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ICYMI: Tackling Diversity: From a Professional Organization Perspective

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

2020 was a seminal year, raising awareness, opening up dialogue, and exchanging of ideas around Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, major demonstrations throughout the country and around the world were sparked at the end of May last year. The Institute established the Retail Design Institute Diversity and Inclusion Council in June last year, and the Council formed goals organized around three pillars of Listening, Sharing, and Creating.

With a new year, this effort remains as important as ever. We are still in a global health pandemic; the Derek Chauvin trial on George Floyd's death is ongoing; and there is rising violence against Asian Americans. Amidst all of this, the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council is excited to launch a series of discussions Tackling Diversity. We intend to provide a platform that allows our members and members of our industry to learn from thought leaders and discover paths to enact change.

Through this series, we will delve deeper into diversity at a retailer level – both in the field and at corporate offices; explore diversity and mentorship in the design profession; and investigate the importance of education – from K through 12, and college and graduate programs – and the role it ultimately plays in creating a more diverse profession.

To kick off, this series, we looked at other Professional Organizations and how they are tackling diversity through membership, accreditation, and advocacy, and invited leaders from the American Institute of Architects (AIA), the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), IIDA, and the Women Presidents' Educational Organization (WPEO).

Our intention and hope is to share what industry thoughts and plans for the future and hope to inspire individuals and our organizations to create real opportunities for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion every day.


  • Keisha Blake-Harp, Executive Director, Women Presidents' Educational Organization


  • Elsie St. Léger, IIDA, President-Elect, IIDA NY; Interior Designer and Assistant Project Manager at NYU Langone Health

  • Gregory T. Switzer, AIA, NOMA, NCARB, President, The New York Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (nycobaNOMA); Founder & Managing Principal, Gregory Switzer Architecture

  • Kavitha Mathew, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP, Special Projects Director, AIA New York; Founder, Equity Co:LAB


The American Institute of Architects (AIA)

Founded in 1857, The American Institute of Architects consistently works to create more valuable, healthy, secure, and sustainable buildings, neighborhoods, and communities. Through more than 200 international, state, and local chapters, AIA advocates for public policies that promote economic vitality and public well-being. Members adhere to a code of ethics and conduct to ensure the highest professional standards. AIA provides members with tools and resources to assist them in their careers and business as well as engaging civic and government leaders and the public to find solutions to pressing issues facing our communities, institutions, nation, and world.

The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA)

The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) was formed nearly 50 years ago to represent the needs of African American architects. Founded in 1971 at the AIA conference in Detroit, the purpose of NOMA was to bolster and provide support for the handful of Black licensed architects around the country. Today, NOMA is a haven for architects of all origins who seek inclusion in the design industry. NOMA continues to advocate for the licensure of African American architects (who account for only two percent of all licensed architects today), as well as those from other from underrepresented backgrounds. NOMA is extremely hopeful about the profession’s future due to the strong presence of student leaders from over 80 schools across the U.S. and Canada. As we continue to support our NOMA students (NOMAS), we anticipate they will be major contributors to our field, and we are proud of the work they are doing right now to prepare for the future.

NOMA has 30 professional chapters across the U.S. and 75 student chapters, National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS) — mentored by regional NOMA chapters. NOMA and NOMAS membership is predominantly African-American, with other minority members including Native American, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, East Indian, and Asian, as well as an increasing segment of non-minority members who support NOMA’s mission. NOMA supports it’s student members by providing mentorship, scholarships, and job opportunities to ensure their successful transition into the profession.


IIDA is the commercial interior design association with global reach. IDDA supports design professionals, industry affiliates, educators, students, firms, and their clients through our network of 15,000+ members across 58 countries. IIDA advocates for advancement in education, design excellence, legislation, leadership, accreditation, and community outreach to increase the value and understanding of interior design as a profession that enhances business value and positively impacts the health and well-being of people’s lives every day.

The Women Presidents' Educational Organization (WPEO)

WPEO is a dynamic community of certified women-owned businesses, building on their success through mutually beneficial partnerships with Fortune 1000 corporations and other WBEs. The Women Presidents’ Educational Organization (WPEO) comprises two of the 14 regional partner organizations of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)—the nation’s leading advocate for women-owned businesses. WPEO was founded in 1998 by Dr. Marsha Firestone, a pioneer in opening doors for women-owned businesses.

Furthering the success of women-owned businesses is WPEO’s primary mission. WPEO provide WBENC certification—the gold standard in diversity certification—at the regional level, and serves as an advocate for certified women-owned businesses in our New York and Washington, D.C. regions, offering them educational programs, networking opportunities, and recognition.

WPEO is incorporated in the state of New York and recognized as a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization.

Keisha Blake-Harp, Executive Director, Women Presidents' Educational Organization

As Executive Director of WPEO-NY (, Keisha oversees all outreach efforts and develops the organization’s programs and events. Her responsibilities include management of the WBENC ( Certification Program and certification committee membership, as well as recruitment and retention of Women Business Enterprises (WBEs).

Keisha supports women entrepreneurs in developing countries through the micro-finance programs of the non-profit Kiva. She serves on the boards of the Supplier Diversity Development Council, the Connecticut Supplier Connection Roundtable, and the Advisory Council for the Center for Women in Business at Quinnipiac University.

Elsie St. Léger, IIDA, President-Elect, IIDA NY; Interior Designer and Assistant Project Manager at NYU Langone Health

After a successful career in magazine editorial, Elsie St. Léger chose to pursue a path in interior design. Although interested primarily in institutional design, specifically education, a temporary detour into healthcare design became a vocation. Now an interior designer and assistant project manager at NYU Langone Health (, St. Léger also believes in giving back to the industry that has given her so much. She is president-elect of IIDA NY ( and was until recently part of the leadership of LMNOP, a New York City–based professional development and networking organization. She also plays a vital role in IIDA NY’s push toward accountability and diversity within the A&D community.

Gregory T. Switzer, AIA, NOMA, NCARB, Founder & Managing Principal, Gregory Switzer Architecture

Greg founded Gregory Switzer Architecture ( as a uniquely positioned architectural practice with emphasis on design and the management of the design process in 2003 as a response to the ever-changing architecture and interiors marketplace, to provide design-conscious projects with the highest level of attention to detail and cost.

He maintains memberships in organizations such as NYCOBA/ NOMA ( where he is currently serving a two- year term as President; National Council of Architectural Registration Boards; The American Institute of Architects; and currently a member of the Borough of Glen Ridge Historic Preservation Board. He previously served as a member of Queens Community Board# 2 for more than 7 years with a stint as Vice-Chairperson and was active member of the Land Use Committee.

In 2000 he received recognition on The Network Journal’s 40 Under 40 list and has lectured on master facilities planning for the American Management Association. He received a Bachelor of Architecture from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York and a Bachelor of Interior Design from Louisiana State University. He was also a research fellow at Cornell University and has authored several sections of various books and publications with his most recent contribution to the Interior Design Handbook of Professional Practice.

Kavitha Mathew, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP, Special Projects Director, AIA New York; Founder, Equity Co:LAB

Kavitha Mathew strives to enhance engagement opportunities for AIA New York ( members, with a focus on developing leadership and community service initiatives. She is a registered architect with over 20 years of experience in the field. Her past roles include Director of Corporate Architectural Services for Ralph Lauren and project architect/ manager/ director at firms including Ted Moudis Associates, Spacesmith, and KPF.

As founder of Equity Co:LAB LLC (, she is dedicated to elevating the practice to be more inclusive and equitable through research-based, results-oriented collaborative workshops and programs. She holds Architecture degrees from the University of Virginia and Columbia University.


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