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Women in STEM: “Even large teams are about people and individuals.” with Diane Hoskins and Fotis Georgiadis

Even large teams are about people and individuals. Understanding the people you are working with is critical. What motivates them? What are their best capabilities and where can they grow? In addition, large teams need a clear vision. Exploring the “why.” Why is the project important and how will it impact people and the world? […]


Even large teams are about people and individuals. Understanding the people you are working with is critical. What motivates them? What are their best capabilities and where can they grow? In addition, large teams need a clear vision. Exploring the “why.” Why is the project important and how will it impact people and the world? If you start with the vision — where we are going and why — you can always inspire the people on your team. By understanding the people you work with, you can guide them to the best places for them to contribute to achieving the vision. The operational and organizational management will be a lot easier with people focused on a clear vision.

Thrive Global Interview Questions

I had the pleasure of interviewing Diane Hoskins, co-CEO of Gensler (the world’s largest architecture firm), is a registered architect who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and holds an MBA from the Anderson Graduate School of Management at UCLA. Diane received an Outstanding Impact Award from the Council of Real Estate Women, is a Regent of the American Architectural Foundation and was named one of Business Insider’s top 100 creators. Her insights have appeared in the Financial Times, Harvard Business Review, the Washington Post, and The Economist, among many others; and she regularly speaks at premier conferences, including the Bloomberg Business Forum, International Women’s Forum and the Wall Street Journal’s Future of Cities.


Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

For me, becoming an architect was the result of many influences and interests coming together. Early on, I was a prolific Lego fanatic with towers and buildings underway at all times. Then, as I started to set my sights on more ambitious projects, I used to “borrow” full sized bricks from a nearby construction site to build stuff in our backyard. I guess you could say I was born with a desire to build and create. From the nurture standpoint, my mom exposed me to art and architecture at an early age. She was trained as an artist and photographer and had me in art classes at the Art Institute of Chicago at the age of 5. We would always look at buildings around Chicago and our home was filled with tons of books and magazines on architecture. I remember at about 8 years old being completely captivated by one of the monthly Architectural Record magazines we received. It was around that time I decided to be an architect. I really wanted to be part of creating beautiful places.

Since becoming an architect, I still love the visceral experience of creating, but what is more important to me is the positive impact that design can have on people’s lives. Design is a powerful tool that can improve people’s lives by creating effective workplaces, schools that support learning and healthcare facilities that help people heal. As a leader, I focus on inspiring our designers and architects to think holistically about the opportunity to enhance the human experience with every project we touch.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

The best thing that has happened to me at Gensler has been the wonderful opportunity to be both an architect and a leader. The most surprising thing has been how similar the process of creating captivating design is to the best practices of leadership. Design is about taking a big idea through all the critical steps needed to bring it to reality. That is precisely the same thing that I try and do as a leader. As designers, we create an approach based on a combination of listening, observing, talking, bringing in outside information, and ultimately adding your instincts. Timelines, resources and iterations follow this. Finally, you get the results. This defines design and it’s also my leadership style for everything.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I am so proud to be at Gensler. Our firm stands out because of our optimism. We believe that our work can change people’s lives for the better. We repeatedly hear how much our projects matter to the people who use the places and spaces we design. It is a real delight to know that you can “pay it forward” by what you design.

An example that goes back a few years was when I led a design team to create a call center where hundreds of people were going to work. Working at a call center is a tough job, and this organization had massive turnover and absenteeism. We spent over a year designing the facility and paid careful attention to the aspects of the design that would improve the experience of the people who worked there. The week prior to opening day, they had a party for the employees and their families. I’ll never forget the kids running through the space with incredible excitement and the individuals showing their workplace to their husbands and wives with so much pride and expectation. I knew then that I wanted to dedicate my life to making experiences like this happen for people. This is what we do at Gensler every day and why I’m so excited to come to work every day!

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We have a company-wide phone call every Monday where we share all the great work going on across the firm and around the globe. Every week I am blown away by the sheer magnitude of some of the projects and the profoundly touching aspects of others. For example, this week, one team reported on an amazing airport that we are going to be working on in a developing country. It sounded so great to me because it’s not just an airport we’re designing. It’s an opportunity to help that country position itself for the future. It can help create jobs, and improve the economy, and open doors to new markets and enable its citizens to see and experience the whole rest of the world.

In a different case but on the same call, another team told us about helping rebuild a local Ronald McDonald House that had been ravaged by bad weather. It was an incredible opportunity to touch the lives of these children. All the projects — big, small, local, global — they all touch people’s lives. We can really make a difference as we help countries, cities, communities and people.

What advice would you give to other female leaders to help their team to thrive?

First, actively seek out a great place to work that is diverse and people-focused. At Gensler, we are over 50 percent female and our people come from every area of the world. In fact, we speak over 80 languages. Our design solutions are unique because they are driven by diverse points of view. Millennials make up more than half of our firm and we always make sure everyone feels their opinions are heard and they have a seat at the table. Find a company with a mission that aligns with your values and actively gives back to the community through charitable and civic organizations.

If I were to make a specific recommendation to new female leaders, it would be something that enhanced my career: Find mentors — male and female. Having people with whom you can discuss professional challenges, and really wants to see you succeed, can make a world of difference.

What advice would you give leaders about the best way to manage a large team?

Even large teams are about people and individuals. Understanding the people you are working with is critical. What motivates them? What are their best capabilities and where can they grow? In addition, large teams need a clear vision. Exploring the “why.” Why is the project important and how will it impact people and the world? If you start with the vision — where we are going and why — you can always inspire the people on your team. By understanding the people you work with, you can guide them to the best places for them to contribute to achieving the vision. The operational and organizational management will be a lot easier with people focused on a clear vision.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned from My Experience” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Lesson One: Your uniqueness is your strength. Great leaders are memorable because they bring a unique set of gifts and direction to those around them. I firmly believe that a diversity of people and perspectives drives innovation in any setting. Each one of us has different experiences and backgrounds, meaning our unique perspectives are our competitive advantages.

Lesson Two: Be a collaborator: Great ideas come as a result of people engaging with people. You can inspire others to think of great ideas, and others can inspire you to think in new ways. However, collaboration is more than just brainstorming or ideating in a group. Learning how to facilitate collaboration is a critical skill to master. People will share and work together if they know they are heard, and their contribution is valued. Learn what it means to facilitate great collaboration.

Lesson Three: Recognize the greatness in others. Every person is a unique, special combination of skills and talents. But most people don’t really have anyone to acknowledge the special individual abilities they have. I think we sometimes instinctively offer universal compliments without taking the time to express genuine advice. When you develop your skills to see others’ strengths, you can unlock their potential and motivate them to be great. I do this all the time. I used to ride the bus to and from work and often I would end up sitting next to someone who would talk to me about their job. I would always take the time to really listen to them and help them realize the strengths within themselves. I do the same in all aspects of my life.

Lesson Four: Life is about patterns. Find a pattern of balance in your life. I am super busy during the week, so I completely turn off work during the weekends. I eat away from home often, so I make an effort to cook dinner at home whenever I can. I am with people all the time, so I intentionally try to build in alone time. I find that all the extremes, especially those that are out of your control, can be balanced by interjecting the opposite. For me, this is the key to the long view of life.

Lesson Five: If you are stuck, make a list. Enough said.

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