Director of Global Diversity at Perkins + Will, a 2,500-person architecture firm with offices across the world.
By Richard Massey
The Bronx, New York native Gabrielle Bullock has been the Director of Global Diversity at Perkins + Will since 2013. A member of the firm for nearly 30 years, Bullock, a principal, now spends half her time working as an architect on cultural and commercial projects, and the other half leading the firm’s efforts to enhance diversity. Based in Los Angeles, Bullock, a fellow of the AIA and a member of the National Organization of Minority Architects, has an established background in healthcare projects. Bullock says being an active architect has helped her remain relevant as she works on the social and cultural aspects of the design industry. Five years into the endeavor, she says, inroads have been made. “I’m hearing more conversations and seeing more interest. I’d say [Perkins + Will] is leading the charge.”
A 1984 architecture graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, she began her career designing public housing in New York, and was later with Russo & Sonder when the firm was acquired by Perkins + Will in 1990. She served as managing director of the firm’s Los Angeles office for eight years and during that time managed one of the largest building projects in the University of California System to date, the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.
Bullock is married to Rocky Carroll, an actor, and has a 17-year-old daughter, Elissa. Bullock loves music and travel, and her dog, Dini. Of her long tenure with Perkins + Will, she has this to say: “I’ll tell you why this firm is still my home – it has a soul.”
A CONVERSATION WITH GABRIELLE BULLOCK.
The Zweig Letter: Perkins + Will is a large firm with immense resources. Still, in your role as Director of Global Diversity, you must face challenges. As it pertains to Perkins + Will, what is the biggest obstacle you face in creating a diverse workforce?
Gabrielle Bullock: The racial/ethnicity gap in the available applicant pool continues to be a challenge. African-Americans have historically been, and continue to represent, the smallest demographic of our profession. The other challenge is maintaining a consistent focus on equity/diversity and inclusion across a 2,500-person firm.
TZL: Perkins + Will benefits from a global reach and brand-name recognition, but many firms do not. What does Perkins + Will do in terms of diversity that could be replicated for much smaller firms, like a 50-person organization in Missouri, or even a 10-person firm in Georgia?
GB: Many of the strategies and programs we have implemented can be scaled. For instance, outreach to elementary and middle schools to broaden the awareness of the profession is something we all can do. Firms can create a position/mission statement that embodies EDI as a core value of the firm. EDI training programs are available in many forms that can be implemented to highlight and learn how to mitigate the biases we all have that can be a barrier to hiring a diverse workforce. Of the seven metrics we employee, some are easy to implement and don’t require significant resources or time. A pay equity analysis can be implemented.
TZL: Do you see advocacy for diversity and inclusion being a long-term, perpetual effort, or do you think the tide will one day turn and that diversity initiatives will no longer be needed?
GB: I do think it will be necessary to continue to focus on EDI in our profession because it is a long-term goal to increase racial diversity and will take time to see changes in the demographic. The issues that exist today have existed for many years and to think we will ever achieve a perfect scenario is highly unlikely. The demographics of our society are always changing.
TZL: Women are making great strides in the fields of architecture and engineering. What’s the catalyst for this surge, and is it organic, the result of strategy, or a bit of both?
GB: I think there are several reasons for this surge in addressing the issue of gender. The first is the #MeToo movement that has given voice to the inequities and harassment in many fields, including the design profession. The second are the surveys and research like Equity by Design, AIA Equity in Architecture Commission, that have highlighted the barriers for women in the profession and identifying the pinch-points in our careers.
TZL: How do you measure the success of your mission at Perkins + Will, and how will success in your firm affect the efforts of other firms?
GB: We have implemented a Diversity + Inclusion Strategic Plan as well as an annual report that tracks progress on the seven metrics by office as well as firm-wide. Our metrics are both qualitative as well as quantitative. But the best way to measure our success is the external response by other firms and organizations that want to adopt our approach. The focus on EDI has been growing and most firms are committed to advancing the culture of their organizations. Our clients are another measure of success. We have experienced an increase in our clients’ desire and requirements for their teams to share EDI as a core value.
TZL: There’s research showing that diversity and inclusion are good for the bottom line. What happens to firms that maintain the old-world style of recruiting and promoting talent?
GB: In my opinion, they will not be relevant or attractive to candidates or clients. We are a diverse society and we should mirror our society and clients. In many of the projects there is a focus on community and a cultural connection or competence. This can sometimes be accomplished with research but, more and more, it’s best reflected in the team makeup.
TZL: From your vantage point, what are you seeing in high schools? Are STEM programs reaching a broad audience, as intended?
GB: There are more STEM/STEAM programs but not enough. That’s why we suggest that professionals engage in outreach.