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LGB survey: response from gay and lesbian architects

Leading gay architects and industry professionals respond to the results of the AJ’s survey of LGB architects

The results of the AJ’s survey of gay, lesbian and bisexual (LGB) architects provoked much reaction from across the industry (AJ survey shows homophobia is rife in practices and onsite).

Below, openly-gay architects and figures from the wider construction industry respond to the findings - click here for full results.

Harry Rich, chief executive, RIBA

Harry Rich, chief executive, RIBA

Imagine going to work on Monday and having to be coded about who you spent your time with at the weekend. What if you couldn’t take your husband, wife or partner to office drinks? How about getting married or celebrating your 25th anniversary and not sharing any of it with your colleagues. The AJ’s research shows that this is how more than a quarter of lesbian, gay or bisexual architects feel.

It is good news that 74 per cent of LGB architects are comfortable being out in the office. My guess is that this is better than many other workplaces and I congratulate the profession for that.  But we have to recognise it’s not good enough, particularly because the situation is much worse once architects step out of the office and onto the building site.

Professor Fionn Stevenson, director of technology, Sheffield School of Architecture

Fionn Stevenson, director of technology, Sheffield School of Architecture

The AJ’s LGB survey is very revealing. It shows that nearly half of those questioned still experience some form of discrimination in the workplace, which is truly depressing, given how far the UK has come in terms of progressive LGBT acceptance. There are power issues at play in relation to clients – people do not want to take a risk with exposing their sexuality. It’s also clear that construction site culture is still far too macho – this is borne out by women’s experience on site, also.

What is needed is for the construction industry as a whole to provide strong leadership and role models in relation to LGBT acceptance – I think it is divisive to make the issue specific to professions, at a time when we are trying to get the industry to join up its thinking and working practices in so many other ways.

Andrew Best, director, Buro Happold

Andrew Best, director, Buro Happold

The response to the survey is as I’d expected – in general most people feel okay about being open at work, while they’re are not at all comfortable being out on the building site. That pretty much parallels my own experience.

What I find disappointing is that there are still so many people who aren’t able to be out in their own workplaces, with some quotes painting an appalling picture of attitudes in those offices. We’ve come an awful long way in the last decade, but this shows there’s still a good way to go. But on a positive note, changing these attitudes feels like a very real, achievable goal.

Well done to the AJ for carrying out this survey and sharing the results with the profession. Attitudes won’t change if they’re hidden away in a closet. 

Julia Feix, director, Feix and Merlin

Julia_Feix

Architecture, one of the ‘creative’ disciplines, is clearly not as open-minded as it should be. If architects don’t feel comfortable being openly-gay in front of their own colleagues then that clearly highlights a distinct lack of role models setting the right examples. 

Only when gay senior architects, associates and directors start bringing their partners to office outings, client dinners and even contractors’ Christmas parties, will there be a chance of change. I truly believe that only high-level exposure can drive this forward.

Another not exactly surprising, but nevertheless disappointing result is the reluctance to be out in front of clients. Is it due to the fear of alienating a project manager or CEO and driving away business? Everything in the delivery of a project hinges on good relationships. I can’t help but wonder, should we really go into business with clients we don’t feel comfortable with?

Dieter Gockmann, director, EPR Architects

Dieter Gockmann, director, EPR Architects

While it is good to see that the majority of respondents feel life for LGB architects is generally positive, it is worrying that some experience blatant homophobia at work and do not feel supported by the profession or the practices they work for. Of particular concern is that some LGB architects feel being out at work has or might have a detrimental impact on their career development.

I am not surprised that the majority of negative experiences experienced by LGB architects tend to be in connection with incidents that arise with clients or contractors or that they tend to be less open about their sexual orientation in situations outside the office.

LGB architects quite rightly want to be recognised and rewarded first and foremost for their professional achievements, not their sexual orientation. But it is also clear that while the profession is getting better we still need to do more to make sure all LGB architects feel supported and have equal opportunities to excel at what they do.

Emmeline Tang, senior electrical engineer, Arup

The results of the survey do not surprise me at all. I know a lot of engineers are not comfortable being out at work due to the perceived homophobia. Homophobic comments are still heard in the workplace and on site even today. At Arup we are fortunate to have an active LGBT network with strong support from the UKMEA board of directors driving diversity. This really helps facilitate engagement of LGBT engineers and straight allies to feel more comfortable in the workplace. Support from the top is invaluable.

Tarek Merlin, director, Feix and Merlin

Tarek_Merlin

One of the architects surveyed wrote that when a client decided to make jokes about the sexuality of a team member, he didn’t feel able to say anything in case it reflected badly on the business. This kind of homophobia is the hardest to tackle because of its seemingly inane nature; ‘it doesn’t matter, it’s just a joke’. All I can say is imagine for a moment if we were all guffawing at a joke about a black person or a woman. Does it still not matter?

I also thought it was a great shame that almost half of those surveyed felt there were no visible, openly-gay architects at senior levels of the industry. Of course there are; they are just not very visible. We don’t need them to make any grand gestures but maybe we need them to just be a little more vocal and present, so that everyone can appreciate their success and can take confidence in the idea that they can do it too.

Gem Barton, architecture and design academic

Gem Barton, architecture and design academic

The results are as I expected – promising, but still with work to do. Having taught at two major university cities considered to be LGB friendly my experiences may be slightly biased. My four years at Manchester University and my current three years at Brighton University have been highly enjoyable and I have not experienced malice of any kind. Jokes? Yes, but just as many about being northern and tall, as about being gay - all friendly banter. But I fear this could be very different in other cities. 

Before starting my first teaching job I thought hard about how I should or would behave. This was eight years ago; with hindsight I am annoyed that I felt the need to consider my sexuality as a factor for concern. As a result I would like to see more support and awareness of the LGB community in architectural education for both students and lecturers. However, this should be dealt with sensitively so that sexuality does not become too much of a defining feature. 

Martyn Evans, creative director, Cathedral Group Plc

Martyn Evans, creative director, Cathedral Group plc

I’m happy so many people are comfortable being out, but it’s not surprising that gay architects are least comfortable when they interact with the wider construction and development industries.

It is easy to fall back on the argument that if you don’t talk about it you won’t get into trouble and to fuel that age old argument ‘I don’t mind what he or she does in private but I don’t want it rubbed in my face.’ That’s crap. If you want to see heterosexuality ‘rubbed in your face’, go to MIPIM.  It’s not about being private – everyone’s entitled not to talk about their private life if they don’t want to – but it is about being able to talk about lifestyle, partners and family if you do want to in the many social situations we find ourselves in our industry. 

Our development and construction industry is, though, no different from many others. Women, racial minorities and LGB – we’ve all got a job to do. I look forward to next year’s survey. It’ll be better.

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