Soderstrom Earns an ILFI Just Label

Posted in Awards — July 14, 2023

Just Label logo

We are proud to announce that in June 2023, Soderstrom achieved its Just label through a program created by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI).

About the Just Label

The Just label is a voluntary disclosure and transparency tool for organizations to evaluate social justice and equity issues. Designed like a nutrition label, it provides a rating system for a company’s corporate behavior, including how it treats its employees and where it makes financial and community investments. The program requires reporting on a range of organizational and employee-related indicators that are recognized at four levels of performance, which are summarized on the label. One metric also requires understanding diversity in the organization compared to the demographics of its local city.

Why it Matters

The label is an important step towards greater transparency for Soderstrom and members of the built industry. Soderstrom’s EDI Committee began preparing for our Just application in 2020. The process has involved every person in the firm, ranging from participating in staff surveys to reviewing, writing, and implementing policies.

label graphic

We’re Especially Proud of

  • 38% female representation on leadership team (Principals and Associate Principals), including female president
  • Gender pay equity with under 5% variance and an annual audit
  • New office has a dedicated wellness room, ergonomic sit/stand desks, and is accessible by bike and public transit
  • Flexible work arrangements
  • 100% employer-paid premiums for the base medical plan
  • 3% matching employer contribution to 401K with immediate eligibility
  • $500/year education and training stipend
  • Paid family leave policy

We sat down for a Q&A with firm principal Dan Van Calcar, Caitlin Poliak, and Andy Bonesz who were key players in the Just effort, to find out more about the process and our accomplishments.

Dan Van Calcar
Dan Van Calcar
Caitlin Poliak design professional
Caitlin Poliak
Andy Bonesz
Andy Bonesz

What motivated your decision to join the Just program?

Caitlin “When I joined the Soderstrom EDI Group in early/mid-2020, one of the goals of that group was to audit where our firm stood in regard to equitable policies and practices. We quickly realized that Just was a good way to do that and focus our efforts where we could improve.”

Andy “As Caitlin mentioned, in the EDI group, we were talking about the importance of all these things but Just was a way to take that talk and make real changes and spur some action. It turned a lot of ‘we should do this’ to ‘we are doing this.’”


What surprised you about this process?

Dan “How laborious it was. It had a lot to do with the documentation and identifying and defining what it was that we were going to do and how. Then getting everyone on board.”

Andy “We already had a lot of our policies in place. Some of them were loose and understood, but not documented.”


What is the value of having policies written down?

Andy “People know. If there’s transitions or time passing, it’s one place people can refer to.”

Caitlin “And having everyone on the same page. They can’t be changed under the radar. There’s a lot more transparency.”

Dan “Transparency is key. And it lets people know what the company is committed to do.”


Through the process of applying for Just, our firm modified or wrote new policies and completed multiple staff surveys. Which new policies and metrics are you most proud of?

Dan “There were a considerable amount of adjustments [for gender pay equity]. It brought to light that we weren’t where we thought we were. It took a while. We worked on it for about a year until we got things aligned…In regard to Family Medical Leave, with the changes in the state laws, there are going to be significant changes to our family leave policy coming up. We’re all now all contributing to a short-term disability policy. As of September 2023, there will a policy that will be used to fund up to 12 weeks paid leave.”


What are you most looking forward to improving in the next two years?

Dan “I would really like to see our diversity go up. If we can enrich the pool of people that we’re interviewing for work, that would be my #1 goal.”

Andy “I agree, that was one I thought of, too. We have a great inclusion score and people feel very engaged based on surveying, but what we found with the diversity statistics survey we did is that we’re underrepresented compared to Portland at large.”


Has this process and journey helped elevate employee engagement levels?

Caitlin “The transparency involved has really made a difference. We’ve been talking about it for two years and keeping people updated as we go, so seeing the office engage with these issues, talk about them, and make changes, has made people excited and aware of the benefits we have and what we can do.”

Dan “Through the Just process, it really made clear to everyone that the company does care and that we’re going to make changes to move us in a different direction.”


Final thoughts?

Andy “I’m excited to see where we go from here, now that we’re going to have continuing meetings to see what our next steps are. It gives opportunities for people that are interested in different things to contribute. People that care about sustainability might help with our purchasing and sourcing. It’s neat to have opportunities that people can plug into.”

Caitlin “We have every two years to see where can go and I really appreciate that. It’s not like we’re done!

Dan “It’s been a fun process. A lot of work, but I think it’s worth it. Moving forward I think it’s going to be a very valuable thing for the company.”


Joining Just is only the beginning! All firms are required to reapply every two years. We are already looking forward to improving our performance and policies for 2025.

Interested in joining the Soderstrom team? Check out our openings.