For two years, we had been on a listening and learning tour. Every chance we had — during face-to-face interviews, over zoom meetings, via mobile calls, at facilitated roundtables at the WELL Summit, and in many more conversations in person or virtually — we were soaking up information, knowledge and insight from hundreds of subject matter experts on health equity, diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI), community building and belonging, and accessible design.
Together with our Standard Development colleagues at the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI), we had embarked on a journey to develop a WELL rating that could serve as an actionable roadmap to guide organizations in their pursuit of a people-first culture where everyone has an opportunity to be their healthiest selves. We channeled the vision of our incoming President and CEO, Rachel Hodgdon, who made equity her highest priority and championed the powerful role place can play in “leveling the playing field and ensuring everyone feels welcome, seen and heard.”
Because we know that organizations and communities are stronger when everyone is empowered. In fact, multiple studies show that employees in diverse and inclusive workplaces are more likely to innovate, enjoy their jobs, work harder, and ultimately stay with their employers for longer. Diverse organizations have also been found to be a third more productive and 21 percent more profitable than their peers.
So our journey started with humility, founded on listening and seeking insight and expertise from our global community of experts. We formed the IWBI Health Equity Advisory, which assembled over 200 members from 26 countries and was led by a prestigious group of more than 40 distinguished co-chairs, who lent their time, expertise and leadership. We convened advisors regularly to explore and drill down on different aspects of DEI, accessibility, health equity and community engagement. We conducted 12 global roundtables across our extended stakeholder community. We gleaned such a wealth of insight from this incredible group of experts, which included champions fighting for the evolution of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), public health advocates, architecture and design professionals, leading academic researchers and scientists and corporate leaders. Our development process also included feedback and input from people with lived experience who represent the target populations prioritized by the rating. These included BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other people of color), first-generation immigrants, LGBTQIA+ individuals, primary caregivers and people who are physically disabled and people who are neurodivergent.
All the while, our team at IWBI was distilling all that we were learning, all that we were hearing, to craft the rating. Together, over two years, we were able to build an evidence-based roadmap to empower organizations to better address the needs of marginalized and underserved populations and take an action-oriented approach to creating equitable, people-first places. The rating included more than 40 features spanning six action areas: user experience and feedback, inclusive design, responsible hiring and labor practices, health benefits and services, supportive programs and spaces, and community engagement. As a market tool, the rating was designed to validate an organization’s actions to advance health and well-being; celebrate diversity, equity, inclusion (DEI) and accessibility; and promote sensitivity while addressing disparities in populations that have been traditionally marginalized or underserved.
Last month, after IWBI’s Governance Council unanimously ratified the WELL Equity Rating, we launched and introduced the rating to our global community. Coinciding with the launch, in a tremendous show of leadership, over 30 organizations representing a variety of different sectors enrolled to pursue the WELL Equity Rating across over 1,000 locations.
Looking back, the past two years have definitely been a journey for us driven by a mission to deliver a solution for change. It’s also been a fulfilling process to bring our own experience, expertise and ever growing perspectives to thread our broad solution-seeking conversations with the industry.
We are proud to have shared this journey with Gayathri Unnikrishnan who served as a lead for the IWBI Health Equity Advisory and the WELL Light Concept Lead. As three women of color with our shared experience of fighting against prejudice and struggling for access to opportunities, it was both a professional and personal mission to ensure the WELL Equity Rating is vigorous and serves as a tool to empower organizations to take action toward their goals on diversity, equity, inclusion and accessibility, and to effect meaningful changes for marginalized and underserved populations.
We are so grateful to all our advisors and stakeholders from around the world with different backgrounds, expertise and lived experiences who supported this effort. It’s because of their vision, input and dedication that we were able to create a third-party verified solution that will uplift historically excluded voices, enhance ESG performance and improve organizational outcomes.
As we’ve said many times, equity and health go hand-in-hand. This rating is all about making equitable opportunity actionable, designing healthier places that are accessible to everyone, and delivering on the promise of a global culture of health and belonging. Because, as we know, equity is the very foundation to healthier, stronger and thriving organizations.
By Kimberly Lewis and Angelita Scott, Ph.D.
Dr. Angelita Scott, Director, Standard Development, IWBI:
Angie Scott is Director and Community Concept Lead for the WELL Building Standard and WELL Equity Lead at the International WELL Building Institute (IWBI). She previously served as an Assistant Professor of Interior Design believing that the built environment should be equitable for everyone regardless of race, gender, age, or ability.
Kimberly Lewis, Chief Equity Officer, IWBI:
Kimberly is a catalyst and executive leader in the global green building movement, championing the critical issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion as the center of the sustainability and climate agenda worldwide. Formerly Senior Vice President of Market Transformation and Development, North America for the US Green Building Council (USGBC), Kimberly directed USGBC’s 40 local community advancement teams (Chapters) along with members, volunteers and emerging professionals delivering on the USGBC mission to improve the quality of life for all through more sustainable buildings, cities, and communities worldwide. Kimberly is a movement builder who developed the award winning Greenbuild International Conference & Expo, and serves as the co-chair for the International Well Building Institute (IWBI) Health Equity Advisory.
Image credits: WELL Certified
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