Diversity + Inclusion Winner – Taft Cleveland, SmithGroup
Taft Cleveland, Associate AIA, LEED GA, AORN, NOMA, is a Senior Architectural Designer at SmithGroup, based in their Chicago office. He is actively involved in building a culture of social justice and inclusion for the national design firm. Taft serves as one of fifteen members of SmithGroup’s national Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) committee, working towards creating a more equitable work culture for the 15-office firm. The overarching goal of the committee is to make changes that promote justice and equity at both SmithGroup and in the built environment. Taft contributes to the mentorship program within the JEDI committee and is a resource for young professionals in the firm. He also recently developed a matrix system to ensure equitable promotions and hiring occurs across the firm; his framework can be applied to any position of any level in any office.
Taft is the founder of SmithGroup x HBCU, a program in which SmithGroup partners with architecture programs at Historically Black Colleges and Universities across the country, and oversees the program’s growth. The goal of this partnership program is to address equity by building the talent pipeline and creating a more diverse architectural profession, offering academic mentorship, and internships. With this, Taft hopes to address some of the inequities facing Black architecture students, thereby increasing the number of graduates into the field of design. Through targeted partnerships with HBCUs, SmithGroup will have mentored over 150 students (from freshman to fifth year) in their first year of the program. In 2021, he designed the Community Achievement Racial Equity framework (C.A.R.E.) to end racism in healthcare. The framework identifies methods to break down socio-economic barriers, create a healthier community and provide recommendations for change to hospitals in their facilities and the surrounding community. C.A.R.E offers a scoring exercise based on a 15-minute walkable radius surrounding each hospital, and identifies criteria like access to healthy food, public transportation, and healthy and safe recreation. SmithGroup supported Taft’s work on the C.A.R.E framework by awarding Taft an exploration grant to conduct research and refine C.A.R.E, one of five design professionals awarded this honor among 1,200 staff.