Equity and Inclusion in Practice: Mithun
In issuing the New Landscape Declaration, the Landscape Architecture Foundation has made a commitment to strengthen and diversify our global capacity as a profession and to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, activism, and advocacy within our ranks. To promote these values, LAF is publishing a series of articles to showcase the ways in which design firms are demonstrating leadership on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, from providing targeted support for students and emerging professionals to seeking outside guidance and evaluation of internal policies. This article continues the series by sharing Mithun’s experience with the International Living Future Institute’s JUST program and the firm’s motivation to pursue a JUST Label.
Mithun is an integrated design firm that merges architecture, interiors, landscapes, urban design, and planning. Working across the U.S., the firm is made up of a diverse community of 200 employees in offices in Seattle, Washington and San Francisco, California. Mithun recently completed an introspective, community-minded evaluation process that culminated with the assignment of a JUST Label. A program of the International Living Future Institute, JUST is a voluntary disclosure tool for organizations to report on social justice and equity within their operations, using a range of organization- and employee-related indicators.
In addition to serving as a transparency tool, the JUST Label offers a standardized method of comparing one firm’s performance to another’s. Mithun chose JUST over other options like the B Corporation designation because the JUST Label is already in use within the design community, and other designations did not align as well with Mithun’s service model. Created and managed by the organization behind the Living Building Challenge, JUST has grown out of the green building industry and has been used by many architecture firms, as well as a few landscape architecture firms including PWL Partnership and Biohabitats.
Mithun’s longtime commitment to equity is what brought the firm to the JUST program as a way to demonstrate its values at the organizational level. Since its founding over 60 years ago, Mithun has placed great importance on being an active member of the communities its offices exist within. Many senior-level employees serve in leadership roles with community organizations, and all employees are encouraged to contribute to the community through volunteer opportunities and community design projects.
The firm further saw the JUST registration process as a thoughtful tool to consider issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion across the workplace. The label looks at gender and racial diversity, pay scale equity, gender pay equity, and family-friendly policies. Surveying worker happiness is required, and stewardship metrics that span charitable giving to community volunteering and responsible investing are evaluated. For Mithun, pursuing a JUST Label meant formalizing policies around many issues previously addressed on an ad hoc basis, such as the creation of a company policy providing employees with up to 16 hours of paid time off annually to volunteer in the community.
The process also led Mithun to reconsider its human networks. There has been a shift in recruitment as the firm considers what networks it reaches out to and who may have been excluded from recruitment methods of the past. Mithun has intentionally become involved in new networks and has been able to find talented student-interns by connecting with communities of color that are underrepresented in design practice. Further, Mithun has found that rising designers are especially interested in working for firms that demonstrate a commitment to transparency and inclusion, and the JUST Label allows Mithun to do exactly that.
Mithun has also shifted the scope and organization of its work to more holistically involve and empower the communities it partners with, as most clearly demonstrated by the firm’s entry to the San Francisco Bay Area’s Resilient by Design challenge. Mithun co-created a solution with the affected community, approaching resilience through a racial equity framework with a broad awareness of how the design process can be grounded through deeper community engagement with community liaisons, offering stipends to community leaders and growing local jobs through the structure of the design solutions.
From engaging in the JUST program, Mithun has seen many positive outcomes and expects to see further benefits as conversations continue. Overall, the firm’s work is now done with greater intention regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion at all levels. And the JUST process isn’t a one-time exercise. The JUST Label is valid for two years, and organizations can update or renew at any time. In 2019, Mithun plans to re-engage in the process to update its JUST Label and reaffirm its commitment to transparency and the well-being of its employees.
Visit justorganizations.com to see Mithun’s JUST Label and the details behind the indicators, along with the information for the over 70 other firms and organizations that have participated in the program. If your firm is interested in learning more about Mithun’s experience with the JUST program and evaluation process, please email rdoehring [at] lafoundation.org (Rory Doehring), LAF Communications Associate, who will put you in contact with a member of Mithun’s JUST committee.