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2018 predictions: Will gender pay rules help change the profession’s profile?

2018 themes diversity
  • 1 Comment

From April 2018, large companies will have to disclose data on gender pay gaps. Richard Waite asked leading figures whether this will help change the demographics of the profession

‘Instead of waiting for our Harvey Weinstein moment, can we all commit to positive change for the benefit of our profession and wider society?’

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Tamsie Thomson, London Festival of Architecture

Issues of diversity are too often presented as a distraction and not central to creating a talented workforce. But if we want to create the best buildings and cities that work for all, then practices need access to the best talent in an inclusive way.

Unfortunately this year we have seen, only too clearly, the endemic prejudice and hostility that still lie  below the surface. Following my tweet highlighting the use of Las Vegas ‘show girls’ to sell roofing products at a UK construction show, there was a flurry of well-considered coverage in the architectural press discussing and criticising the use of women’s bodies as a sales tactic. 

Yet this was met with a flurry of comments and tweets attacking anyone who dared criticise. While everyone deserves the right to free speech, the vitriol and abuse was staggering – including from official company accounts.

This could all be dismissed as a Twitter storm. But to me it aptly demonstrates the deep-seated prejudices that make daily life within the industry that bit harder for anyone not a white heterosexual male. 

Next year the London Festival of Architecture will publish research with the GLA to help better understand diversity within the profession. So instead of waiting for our Harvey Weinstein moment, in 2018 can we all commit to positive change for the benefit of our profession and wider society?

‘Without structural childcare provision in place, women will always be disadvantaged in practice’

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Fionn Stevenson, professor of sustainable design at the University of Sheffield 

The past year has revealed a depressing lack of progress in architectural reform in the UK, despite good intentions.

We saw an increasing pay gap between men and women architects and no real movement on bringing architectural education into the 21st century. 

Four key reforms are needed in 2018 – and they are currently being avoided. 

Firstly, without structural childcare provision in place, women will always be disadvantaged in practice. ‘Child friendly hours’ is not good enough; practices need to pay into a kitty for comprehensive local nursery care. Why don’t they do this? 

Secondly, architectural education needs to train architects to respect all forms of diversity. It is shameful that an attempt to make design for disability an explicit RIBA validation criterion was talked down by many heads of school at a previous SCHOSA meeting. They argued that it was tacitly in the criteria. Tacit is never good enough; education means a ‘drawing out’ of understanding made explicit. 

Thirdly, UK architectural education needs to thoroughly decolonise its curriculum. We still largely teach ‘Western’ architecture. 

Fourthly, we need to follow the lead of engineering and educate different kinds of architects as specialists from the start. The fantasy of the Renaissance (male?) architect – all-seeing, all-powerful, all ego – is dead. We need architecture students working with real users in interdisciplinary teams from the start in Semester 1, Year 1. Nothing less will do to shift the logjam.

‘2018 could mark the start of more equitable processes in mainstream practice and education’

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Rowan Parnell, director at Architecture Initiative

It’s great that the government is forcing large companies to disclose their gender pay data; it would be even better if all companies were obliged to make this – and other equality data – more transparent. 

However, it is a different kind of diversity that concerns me. Architecture is predominantly a monoculture of the white middle class. The people who are designing schools, homes, places of culture etc. do not reflect the populations they serve. Not only does the university education route to becoming an architect fail to prepare you for practice, but the sheer cost presents a barrier to thousands of budding designers ever getting into the profession in the first place. 

What we need is another route; one that will open up the profession to true diversity in all its forms. There are some great initiatives, such as the RIBA/DfE-endorsed Architecture Apprenticeships Trailblazer Group, backed by some of the UK’s most prominent architectural practices. I remain sceptical, though, as to whether their motivations are to achieve a more socially inclusive profession, or to benefit from government subsidies and cheap labour. But my personal prejudices aside, 2018 could mark the start of more equitable processes in mainstream practice and education.

‘There is a fantastic opportunity here for the profession and academia to come together and break this vicious circle’

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Helen Reid, associate at Pitman Tozer Architects

Our university education sets the tone and the pattern of our working lives. We’re indoctrinated by the image of the artist, working hard into the night. Our social and academic lives are merged at the boundaries so as to become indistinguishable. When we enter the workplace, that culture comes with us. It’s often noted that long hours and late nights are all too common in the profession. Yet we only tentatively lament it because we know, or think we know, that more hours make better buildings.

But colleagues with young families cannot let the culture of long hours intrude on their parental duties. As a consequence, parents may not always be as readily recognised for career progression. This is arguably more the case for women than it is for men. Any scenario where the individual’s circumstances outside of the office impacts their career success is a matter of (in)equality.

We are trying to work against this culture; we encourage work flexibility and strict hours and have found that well-planned and well-resourced projects are successful. There is a fantastic opportunity here for the profession and academia to come together and break this vicious circle. By encouraging more professionalism within the architectural system we can establish an alternative work ethic that empowers all staff in the development of their careers.

  • 1 Comment

Readers' comments (1)

  • Gordon  Gibb

    I could not agree more with what all of the contributors say, and I , too disagree with SCHOSA. There is an opportunity for an explicit reference to inclusiveness in the General Criteria, because they are being rewritten right now. The reference is already there in the Professional Criteria. Unfortunately most schools see these as sitting in the "Part 3 silo", and so specific reference in the Part 1 and 2 Criteria would be helpful. I also agree that we should be teaching about cultures and not "Culture". I tried to get that changed in the Criteria in 2010, but it was changed back.

    A big problem that architectural practices face is that many project tasks for construction projects are "person specific" and time-related, and clients, contractors and other stakeholders expect immediate responses, day or night, to requests for information. Also deadlines can be short and are often unrealistic because of the financial pressures surrounding project delivery timescales, which means that being a project architect is not something that you can easily juggle with other substantial commitments. That does not mean that part-time or short hours working cannot be done. I would suggest that it means that you need to have a certain type of employer and certain types of clients.

    I have seen a situation where a million pound construction adjudication was lost by a party, because that party's representative was on a job-share arrangement, working Tuesday to Thursday. The adjudicator's contact was made on a Friday morning, with a response needed by the Tuesday morning at 10.00 am. The response was necessarily ill-considered by the team because we were notified about it one hour before the deadline, and that was the point upon which the adjudication was lost.

    Therefore, I would suggest that the change needs to be wider than in architectural practice. It needs to be construction industry-wide, and it needs to be legislated for.

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