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RIAS slammed for all-male convention and ballot line-up


19 speakers and 9 candidates, but no women: architects demand gender equality statement from Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS)

Architects have hit out at The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) for failing to book a single female to speak at its high-profile annual convention and for the absence of women candidates in the upcoming council elections.

Kieran Gaffney of Edinburgh-based practice Konishi Gaffney has written to the organisation about its line-up which includes Gareth Hoskins, John McAslan and Eric Parry but no women.

On Twitter, Gaffney said: ‘Just written to RIAS about their all-male conference. Who’s going to back me up?’ He added: ‘RIAS council members voting forms arrived today. 9 out of 9 are men standing for Council’.

In the letter, Gaffney called on the RIAS to issue a gender equality statement and take steps to ensure women are represented at future events.

Described as the ‘single most significant event in the Incorporation’s annual calendar’, the convention will take place in Aberdeen from 10 to 12 May and is titled ‘Reconnecting with the Past’.

Charles Renfro of Diller Scofidio + Renfro which won a contest to revamp Aberdeen’s Union Terrace Gardens (scheme pictured) is speaking at the event along with Kengo Kuma who is designing a £47 million outpost for the V&A in Dundee.

Barbara Weiss of Barbara Weiss Architects said: ‘I’m absolutely surprised that in this day and age people are still putting forward speakers that are 100 per cent one gender.

‘People need to be a lot more sensitive to these issues. There’s an acknowledgement at the moment that things are beginning to move forward but it’s obviously not yet hit the Scottish scene.’

Liane Hartley of Mend described the line-up as ‘sadly representative’. She said: ‘The strapline “Reconnecting with the past” says it all – we are clearly stuck in the past and failing to recognise women’s standing in this profession.’

She said women ‘need to be supporting and promoting each other’s good work,’ but should not be represented on a ‘tokenistic level’.

‘It’s our responsibility as women too to get ourselves out there, be pushy and confident about our own voice and our contribution and get ourselves on to councils, panels,’ she said.

Commenting on the lack of women standing for RIAS council, Clare Wright of Wright & Wright Architects said: ‘Scotland has a very longstanding reputation for encouraging and supporting women in the professions and in education. There are excellent articulate candidates, who would represent aspects uniquely related to the 50 per cent of students and trainees who are women.  

‘It is surprising that they have neither put themselves forward nor stood for Council. One has to ask why?’

Chris Williamson of Weston Williamson said the absence of women speakers at the convention ‘reflects badly’ on the RIAS.

‘Greater effort needs to be made to encourage participation from a wider, diverse membership,’ he said.

Elena Tsolakis of Elena Tsolakis Architects said the line-up reinforced a ‘stereotype’ that architects had been working hard to dispel.

‘This is a missed opportunity for the RIAS to engage with women who want to be part of the industry and with those who are already a part of it,’ she said.

In response, RIAS secretary and treasurer Neil Baxter said the organisation had approached women to speak but none were available.

He said: ‘We end up, not by intent or design, with an excellent group of speakers all of whom happen to be male.’

He added: ‘There are many who would advocate positive discrimination for all fields of human endeavour. There are others who would see that as discrimination.’

Kathryn Findlay has confirmed that she was asked to speak at the RIAS convention, but was forced to decline due to a prior commitment to speak at the National | Architecture Conference in Brisbane, Australia from 10-12 May. ‘I was certainly asked, as I was last year, but couldn’t make it.’

The full RIAS response

Dear Kieran,

As you will be aware, the Incorporation has never pursued a positive discrimination policy. As it happens, the senior architects and clients on many of the very specific topics of this year’s Convention (Commonwealth Games, Olympic Games, Union Terrace Gardens, V&A Dundee) are male. However, the topics are pertinent and relevant to the profession and/or Aberdeen. It is also the case that we did speak to a number of female architects about potential participation in this year’s Convention, not because they are women. Unfortunately, as it turned out, none of them were able to manage, so we end up, not by intent or design, with an excellent group of speakers all of whom happen to be male.

