Associate, Director of Community Involvement, Diversity and Inclusion at GestingerWalker&
Samantha brings a knowledge and experience of overseas associations and collaborative teamwork. With a strong interest in sustainable and integrated design resolutions, Samantha strives to provide pleasing, efficient and environmentally conscious projects. Samantha believes strongly in success through collaboration and implements active communication with clients throughout the life of a project. Having worked on a range of public and private sector projects from government offices to large scale multi-family residential projects, she has a particular interest in community engagement and developing projects that help to build better communities.
Samantha has been inspired by experiencing the contrast between KC hometown and the highly dense vernacular neighborhoods of Cebu City, Philippines where she lived and studied. The experience sparked her desire to pursue a career in designing built environments and engaging people with their surroundings. She loves KC for its mixing bowl of creative disciplines - architecture, graphic design, music, theater, cuisine, fashion, breweries, art and more.
From one-on-one meetings to presentations to large audiences, every day comes with new opportunities to learn and engage. No day is the same. Offering customized solutions to cross-industry problems is an on-going and exciting process. A day-in-the-life as Director of Community Involvement, Diversity & Inclusion is about executing small achievable efforts that build towards a vision for putting inclusion at the forefront of how to do business.
I think it's important to share that I am a licensed architect. I became the Director of Community Involvement, Diversity & Inclusion by asking the leaders of my company to endorse my passion for people and for contributing to the direction of the profession and the built environment. I am very grateful for their support. The variety of responsibilities of my position center on research and then offering ways to integrate inclusive-thinking into design leadership, project management, business development, public relations, firm culture and human resources. Some examples of these responsibilities include meeting with clients to guide them in the process of inclusive goal-setting, engaging in firm recruitment efforts, generating community engagement opportunities with local organizations, encouraging team camaraderie through social opportunities and resource groups, and active advocacy in the community.
My role requires being comfortable with being uncomfortable. It requires an enthusiasm for self-education, meeting new people, and an openness to new ideas, as well as an openness to rejection. Many topics related to inclusion take time to understand, communicate and require multiple discussions. Creativity, positivity, humility and empathy are key.
This is a simple question that has a complex answer. My role is fluid, informing as well as responding, and it is constantly changing. The consistent driving goal is to help my company and our clients gain insight on opportunities to improve their prosperity through humanizing people’s experiences in the workplace, in the community, and in our projects. It might be helpful to expand the question and share some background information.
Since opening in 1981, GastingerWalker has pursued projects and clients with a relationship mindset, putting trust and integrity at the heart of how we do work. This approach to service is supported through intentionality in our workplace culture. Our workplace culture prompts how our project teams communicate, engage and design. My role initially focused on highlighting the many already existing strengths of GastingerWalker - what attracted me to the firm upon graduation from K-State University and the opportunities that I have experienced that allow me to further invest and stay. However, now in addition to celebrating our successes, I also use research to identify opportunities to do better.
Recognizing the broadening interests of our clients and the emerging workforce, my role offers support for leaders and team members to discover new opportunities to engage in the workplace and in the community. Architecture is the service of problem-solving and our services greatly depend upon the project development process and strength of ideas brought to the table in order to reach a successful solution. My position endorses individuals to be authentic in their perspectives, to seek outside inspiration, and to be confident in their value. I believe people at all career levels perform better, connect better, and are happier when they feel seen and appreciated for their contributions as well as supported to pursue learning and growth. In my efforts, I have helped my firm attract new talent and form relationships with new clients, leading to a more diverse workforce and over the last year, over $10 million in construction value in newly awarded projects.
My role supports fostering intentionality in how we gather information to guide our designs. As a design firm specializing in project types where people live, learn, work, heal, and play, there is a range of objectives and goals our clients ask us to help them to achieve. In our approach, it is important to ask “What is missing?” or “What are we not talking about?” related to key design factors that would affect project programming and operations. Presenting equity in our design goals, such as access to amenities, furniture design, views and spatial experiences, and community investment, pushes our teams’ creativity and deepens our connections with our clients through meaningful conversations. The more we engage in social-issue dialogue related to design outcomes and shared values, the more our clients lean in with curiosity and appreciation. In many ways, every project is an inclusion project. It starts with being comfortable enough to ask the perhaps intimidating, but meaningful questions.
Firms considering implementing a similar role into their companies should be open-minded and welcoming to new ideas. I am fortunate that GastingerWalker already had in place a strong foundation for the new position, with leaders interested in being proactive about the needs of the future.
Critical factors that led to the creation of my role include:
1) Engaging in advocacy in the community
2) The need to grow our workforce
3) Two-way communication channels
Advocacy is an accessible platform to learn about issues affecting different demographics of people. The conversation on diversity and inclusion is expansive and constantly evolving. It is important to be personally engaged in the community and to be actively pursuing knowledge on opportunities to make a difference.
The need to grow our workforce, as well as retain talent, presented an identifiable direction for the position. Through our engagement with different organizations and communities, GastingerWalker increased its visibility as an attractive, inclusive company. Speaking to the workplace culture at GastingerWalker, we have grown our team significantly and our average employee retention rate is more than 10 years. Among our millennial staff, presently comprising 45% of our team, our average retention rate is 4 years and increasing. Our ability to retain our talented team members allows us to provide committed service to our clients, with individuals involved in their projects from start to finish.
Finally, having two-way communication channels allows for my role to grow organically to the needs of GastingerWalker. Timely reporting and feedback with leaders helps keep actions aligned with firm values. Intentionality, flexibility, endorsement, and leadership participation are necessary aspects of the role that are achieved through open dialogue.
Even under the pressures of budget, schedule, and project stakeholders, my vision is focused on the principle that architecture is about people and improving lives. As part of an industry that serves the future, we each have the opportunity and the responsibility to push society to do better. I would advise professionals at all career levels: seek to identify and to embrace these opportunities. Results start with asking questions and listening. These questions and answers are important because they guide how we treat ourselves, how we design, and how we engage with our clients and our communities. We all have something to learn from others and to offer to others. Pursue discovery and ask the questions. Listen openly. Respond intentionally.