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BDP defends International Women’s Day event criticised as too male-focused

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BDP has defended its upcoming International Women’s Day (IWD) event against criticism it is too male-dominated, arguing the programme is aimed at ‘getting men onside’ 

A talk titled ’The Positive Power of the Male Voice to Make Change’ is set to top the bill at Women in Construction, the practice’s event to mark the global celebration of women’s achievements on March 8.

It features Women of the World (WOW) founder Jude Kelly in conversation with three men; BDP chair Chris Harding, principal Graham McClements and HOK principal Femi Oresanya.

The rest of the day features workshops, speed mentoring, guidance on career progression alongside ‘empowering self-defence classes’.

However BDP’s event was greeted with incredulity on social media by many in the profession, which has become increasingly exasperated over the prevalence of male-dominated panel discussions, often dubbed ‘manels’.

Part W, a collective that campaigns for gender parity across the built environment, expressed its ‘disappointment’ at the gender imbalance. It argued that, while men needed to be part of the discussion, ‘women’s voices and their lived experiences are crucial in a conversation advertised as exploring gender equity’. 

It added: ‘Given this is being organised in relation to International Women’s Day 2020, the decision to have just one woman on a four-person panel is particularly disappointing; it implies improvements for women within the industry is something that can be done for women, by men.

‘This does little to help improve visibility and recognition of women in the built environment sector. There are so many incredible female architects, engineers and designers who could be sharing their insight.’

ZCD Architects’ Dinah Bornat said: ‘There’s lots of women who could help with this, I’m sure. It’s important that men start listening. Which includes, among other things, talking a whole lot less.’

Alisha Morenike, co-founder of the Black Females in Architecture network, said the event projected the view that women’s voices are meaningless and that ‘men are being allowed to dominate spaces that could instead be used to provide a balanced gendered panel for International Women’s day’.

She added: ‘You can discuss the same topic by acknowledging the power women have, and this starts off by ensuring that in this case there are, at the bare minimum equal representation.’

It implies improvements for women within the industry is something that can be done for women, by men

But BDP defended the talk, which it said was conceived by women at the practice alongside Jude Kelly, a former director of the Southbank Centre and 2020 RIBA honorary fellow. It said its aim was to focus on ‘asking men to become allies’.

Sam Kingsley, reception manager at the London Studio and one of the day’s workshop leads, said: ‘Jude [Kelly] suggested she interviewed three men about how men can be better allies in the journey towards greater gender equality.

‘We decided the conversation should be about the fact that there has been a lot of work done by women towards gender equality, but the senior leadership of most of these practices are still largely made up by men and we need to get men onside to effect change. She added: ‘While I can appreciate that gender balance on panels is an issue, this specific conversation is about asking men to become allies.’

Kingsley also pointed out the conversation was not an isolated talk but part of a day-long event that will bring together various experts from a range of backgrounds to discuss the ’important issues surrounding the lack of diversity in our industry’. 

The senior leadership of most of these practices are still largely made up by men and we need to get men onside to effect change

Other speakers appearing at the event include the RIBA’s Anne Cosentino and BDP landscape architects Martin Savage and Gabriela Bayliss. 

This is not the first time International Women’s Day has proved controversial in the profession. Last year the RIBA cancelled cookery classes it had organised to mark the celebration after architects described the idea as ‘retrograde’.

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The speakers at Women in Construction talk: The Positive Power of the Male Voice to Make Change

The BDP panel, clockwise from top left; Jude Kelly, Chris Harding, Graham McClements and Femi Oresanya

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Readers' comments (1)

  • If a (heterosexual 9 to 5 everyday white) man is in a forest with the nearest woman 100miles away, is he still wrong? BDP you’re playing with dynamite even going near this topic.

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