We have also been informed, by the press, that you have publicly questioned the candidates list for this year’s RIAS Council Election on the basis that all candidates are male. As you should be aware, Council candidates are self-nominated. The invitation went without fear or favour to all of the Incorporation’s membership. No female architects have stood for election, therefore there are no females on the list. However, you have my absolute assurance that we would encourage all our members, irrespective of gender, to stand.

I know there are many who would advocate positive discrimination for all fields of human endeavour. There are others who would see that as discrimination.

Yours sincerely,

Neil Baxter
Secretary & Treasurer
The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland





Readers' comments (6)

  • Well put Neil!

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  • Neil Baxter's response shows a quite shocking disdain and ignorance of what the issues are. To suggest that inviting even one woman is a form of positive discrimination is blatant sexism, and for that alone he should offer his resignation.

    But the real nastiness, and betrayal of the exclusionary agenda that the RIAS appear to support, is in the final sentence, in which he implies that the inviting of women, as a form of 'positive discrimination' (a term that is a canard of the unreconstructed right and Daily Mail - join the club Mr Baxter) is also a form of discrimination against men. To think that is, I suppose, his personal right, but to say it in public as the secretary of a representative body is an indication of quite how far male attitudes are entrenched in architectural culture, and shows quite how important initiatives such as the AJ's Women in Architecture are.

    I guess that somewhere in a gilded parlour in Edinburgh, my response will be dismissed as 'politically correct'. Welcome to that Victorian club too, Mr Baxter.

    Jeremy Till

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  • I am fairly amazed that Neil Baxter, representing RIAS, does not see the complete lack of women speakers at their conference as a problem. It was the very first thing that struck me when I saw the brochure. We live in a world where women design, commission and use buildings, just the same as men and to not show any recognition of this seems ill considered. If RIAS would like some assistance in finding women to speak at their conference they could try reading this: http://feministphilosophers.wordpress.com/2011/03/26/how-to-avoid-a-gendered-conference/.
    It doesn't reflect our society to simply say none were available.

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  • Firstly, thanks to Keiran Gaffney and AJ for raising this issue and for the great work carried out by the Women in Architecture team.
    There are a raft of problems that exist within our profession and wider construction industry.
    However, the issue of gender, opportunity and representation is one that we must not ignore or, more shockingly, deny. The issues are deep-rooted and complex.
    There has never been a better time to address this issue here in Scotland. This begins by confronting apathy and resistance through positive action - as a matter of urgency. There are already some initiatives developing (formation of alternative speaker lists, planned group meetings etc).
    We will all prosper from quality workplaces, holistic built environments and colourful public forums. Firstly, these must be multi-faceted and dynamic. Created by, and for the benefit of, both men and women.

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  • As a female architect in practice for 0ver 20 years, I support the views expressed by Neil Baxter.

    Emily Pankhurst? .....a century ago. Catch up everyone!

    We are PEOPLE in a profession regardless of gender. If you're good at your job, you will get to the top. If you're not, you won't. Equally, men are represented at the bottom of the profession, and possibly outnumber women in that position too. Oh dear!

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  • Christine Murray

    Dear Amanda,

    What you state is ideal, but the statistics don't back it up.

    From our survey of nearly 700 women and 100 men, and compared to salary data from RIBA and the AJ100, women are paid significantly less for the same full-time position.

    By your logic, that means women just aren't good at their job, otherwise they would 'rise to the top'.

    The reality is that statistics show the glass ceiling in pay and position still exists.

    While 25 per cent of men working full-time are paid over £51,000 per year, just nine per cent of full-time working women are paid as much.

    And while 40 per cent of women working full-time are paid £25,000 or less per year, just a quarter of full-time working men in architecture are paid as little.

    According to RIBA Appointments’ salary guide, which does not include figures for director pay, architects should earn between £34-45,000 per annum, while associates should earn £37-50,000.

    Median pay for directors for the last two years in the AJ100 was £75k. Median pay for associates in the AJ100 was £46,000 last year, while median pay for architects was £37,000.

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