Perspectives June 11, 2021

Courageous Conversations

The New York Studio’s Talent Manager, Alei Zanoni, creates a safe space to share, listen, and learn

Courageous Conversations first started in June 2020 as part of the nationwide calls for more awareness, accountability, and action following the murder of George Floyd.

We recognized that for many of our staff, this was a painful, stressful, and confusing time. As a firm that has J.E.D.I. (Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion) as one of its core values, it seemed natural that we could, and should, create safe spaces for our employees to share, learn, heal, and grow together.

In preparing for the first conversation, we recognized that while these conversations were meant to be helpful, having conversations on race and social justice issues within the workplace would be difficult. People may not want to talk openly about their own experiences, while others might feel uncomfortable asking questions or being transparent about their own naivete about the experiences of their colleagues. For that reason, we made a decision not to record any of the conversations – so that all could feel more comfortable speaking freely, without the worry that their words or thoughts at the moment would be saved indefinitely. Participation in the conversations is encouraged, but also completely voluntary.


Alei Zanoni
Associate, Talent Manager, New York
"When we create the space for our people to share and support one another, dialog becomes the tool to engender the change we, as people and as a firm, advocate for."

-Alei Zanoni

What We Learned

Many of our staff wanted to have these conversations. Talking about sensitive issues in the workplace is difficult, but we feel that we succeeded in creating environments where our staff felt safe being honest, and vulnerable. Our staff has been vocal about sharing their appreciation for having the opportunity to talk about issues that affect them daily, but are not often acknowledged at work.

It is imperative to continue having honest conversations. Our staff represents diversity in experiences, perspectives, and opinions. Talking – and more importantly, listening – has opened the door for more understanding and empathy. The discussions are authentic, and can be uncomfortable, but it has become clear that continuing beyond the discomfort is key.

This is how we “walk our talk.” Statements in support of Black lives or against Asian hate become performative without action behind it. Courageous Conversations allows us to start talking about the issues that are most important to us – especially in the architecture/design industry–so that we can know how to focus our efforts to make an impact.

Not everyone will participate, and that’s ok. Attendance fluctuates, which is to be expected among people with very busy schedules–after all, these conversations take place within working hours. For a number of reasons, some people attend the conversations just to listen. We’ve learned that whether the group size is smaller or larger, a lot of commentary or more sparse, the discussion and ideas presented can still be meaningful.

Our Courageous Conversation Topics

June 2021 – Asian and Pacific Island Heritage

February 2021 – Rise of Hate Crimes Against Asian Americans

July 2020 – Facing Racism: How do we Overcome our Biases?

June 2020 – Facing Racism: A Safe Space for Conversation

Moving Forward

Moving forward, we will continue to have regular Courageous Conversations around social justice and equity issues. Our New York studio J.E.D.I. committee is leading the way to encourage anyone to initiate a conversation, and we’ve also found the experience to be very enriching when we join with other studios and add more voices to the mix.