Written by Freddie Bell, Head of Planning & Architecture
As a consultant working across the planning & architecture sectors, I often have conversations with my clients on what more I can do to help them grow a diverse workforce. We have a collective responsibility to ensure that the places we design, create and build suit everyone in the communities that makeup our country. Simply put, this isn’t possible unless we have a genuine diverse workforce across our profession itself – and right now, we don’t. My first time at MIPIM this year certainly made me realise quite how far away we are from this.
I wrote this report to highlight some of the great things we’re doing as an industry that others are not, but also to bring to the fore what we’re missing as well as why it matters. At Mattinson Partnership we’ve introduced a lot of consultative initiatives to address the lack of diversity across the built and natural environment. This report will leave you with some insights and ideas about what more you could also be doing.
What do I mean by diversity?
By diversity I mean the wide variety of people who make up, in this instance, our industry. There are five groups of people who historically (and in most cases still currently) often get overlooked – if we seek to encourage a diverse landscape of professionals then we must address this. So, for the purpose of this report, by diversity I mean it across gender, sexual orientation, minority background (BAME: Black, Asian & Minority Ethnicities), physical or mental disability, and nation of origin. No one is looking to promote an industry led by and for white British men, but to be an inclusive and pluralistic representation of our society.
Before we continue, a disclaimer: I am a white, straight, British man, from a middle class background. I had two great parents, went to an excellent Grammar school, and was one of many cousins to be part of the third generation of my family to attend university (I even had two grandmothers breaking gender education barriers when they were young). Though I’ve had to work very hard to achieve what I have, I’ve never had to personally face the barriers that I’ll be going into with this report. I do however speak with clients and candidates facing these issues daily, and I care about this industry that is both doing so much to increase diversity and yet could do so much more. My goal is not to preach, but to raise further awareness not just on what more we could be doing, but also the amazing things we’ve achieved already.
Why does it matter?
Beyond the obvious, there is an important point when encouraging diversity specifically within Planning & Architecture. It is the unique joy of our industries that we have such an impact on the very creation of the places we live, work and play in. Diversity breeds further diversity, it encourages more ideas and a faster evolution of cities. We simply must create places that are all inclusive to ensure everyone can get an equal amount of chances and then be able to make the most of them. I particularly like the quote, ‘Diversification is critical in architecture because ideas about race, gender, ability, and disability are formed and reproduced in the design and construction of buildings and urban spaces.’ I think this extends equally to planning too.
Let’s also expand on the point that we want (or certainly should want) to work amongst a diverse industry. This matters, because right now we’re failing. Let’s start with the demography of the country in general, understanding this is key to benchmarking how we’re doing as an industry and I think isn’t looked at enough. Bear in mind the UK population now is 66m, but most data below complies with the 2011 UK census where it was 63.2m.
So, to some statistics! Gender in the UK is pretty even: 31m men, 32.2m women, the extra number of women coming with the fact they tend to live a little longer than men. This equality doesn’t translate into either planning or architecture – but there are positive signs of change. Currently only 20% of registered architects are women, but 45% of those studying it are female. This is similar to planning, 37% of the working profession are women while 50% of students are.
“We set up Women in Planning because we knew there were issues of inclusivity, equality and diversity in the profession. Our aim is to raise awareness of these issues, empowering women and identifying inspirational role models to make a change for the better but also to mainstream women [who are] talking about planning issues. Articles, such as this one, are important in starting conversations and debates that can lead to change.”
Co-Founder, Women in Planning
There are varying statistics on the number of people who identify as LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender & Queer), but the most complete number I found was 5.4% of the population. In the UK the population is 87.17% white and 11.91% BAME (the remaining 1% choosing not to identify in either category). In London this is notably different, 41% of the capital’s population is from a BAME background. However, the built environment sees only 1.2% of its workforce is BAME. This is a slightly skewed statistic for this report, more specifically 8% of the UK architecture sector is BAME, while across planning & surveying (the closest I could find) the number is also 8%.
