KTGY’s Jill Williams Discusses The Benefits Of A Diverse Workforce


April 17, 2018

Commercial real estate has struggled with diversity, but several organizations have been pushing for more diverse staff and executives. KTGY Architecture + Planning is one such firm and has a board of directors and shareholders from different races, backgrounds and ages.

Bisnow caught up with Oakland-based KTGY Architecture + Planning’s principal and board chairman, Jill Williams, to find out how KTGY became such a diverse organization and what other CRE companies can learn from the company about having a diverse workforce.

Bisnow: How did KTGY become such a diverse organization?

Williams: Since 1991, when KTGY was founded, diversity has always been a characteristic of the firm. KTGY’s founding principals came from a variety of backgrounds and cultures. From the start, we also valued creating a firm that would carry on through the generations. This led to us always … searching for better, wanting to participate in the next thing. Part of this is building a firm that is diverse in age, culture, gender, training and experience.

Bisnow: What do you think other firms can learn from KTGY about diversity in the C-suite and among shareholders?

Williams: At KTGY, it is our experience that a diversity of voices is the basis for collaboration, which helps complex projects come together successfully. A variety of perspectives creates a solution that is most forward-looking with regard to architecture and planning.

Bisnow: How do you continue to create a diverse environment? How has diversity benefited your organization?

Williams: We want our firm to be as diverse as the many lives we touch and put the best staff members in place. For that reason, when posting for a new position, we do a wide and thorough search and look for the best candidate for the job. This opens the door to consider all kinds of applicants. Education is a core value at KTGY. Our one-year proprietary training program for leaders within KTGY is designed to encourage the evolution of the firm and to ensure that KTGY as a firm is growing, thriving and continually searching for better. We offer a series of educational courses taught by both in-house talent and outside leadership experts that includes training on avoiding bias. The idea is that we are looking toward the future and setting it up for success.

Bisnow: Why do you think diversity has been such a difficult thing for the CRE industry to address?

Williams: There is a lot to this and I don’t know that I have all of the answers. It does seem that a diverse environment encourages an open, inclusive atmosphere where teamwork flourishes. I believe that education and outreach make a difference when it comes to bringing more diversity into an industry.

At KTGY, we have valued education from the start by supporting the architecture school at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, both financially and by recruiting interns and graduates from the architecture school to KTGY.

We are also actively involved with industry organizations such as the California Homebuilding Foundation. This organization supports the future of the homebuilding industry by providing scholarships for college or building trades programs.

Our various offices support design education through volunteerism. For example, KTGY’s Los Angeles office volunteers their time with the ACE Mentor program, teaching high school students about the architecture, construction and engineering professions.

KTGY’s Oakland office, working with the Oakland Public Education Fund, adopted a sixth-grade class at a local Oakland school. Individuals from KTGY’s Oakland office teach the students on a bi-weekly basis about design and planning as a way to solve problems.

We want to inspire the next generation of diverse leaders to do what they want to do, to possibly become architects, designers and planners, by encouraging them and helping them to see the possibilities.