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  • Writer's pictureSarah Woynicz

Pride by Design – Yiselle Santos Rivera on the power of storytelling to transform

Blog.010 | Sarah Woynicz


In our final blog as a guest storyteller on Equity by WIELD Stories, Pride by Design is joined by Yiselle Santos Rivera (she/her/ella/la), Principal and Global Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity, & Inclusion at HKS, 2022 AIA Young Architect Award recipient, and founder of the “We Inspire Emerging Leaders in Design (WIELD)” committee. As shared in our first blog, Leaning in to Visibility, Pride by Design began following the AIA 2022 Women’s Leadership Summit, a conversation with and encouragement to start from Yiselle, and an opportunity to boldly step into the space and narrative of WIELD Stories. - - - SW: So take me back to the beginning… How and when was WIELD founded?

YSR: Going back to how WIELD began.. In 2016, I was a part of the AIA DC board as an Associate as well as the National Associates Committee (NAC). I had always been wearing the hat of supporting emerging professionals, associates, those getting licensed, those pursuing alternative career paths - and was very passionate about this. This was around the same time the Women’s Leadership Summit (WLS) was planning to launch in 2017 in DC. I remember being in a big room at AIA National, having

amazing conversations with a room full of women. Because of the emerging professional hat I had always worn, I kept wanting to do something to elevate representation and bring emerging professionals higher into the conversation, especially given that 32% of women and minorities drop off from the profession because they are not supported mid-career. So I started having a number of conversations, asking people, emerging and early career professionals doing amazing work, if they would speak at a storytelling event following the 2017 WLS. The goal was really to elevate stories, focus on the future of the industry and stories not often told of overcoming clear pinch points and challenges. As this event was coming together, a name had not yet stuck when I came across a quote by Anne Marie Slaughter:


“ Only when women wield power in significant numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women.. that will be a society that works for everyone.”


And that name stuck… W.I.E.L.D - Women Inspiring Emerging Leaders in Design. Following the first WIELD event, I realized and heard from many who had attended what it had meant for those in DC to feel visible. There was a moment after the event when I was asked “are you going to do this again?” I thought to myself, “What?! I cannot do this again.” And yet we did. It started as lunch meetings about how to host another event. The next year we had another event, and did two events the following year. The third year we ended up building a committee and becoming part of the AIA DC chapter. In 2019, WIELD was recognized with the AIA Diversity Recognition Award. It has become a part of the DNA of the chapter. How has WIELD continued to transform? YSR: My hope and goal is to still try to amplify voices through the lens of uplifting other people and creating visibility. If we do not tell the stories, we, and those in positions of leadership, do not really know what is going on. WIELD is a moment in time for me, for others to use the platform, the narrative, the resources to create their own thing and have the opportunity to be bigger and be bolder. One day it may dissolve, but in the meantime I am trying to bring people in, to break the system, to use it as a testing space to learn, grow, fail, build leadership skills. It is a space to build your voice so when you are at a bigger table, you can show up having found yourself, your allies, and your village through experiences, failings, and successes. I have always hoped to bring more LGBTQ voices into this space but not always had the most success. WIELD has hosted a number of events in queer spaces. The AIA is not always viewed as a space of inclusion and there is a lot of work to be done to authentically build that narrative in the AIA. WIELD is about that kind of narrative, a narrative to transform. How do you see Affinity and Inclusions Groups or spaces and opportunity through committees such as WIELD impacting beyond firms?

YSR: The work that we do outside firms should find a place in firms to affect change. I wish we could do all of these things within firms. However, business is different from advocacy and there is this constant swing of the pendulum, particularly in the US, to balance how to allow people to thrive with so many forces beyond control affecting that. Many firms do want to support and change, but do not always know how to do that while also finding that balance. So how can these spaces empower people to learn, give the opportunities to build skills, support a narrative of revolutionary role changing work, and provide people with a journey that they can view and learn from? These are the opportunities to learn from other places, things, and people - to not just stay in one place doing one thing - then bring that back to our work in the built environment and in firms through the lens of a business. What does a more inclusive profession look like to you?

YSR: Diverse opportunities. Real psychological safety - meaning challenging the status quo without retaliation and the ability to resolve conflict to empower and learn from each other. Growth mindsets. All systems coming together to create new, innovative, challenging, sometimes even disruptive systems. In our difference is the opportunity to build bridges to create something better. As Pride by Design steps forward from this moment of storytelling as a partner and guest within the WIELD narrative, we wanted to thank Melissa Longano Van Ostenbridge, Yiselle Santos Rivera, and the entire WIELD Committee for the opportunity to join in amplifying the stories of LGBTQIA+ architects, design professionals, and those collaborating on the places and spaces of our communities. We hope you continue to be a part of building this narrative as we transition to www.pridebydesign.org and continue to not just storytell, but connect across locally based LGBTQIA+ organizations and build into a collection of resources to support the grassroots work changing practice and the profession. With pride, Sarah





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