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RIBA urged to kick racism off UK architecture scene

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The Society of Black Architects (SOBA) has demanded that the RIBA acts now to improve the representation of architects from ethnic minorities among practices and to provide funding to improve its mentoring scheme which links practising architects with students from ethnic minorities.

'There are a lot of black architects who are good enough and they are just not getting the jobs, ' said SOBA chairwoman Caroline Osewe. 'So in the UK we have an architectural profession which often doesn't reflect what society is all about.'

'SOBA's ideas need recognition, they have to be taken up and we need the RIBA's involvement in the mentoring programme, ' said the racial equality adviser of the Architects for Change group, Wilfred Achille. The mentoring programme this year has only six students, due to a lack of funding, Achille said.

The call came at last week's launch of the RIBA's e qu a l opportunities forum, Architects for Change, which will tackle the under-representation of groups such as women and ethnic minorities in the profession. Only 12 per cent of architects are women.

The society also called for monitoring of the recruitment procedures of practices, many of which it claims are discriminating against minorities. This view was backed up by the RIBA's vice-president, Paul Hyett, who called for a register of practices which evaluates their commitment to good employment conditions, including their willingness to recruit from diverse backgrounds. 'The whole profession is absolutely hopeless at the moment, ' he said. Only 12 per cent of students entering Part 1 this year were from ethnic minorities.

Others, including Helen Stone, a SOBA and Changing the Face of Construction campaigner, demanded targets for individual practices to meet on recruitment. 'The amount of discrimination is horrific, ' Stone told the AJ.

'Black architects just don't get the jobs in the UK.A commitment is needed from the RIBA president, chief executive and its board.'

But RIBA president Marco Goldschmied warned against positive discrimination in favour of minorities.'It is actually quite difficult and rather suspect to recruit on a positive discrimination basis, ' he said. 'I may be attacked for saying this but there is serious danger of a backlash [against those minorities] during the course of an economic downturn.'

He declared himself shocked at instances of racial discrimination in the construction industry and invoked the 'tradition of liberality' in the profession to influence the rest of the industry.

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