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The Bias Cut

Gensler exec: ‘Amplify your impact as you advance your career’

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A 2023 women’s leadership study from LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co. found that American women held 40% of corporate management positions, and women continue to fight underrepresentation when it comes to board positions and CEO roles. They also face gender bias, harassment, and opposition to their management styles.

Here’s how one MIT alumna has pushed back on those statistics and used what she’s learned along the way to help those behind her.

Diane Hoskins, SB ’79, global co-chair of architecture and design practice Gensler. Hoskins has worked for Gensler for almost 30 years, holding leadership positions, including co-CEO — a role she held for almost two decades — as well as serving as regional managing principal and managing director of the firm’s Washington, D.C., office.

Can you give an example of a time you’ve experienced or witnessed gender bias? How did it affect you professionally? What impact did it have on your job?

I’ve worked in a profession that, because of historic bias, has lacked the presence of women. Because of this, I am grateful to the amazing women leaders who helped me. Early in my career, before joining Gensler, I worked at a very large architecture firm. We were organized into studios of 50 people, and my studio leader was the only woman to hold that role in the entire 1,000-person office. I was impressed by how she went out of her way to cultivate meaningful relationships with the other six women in the studio: having us over to her house, inviting us to events, and so on. I feel truly fortunate for the ways she invested in us.

Who was an ally or mentor for you as you’ve navigated your career? What made that person stand out, and how specifically did they help you get to the next level of your professional development?

One of my most important mentors at Gensler was Ed Friedrichs, and his retirement from the firm in the early 2000s was very difficult for me. He was deeply committed to innovation, to creating positive impact, and to pushing the boundaries of what “architecture” meant.

Ed didn’t feel that architects needed to stay in their lane. He brought a macro level of thinking to every challenge. And he really believed in me. I’d meet with Ed every week when I worked with him on a special project, and he was always incredibly generous with sharing his connections and contacts. He opened a lot of doors.

Needless to say, when he retired, I felt a tremendous sense of loss. But I came to realize that his departure created the path for me to become co-CEO. If he hadn’t retired, I wouldn’t have had that opportunity just a year later. Even in the midst of my sadness, he was teaching me about the importance of shepherding the next generation of leadership and setting people up for success.

What is the most difficult lesson you’ve learned in your professional life? In what unexpected ways did you grow from it?

The pandemic presented incredible challenges to CEOs everywhere, compelling us to step far outside the norm to meet our people and our clients in the moment. Communicating and leading through a crisis demands honesty, vulnerability, and a real desire to engage with one another, listening and exchanging new ideas. Although we were separated physically, in some ways we were never more closely connected. We were constantly reaching out, quite intentionally, through broadcasts, calls, and newsletters. Personally, I found a voice that I hadn’t fully embraced before. I feel I’m a stronger leader now than I was before COVID-19.

What’s a specific way you tend to your well-being, and how do you encourage well-being among your staff?

I am very focused on well-being, not necessarily work-life balance. I’ve always found the phrase “work-life balance” a little odd, like it doesn’t give credence to the fact that women want successful careers. And of course, your life can feel very unbalanced even if you don’t have a stressful career. But well-being is essential to a great career and a balanced life. Taking care of your health, fostering positive relationships with your family and friends, finding what faith means to you — all of this is a part of your well-being.

I’ve learned to prioritize certain things for my own well-being. Exercise is one. I do what I can to build physical activity into my life. My husband and I made the decision 10 years ago to move closer to Gensler’s office in Washington, D.C., so now I walk to work every day. Also, I don’t work on weekends. I thrive by having an intense workweek followed by a weekend of focused relaxation. I encourage our people to do the same. And whenever I travel internationally for work, I always try to schedule in one day of enjoying the place where I am. As a designer, taking a moment to intentionally appreciate and engage with cities and the built environment is vital to inspiration and creativity.

What’s one skill or behavior women can adopt to make their career path more successful and more manageable?

I believe in taking others with you on your journey of growth. When you find your next opportunity, you are making space for someone who comes after you to reach for their next opportunity. By investing in others and helping them reach the next level, you can create positive moments of development for people throughout your organization, amplifying the impact of your own advancement.

If you could snap your fingers and change one thing about workplaces, societal norms, or public policies that would most benefit women in the workforce, what would it be?

Whether creating onsite child care facilities for companies, paying women more to cover child care, or reinventing what child care looks like in this country, I think that by lifting up children, we lift up women, which in turn lifts up our society as a whole.

For more info Meredith Somers News Writer (617) 715-4216