. We are planning our summer 2021 sessions now and invite you to follow along on our Instagram channel @hksarchitects.
  • In the United Kingdom, we are a Corporate Partner for Blueprint for All, whose #CreateChange campaign launched yesterday and continues through the next month.
  • We continue our partnership with Cristo Rey in Dallas to expose high school students to internship opportunities. We’ve hosted a total of more than 200 students over the years, and we have four Cristo Rey interns in 2021. We also have partnerships with CityLab (additional info on our 2021 program below), ACE Mentorship and Skyline High School in Dallas.
  • At the collegiate level, we continue to sponsor the AIA Diversity Advancement Scholarship and we expanded our AIA Dallas HKS Equitable Design scholarship to $6,000 per year for one student.
  • At the professional level, Yiselle Santos-Rivera was appointed NOMA National Chair of Research & Development for 2021-2022. We will support her work for the organization.
  • We challenged all architecture firms to join us in signing the UN Global Compact through a video series across our social media accounts. See more on our involvement in the UN Global Compact below.
  • We also stand with numerous professional organizations committed to J.E.D.I. practices. These include the National Organization of Minority Architects, the American Institute of Architects and the International Interior Design Association.
  • Santos Rivera shared her expertise in building a J.E.D.I. governance structure at conferences including the Lean Construction Institute, National Council of Structural Engineers Associations, Society of Marketers for Professional Services, and the American Institute of Architects.

Our World

  • We took a more active, vocal stance on issues of injustice, beginning with our first post on How We Will Create a More Just, Equitable and Inclusive World and followed it with Hate, Violence Must Stop Now.
  • We focused our Citizen HKS programs on addressing Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. We worked with our J.E.D.I group to effect measurable change in underserved communities through our Citizen HKS program, most notably through:
    • Our new project, The Benefield Building. Watch a video overview of what we’re doing.
    • In Spring 2021, HKS designers mentored 11th grade architectural design students to re-envision an Oak Cliff neighborhood building that has been dormant for 30 years. The students from CityLab High School in Dallas participated in a community session to learn more about their needs and heard from the building’s owner, city officials, and design industry professionals to learn how an adaptive reuse project comes together. In a series of pin up meetings with their HKS mentors, students had a chance to present and refine their pitches on how the building should be used. The project ended with a final presentation from each student, and two of the top presenters received a summer internship at HKS. The building’s owner and HKS intend to incorporate the CityLab students’ ideas into the building’s concept and design.

We plan to offer these LIMITLESS events quarterly, and we invite you to register for the next one, Social Equity in Transit Oriented Development, on June 9, 2021.

Today we look to expand our efforts. We are currently undertaking a pay parity study. We will improve our ability to track firm demographic and sexual orientation data. And we are implementing a new leadership training program to incorporate better J.E.D.I-focused leadership skills. We will not stop until we realize data-supported improvements in our areas of commitment.

At its finest, architecture and design create community. Holistic, diverse, vibrant, eclectic community. Our best work comes from embracing diverse thought and perspectives. This is just the beginning of our journey towards a better future for all. We invite our friends, clients, partners and peers to join us. Together, we will change the world.