Regarding disability, it’s very hard to find statistics (a worrying trend in itself) and when you do they’re often contradictory to one another. This is also partially because there are a number of different ways of defining disability, all with pros and cons for different contexts. There are around 13.3m disabled people in UK, the majority are retired and are not relevant to a discussion on diversity within work. For our purposes a more useful statistic is that in 2016 the UK employment rate among working age disabled people was 46.5% (4.1m). Finding statistics on disability within planning & architecture was however extremely difficult, though there are some positive conversations being had (more on that later).
The final element of diversity we’re looking at is country of origin. Referring back to the 2011 census, 55.3m of our population were born in UK, 7.8m were not (14.1%). This is a significant group of people often overlooked when we refer to diversity but whose position will likely come under further threat post-Brexit. People from different countries bring a wealth of new ideas and knowledge, as well as potentially different needs. We need to recognise the diversity they bring to our culture and workplaces, both for ourselves and the communities we’re planning & designing. There is undoubtedly a significant workforce that is foreign born in both the planning and architecture sectors (as a recruiter I definitely know this!) and credit must go to the RTPI and RIBA for promoting it through many initiatives.
What is being done, what isn’t being done, and what should we be doing that we’re not?
I think we need to break this down into two key components: 1) that there are simpler things we can all get involved with and do, and 2) that we need to understand the wider complex societal barriers but still look to overcome them within our industries.
Let’s start with the first point, and it’s a pleasure to outline some of the key organisations and events in our industries you can get involved with! These are things that are happening now that you can get involved with (and this is not an exhaustive list!)
- Women in Planning was set up in 2012 to empower women in the planning profession. They hold regular events and are expanding their reach across the UK yearly.
- Ethel Day – Ethel Charles was the first women to join RIBA in 1898, because of her success women in the industry are celebrated through wide ranging events annually on 5th July.
- Planning Out was set up as a network partnering with town planning organisations and hosting events. Their aim is to ensure gay people can lead their lives in the workplace and wider society with the same level and dignity that straight people enjoy.
- Architecture LGBT+ is a similar network that hosts events – in conjunction with the London Festival of Architecture (LFA) they had a design competition for a Float at London Pride 2018.
- For those interested in increasing ethnic diversity in the property and planning sectors, including architecture, BAME in Property hosted their first event in March, with more to come.
- I know a vast number of different nationalities have their own separate networking groups across our industries (a quick google will bring them up), the most recent discussion I’ve had was with a member of the London Irish Town Planners.
“I set up BAME in Property because the people I was/am working with and the clients I am interacting with are not diverse at all, and this sets the tone of interactions, conversations, inputs and outcomes. What ethnicity brings is different working cultures, conversations and ultimately diversity in ideas from around the world. It embraces the best of what works everywhere, as oppose to in just one area. In sum, if the role of planning and development is to create diverse and inclusive communities, then the profession itself should be reflective of this.
I am proud to have held two events already and our third event is planned for October.”
Founder of BAME in Property
These groups are filled with likeminded people who want to encourage, support and actively work towards positive change. There is more to be done and I’ve no doubt further membership and support from any reader interested would be welcomed. It’s also worth noting that as far as I’m aware, there is no specific group promoting equality for disabled people in the workplace (perhaps a gap for a dynamic & engaged personality out there!) However, many specific organisations in both the private and public sectors certainly do have these groups and there is undoubtedly a conversation being had about disability in the workplace across the construction industry.
Lots of changes are being made at industry level – to answer the subheading ‘what more can we be doing’, one answer is strikingly obvious. We must put diversity at the forefront and lead the way as an industry. Joining these groups, creating your own, or just bringing it into conversation are all important steps that must become the norm.
It’s worth noting at this point that one of the key factors that drove me to write this report was my experience at MIPIM earlier this year. Going for my first time, it was striking to see the lack of women present among the 26,000 attendees at the world’s largest property event. MIPIM do release statistics on those who attend but a glance through the delegates list will clearly show you how male dominated the industry is, and just how far we have to go before we have a truly diverse profession.
