Perspectives 06.03.2021

Conversations with Colleagues: Alei Zanoni

Alei is a Talent Manager at our New York studio
We don't own the earth, we are part of it! Fridays for Future in Tel Aviv, Israel.

Q: In what ways do you feel your work is contributing to diversity, inclusion, and engagement in the design profession? 

A: Growing up in a small town is often not ideal for those who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Bullying, discrimination, and violence were not strange to me, and this led me to actively become part of the change within my profession and society at large. I started my career on the other side of the world, and I witnessed how my “being gay” was perceived differently across cultures. In one place I was ridiculed, bullied, discriminated against, whilst in another country I was considered weird, ill, and incurable. Finally, as I moved to New York and joined Perkins&Will, I felt celebrated, appreciated, and free to be myself. The design profession, like any other profession, can be inclusive and it is certainly influenced by the zeitgeist of our time and place where we work. I came to acknowledge the fact that we, as a collective of people and as individuals, have the power to initiate and shape the cultural change to create a more inclusive world. My personal mission is to make this a better world for everyone, starting with the place people spend most of their awaken hours: at work. At Perkins&Will, I have the chance to be who I am and bring my philosophy to life: We cannot be happy alone, we are a community of people and our wellbeing depends also on the wellbeing of those who surround us. 

Q: In what ways do you feel your work is contributing to LGBTQ+ initiatives and visibility in broader society? 

A: As soon as I entered the field of human resources, I felt the need to become an ambassador for diversity, inclusion and engagement. Representation matters. Advocating for human rights matters. At Perkins&Will, I don’t have to hide who I am. Everyone welcomes me for what I bring to work, and we all work together toward creating a better world through design and inclusiveness.  

Still, in 2021, too many countries criminalize homosexuality. No place is free from violence against LGBTQ+ people: Even in our own homes we may not be safe; walking in the streets can be dangerous; choosing a restroom can be life-threatening. How many times do we feel unsafe while walking hand in hand with our beloved or with our kids? That is why we need to continue to talk about LGBTQ+ rights and create initiatives to increase visibility in broader society. At Perkins&Will, I found what I have been longing for: a place of inclusion. Participation in Pride Month celebrations, employer matched donations to support suicide prevention services for the LGBTQ+ population, roundtable discussions, and representation amongst the leadership are only some of the initiatives we champion as talent managers. 

I read this 800+ page book in less than a day to learn about the ongoing fight and struggles of LGBTQ+ communities.
New York during Pride Month: Rainbows on every corner!

Q: In what ways do you think our firm stands apart as far as diversity, inclusion, and engagement go—and how has our firm enabled you to thrive as a professional? 

A: My background in industrial-organizational psychology and the practice of Gestalt psychoanalysis shapes my daily interactions at work, both with current and future coworkers. Appreciating the individual as part of a system of people and their behavior as the function of the interaction between person and environment allows me to equally value the support we provide to our people as well as to the organization and our communities at large. I view Perkins&Will as a gestalt where the whole is different from the sum of its parts, and our J.E.D.I. philosophy is at the core of my work: ensuring that our people feel included, celebrated, esteemed, and engaged. I was once approached by a colleague who needed someone to talk with, someone who could listen to what they were experiencing in life and I was there for them. The “work self” and our “true self” are two sides of the same coin, as no one’s personal life is immune to what happens at work, and vice versa. My colleagues’ joy and wellbeing empower me every day and I feel Perkins&Will supports my mission. 

Q: In what ways have your experiences at Perkins&Will changed you, personally or professionally, and/or your outlook on the world? 

A: My outlook on the world is constantly enriched by interaction with others and being able to support initiatives that promote LGBTQ+ wellbeing and engagement with our local community. From the very first moment I started the interview process at Perkins&Will, I felt that my personal experience was valued. I joined our New York studio’s J.E.D.I. committee and I was able to share my approach to diversity and inclusion with colleagues and the firmwide talent team. With the support of our leadership and coworkers, I started our studio’s series of Courageous Conversations, which empowered others to take the lead and host roundtable and panel discussions about inclusion, diversity, and how to fight stereotyping in our communities. Both personally and professionally, this experience strengthened the relationship between colleagues. We got to know each other even more, especially during the pandemic and societal change that our nation is facing.