Inspirational Women: Harsha Kotak
Today we are celebrating International Women’s Day 2023 and have chosen to highlight a wonderful selection of truly inspirational women who are vital members of the commercial interiors sector, each playing a different role. We spoke with Harsha Kotak about being an inspiration to others, the women she celebrates, the advice she gives as a mentor and the potential impact of greater gender equality on her work.
Please could you introduce yourself and your role?
I am Harsha Kotak, the Founder of Women in Office Design (WOD) and the Sustainable Design Collective. I am also a practising interior designer working as a workplace consultant at office fit-out specialist, K2 Space.
Having completed my Masters degree in Interior Design from the globally respected art & design university, SCAD, I have pursued my 20+ year career within workplace interiors across three continents. Projects have included designs for the White House and Pentagon in the US as well as other ‘blue chip’ organisations throughout India and Europe.
I formed WOD back in 2018 with a mission to inspire and empower women involved in the profession of office design and creation.
What does it feel like to be inspired by, and inspire, people around you?
One of the fundamental reasons why I formed Women in Office Design (WOD) was because I felt I was becoming ‘cubed in’. As a working mother, my time was a precious commodity. I would collaborate with fellow employees and suppliers, who might come along to the office, but I needed to expand my knowledge and appreciate different approaches to design.
I wanted to take the time to reach out to others in the industry for inspiration and learning. WOD now includes over 3,000 members around the world, and I regularly meet truly inspiring women. If I can inspire others to learn and achieve their ambitions, I find that extremely rewarding.
Which inspirational women do you celebrate?
I am inspired by so many members of WOD but I would like to mention one of the WOD ambassador, Kay Sargent, Head of HOK’s Global Workplace Practice and based in the USA, has been a long-time supporter of WOD. She has hosted many seminars for us about her work and findings on Diversity, Inclusivity, and Equity. I am always honoured to spend time with her ‘in person’ and hear about her motivation and sources of inspiration.
What are three pieces of advice you give to the women you mentor?
Firstly, challenge yourself! We all have a responsibility to constantly upskill, learn, be open and connected. Your goal does not need to be a director or senior manager position but to be the best version of ‘you’!
Secondly, we don’t need to be super women! Most women must play a ‘balancing act’ between home and work life. It’s important to set yourself realistic and achievable goals.
Thirdly, support others as well as yourself. We can all make a positive difference through highlighting the achievements of women and demonstrate what’s possible if we all support each other. We can encourage everyone to strive to achieve their ambitions and continue to break down barriers.
Would greater gender equality create a more sustainable future for our sector and what would that entail?
There has been, in recent years, significant developments and opportunities for women, but we cannot be complacent. I do not believe we are looking for positive discrimination but equality and inclusivity. There is no doubt that sexism, consciously or not, still exists but there are many other issues.
Childcare is still requiring attention. Whilst there is a shift to sharing parental responsibilities, it remains predominantly the ‘woman’s domain’. Juggling a career with childcare can be complex, emotionally challenging and, of course, expensive.
Issues relating to the fear of failure, feelings of anxiety, lack of networks and mentors need addressing. Over the years, men have learnt to build their own networking opportunities – be it on the golf course or in the pub. There’s also the fact that, with fewer senior level women, there is a smaller pool of women who can offer advice and guidance from a position of experience.
We must celebrate and cheer the success and achievements of women around the world in all sectors of society and business.