Our goal at Mattinson Partnership is to help companies grow which gives us a tremendous opportunity to increase the diverse makeup of our clients. So far this year 62% of my placements have been women (interestingly from 41% of interviewees being female). While I obviously cannot and would not ask about someone’s sexual orientation, among the British I’ve also placed two Kiwis, an Austrian, and a Seychellean. We always seek to make the best match for our clients regardless of diversity, but we look to ensure that within our networks we have a diverse makeup of potential candidates to draw upon. From partnerships with international planning & architecture institutions, to networking across a wide variety of diverse events – we know it matters to have a pluralistic makeup of contacts for you.
Secondly, the wider societal issues that exist around diversity have to be continually challenged and bettered. I’m not a professor who can claim to be any expert in this, but even I could probably write another entirely separate report on this. The historic dominance white men had over other groups is well noted, but hopefully it is conversations such as this that will highlight the fact that we cannot rest on our laurels when it comes to enacting change. Positively, our industry is seeking in some ways to do this.
“Unlocking the confidence and talent of people in our profession is key – diversity groups such as Planning Out help support an inclusive environment within the profession to do this. Realising there are other people in a similar situation to you, having a supportive network to call upon and just getting talking about these issues has a big effect. It can also be lots of fun for everyone involved in the diversity agenda!”
RTPI representative on the Construction Industry Council (CIC) Diversity Panel and previously Co-Founder, Planning Out
In my opinion, the most striking observation demonstrating this is the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. Killed in 1993 in a racially motivated attack, Stephen Lawrence was an aspiring architect. Now the foundation set up in his name ‘delivers innovative and impactful programmes that transform the lives of young people and achieve real social change.’ RIBA annually awards the Stephen Lawrence Prize so his name is never forgotten. Another example of genuine change being enacted is the #DiversityPledgeLDN. Future of London launched a pledge (supported by the Mayor) for companies to sign up to ensuring they play a part in making our profession better reflect London’s diversity. From holding public events that include under-represented demographic groups to only participating in sessions with a diverse panel, there are plenty of easy changes for signed up organisations to make. An important question to follow up with here is what more could be done outside of London (where money is definitely scarcer) in this vein?
Unfortunately, across our society institutional racism, sexism & homophobia still exist, even if it’s considerably less prevalent than in times past. Not to specifically pick on architecture, but as an example, women are paid considerably less than men in the industry. To highlight this across all industries the government ordered all major companies in the country to release data on their gender pay gap, almost 8 in 10 companies showed men being paid more. Across architecture, this was no different. I imagine readers wouldn’t be shocked if we discovered this disparity to be evident across all types of diversity.
As someone who researches companies across architecture and planning, I often see partners, directors, or even full boards of elderly white men leading companies. I don’t think this reflects the failures of today, but those of the past. Obviously we should not be judging change solely on how someone looks, but there is more to be done to ensure boards and directors don’t all look the same in the future.
One final point to raise here: our industries often require specific degrees or academic qualifications. Disabled adults are three times more likely to have no formal qualifications – we must be asking ourselves what more can we do to ensure we don’t miss talented individuals who want to work in our industry?
What does the future have in store?
It is important to remember that while there’s a long way to go, across planning & architecture we’re making more positive moves towards this end than many other industries. Compared to construction, the statistics begin to even look favourable. We must take a positive look ahead while asking the essential questions. One answer to the final point I brought up in my previous paragraph is the introduction of Planning Apprenticeships (even if it has recently hit a delay). This will provide another path for younger generations to become town planners.
In July, my colleague Stef and I were fortunate enough to be asked to represent the industry for UrbanPlan, run by the Urban Land Institute. A free education programme for school students, it’s a great (and super fun) way of bringing potential jobs across the built & natural environment to the forefront of students’ minds. More events like this (and I strongly encourage all of you get involved) are an excellent way of increasing diversity in the industry, as children of all backgrounds get involved. Helping make this positive change at grassroots level will undoubtedly ensure a more diverse workforce across our profession in the future. We got involved in this model through LandSec who actively engage with organisations focused on promoting our industry among those who may not otherwise be aware of it. As one of the major developers who are part of the People in Property Diversity Group they have their own pledge committing them to proactively encourage better diversity. My colleague Ruth joined another these initiatives run by LandSec with Keltbray & JLL, ‘Girls Can Do It Too’, which also had a successful run earlier this year.
