Culture secretary Chris Smith has attacked the profession for its poor record on recruiting women and people from ethnic backgrounds after launching a major report which reveals the creative industry is now worth more than £100 billion.
Smith said the under-representation of women and ethnic minorities in the profession remained a big concern, but fell short of proposing concrete policy moves to close the race and gender gap.
Latest statistics reveal that 12 per cent of the profession is female and 2 per cent is from an ethnic background.
'Employers must work together to make sure under-represented groups are considered for public projects and competitions, ' said Smith, adding that he was having talks with the Society of Black Architects on ways of achieving this.
Lord Rogers, representing architecture at the creative industries launch, told the AJ he supported positive discrimination: 'It's not like a 100 metre race; we can't say a person is better than another in a split moment at an interview. There are so many different factors, and in the US where positive discrimination has been used it shows that those from ethnic groups have done better than average.' But Sumita Sinha, chair of the RIBA's Architects for Change, disagreed. 'I don't think [positive discrimination] always leads to the quality you are looking for and it can cause resentment, ' she said. Government had to raise awareness by promoting seminars and workshops rather than making laws, Sinha added.
Samir Pandya of the Society of Black Architects said: 'We need a period of inspection and collaboration to bring out the issues and ensure these positive words are not just soundbites. Inclusivity rather than positive discrimination is better.'
And Angela Brady, chair of the RIBA's Women in Architecture group, said maternity pay should equal full pay for up to a year, with 60 per cent coming from government and the rest from employers.
Sandi Rhys Jones, marketing manager for Building Work for Women, which runs pilot projects, said the DCMS or DETR needed a dedicated department for women. But she added: 'Nobody wants to go to a tribunal, and there's a limit to how positive legislation is.'
The RIBA said it aimed to 'break down barriers' with projects such as its recent 'Listen Up' design workshop for 80 schoolgirls.
A 'Building Work For Women' conference will take place at Portcullis House in London on 21 March. For details call 020 8692 6567.