Women’s History Month Highlight: Kindell Williams, LEED AP
The Managing Director of IA’s Denver office brings 27 years of design experience and a passion for environmental graphics to the firm’s practice in the Rockies.
In honor of Women’s History Month, IA is highlighting female leadership within the firm. Where the conversation around women in architecture has recently bubbled to the surface—AIA’s posthumous Gold Medal award to Julia Morgan in 2014, and the proliferation of advocacy organizations like The Missing 32% and the Beverly Willis Architecture Foundation, for example—IA Interior Architects demonstrates a position unique in the practice of architecture. Approximately half of IA’s offices are managed and operated by female architects and designers.
When I was little, I shared a room with my sister and I used to draw up our room and re-arrange it constantly. My organization and persistence drove her crazy. My father is also an architect. I think design is in my blood. I loved my design classes in college and was fortunate the direction I initially took at Colorado State University was a good fit for me.
To some degree there’s credibility with age, but what you say and when you say it is also very important. Early in my career, I sent a reply email to a broker and the auto-fill feature inserted a competitor by the same first name. Luckily the email was not of confidential nature and didn’t disclose anything crucial but to this day, I always re-read my email to make sure it’s clear, and would be ok if someone forwards it. We move so fast and try to do so much but we really need to slow down, read twice, and be really aware of our audience.
I’ve always felt that what you bring to the table is more important than your gender. There was one instance where a business contact seemed to discredit me because I was a woman. In a meeting, there were two well qualified females present, but she chose to communicate only with the male in charge. You can’t take that personally; she was just someone who connected in a different way. It’s easy to discredit these situations, but you have to realize it’s not you. It’s that person’s communication preference.
In our market, I don’t think there’s a genuine issue of gender inequality in architecture or interior design. What gets me the most is when people refer to our role as a “decorator.” It’s important to educate people about the technical side of interior architecture. What we do is so much more than selecting finishes; it’s about coming up with the right solution for the client, providing interior architectural changes that address space from a three-dimensional perspective, and finding the right balance of aesthetics and technical aspects. Our practice requires certification and a professional degree. It’s great to acknowledge the creative side of interiors, but it’s much more than a hobby.
It’s important to credit all the disciplines that help us achieve successful interiors. I’m especially passionate about environmental graphic design (EGD). I got more into EGD once I found Pinterest. I starting pinning like crazy—people nicknamed me Pindell. I love finding inspiration in all the personal and commercial aspects on that site. Even for personal interests, such as food for example, the presentation is what makes it palatable and that relates directly to design.
Achieving a work/life balance is a challenge with any job you are passionate about. Thankfully, there is more flexibility in the workplace today to work varying hours. While I don’t have kids, my family is very important. My husband and I balance quality time together, my sisters and I have sister-work-out night once a week, and I regularly check in or see my folks and brother weekly. Professionals with kids are balancing work with family in a different way, trying to get dinner on the table, attend school plays or sports events, and then finish working late into the evening. Finding balance in other ways is also important, especially when we spend so much time working. If we can help our staff make healthy choices with something as simple as providing unprocessed snacks like fruit and whole grains, I’m all for it. Wellness in the workplace can help support that work/life balance.
It’s important to be equally effective working with both males and females. You never know who will connect with whom. Some women like to work with women, some men prefer to work with women, and many people don’t care either way. If you are confident and communicate effectively, the gender issue is irrelevant.
I’ve noticed more female leaders in business than in years past. Growing up, you didn’t hear about women in the workplace like you do today. Women like Marissa Mayer, President/CEO of Yahoo, and Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, have achieved inspiring success in the workplace. To some degree, I don’t like to focus on that as much. I like to think we’re all just people regardless of gender. But I do think it’s unusual to have this many female managing principals, to be so close to 50/50—typical executive leaders on firm websites are primarily male—I think we’re unique at IA in that we have such a good mix.
Pursue your passion. Balance the business, creative, and technical sides of design; it makes you a stronger designer. Never be afraid to ask a question—someone else is probably thinking the same thing —but think about it first. Learn multiple skill sets to make you more valuable to your company.
Kindell Williams, LEED AP, holds a Bachelor of Science in Interior Environment from Colorado State University. During her career, she has overseen projects for Google, Coca-Cola, and Time Warner. Beyond the world of professional design, Kindell also enjoys outdoor sports like boating, snowboarding, and golfing, as well as a good meal and a cocktail.