Providing role models for not just the next generation, but to encourage the younger planners and architects already working is equally as important. This is just one of many initiatives that RIBA has set up to ensure the industry is becoming as accessible as possible. The future certainly requires more role models and it’s good to see this being encouraged – nevertheless it’s worth asking how are you, or your company, going to get involved with this?
If you’ll permit the recruiter in me to come out for just a paragraph: the question that sticks out for me is how can we make this work across the country? At Mattinson Partnership we’re devoted to ensuring we offer the best candidates for jobs, no matter their who they are or what their background may be. While this inevitably leads to a diverse makeup of candidates in cities, this is considerably rarer in rural areas. As the earlier BAME statistics show, there is a significant difference in the makeup of population between urban and rural areas – how can recruiters fully encourage diversity if only in parts of the country? It’s a question I’m not sure I have an answer to just yet.
Looking to the future, I want to raise a fascinating idea brought to me at an LFA event releasing some research by Perkins+Will on the 24-Hour City. Younger generations (we rightly talk Millennials but Generation Z are also beginning to find employment now) want different things from work. What often comes up now is the desire for flexible hours, to work from home and on the move. Technology allows for this and working specifically 9 to 5 will become very old fashioned very quickly. If we’re going to encourage younger generations to become a more diverse workforce, then our industry needs to look at moving towards this faster than others. What more can we do to deliver an industrywide workplace culture that offers genuine flexibility?
A final thought while we have one eye on the future – diversity in age. With a more diverse workforce being encouraged in younger generations, is there more that we could be doing in the future with older generations? It’s not something that gets highlighted to me by employers often and I’ve not included it here as in my experience in recruiting it’s considerably rarer to find barriers to employment relating to age (and therefore diversity in this regard). However, please do share your experiences if you think I’m wrong! A diverse workforce means we need contributions from people of all ages to build our places and if you think this isn’t happening, I’d love to hear from you.
It’s hard to summarise such a diverse report that barely scratches the surface of this critical topic. We need a diverse workplace in every industry and must ensure we’re self-critically asking ourselves ‘are we encouraging this?’. There are lots of programmes out there doing good work (and more than I’ve mentioned), so as both individuals and companies are we sitting on the side lines or acting on this knowledge? Across the profession we must seek to become role models, inspiring change throughout the industry. We don’t have all the answers yet, but getting involved, starting a conversation, leading a debate – these are all ways to make sure that our future looks more diverse than our past. They’re not complete solutions but if we all change our mind-set to this then I think we’ll surprise ourselves at the amount of change we’ll be able to enact. At the end of the day, there is growing evidence that a diverse workforce will increase profitability, so what do you have to lose?
I mentioned at the start that my goal was not to preach, nor is it to promote an unconscious bias. At the end of the day, I want the best people to get the right jobs – what’s important is that we have a level playing field so everyone has the chance to be that best person. In recruitment, we’re privileged to work with amazing individuals. Because of this we have the opportunity to encourage diversity and positively influence the options and decisions companies make. My pledge to you is that I will build upon this report, continue to compile data and ensure I’m providing as diverse a range of candidates I can for any given role. I will continue to work at the grassroots level, encouraging students of all backgrounds to get involved with our profession. I would be really keen to learn more about what you’re currently doing as well as any initiatives you may already have planned for the future.
If you’re interested in learning more about how we can help you grow a more diverse workforce, or to discuss the partnerships you can be part of, please get in touch!
Head of Planning & Architecture
firstname.lastname@example.org | 0207 960 2583
 /wp93-architecture_paper_2018.pdf (Page 40)
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