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Architecture profession ‘lagging behind’ on diversity, says RIBA


The RIBA has said architecture is lagging behind other sectors on diversity as it outlined its new strategy to promote a more ’inclusive’ profession

The new Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) strategy will help ‘promote and support a more diverse and inclusive architecture profession’, according to the institute.

One of the key issues the RIBA hopes to tackle is the under-representation of BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) architects and a ‘relative lack’ of BAME-owned practices. 

According to its education statistics, progression rates from Part 1 into practical training and at Part 2 to Part 3 and beyond are ‘much lower’ among BAME students. 

Also a high priority is reducing the gender pay gap in architecture and tackling social mobility. The strategy will also cover issues relating to LGBTQ+ communities, disability, religion, and mental health.

One of those working on the strategy is Femi Oresanya, interim chair of RIBA’s expert advisory group Architects for Change (AfC) who took over from Elsie Owusu in November.

He said: ‘I love our profession – our creativity, our passion and our collaborative approach. But I cannot be proud of our diversity – or lack of it – where we lag behind other professions like law, medicine and accountancy. We need to be more inclusive and represent the society we serve.

’The barriers to entry and progression must be eradicated.’

The RIBA says it will tackle these issues by better facilitating access to the profession and promoting ’positive and inclusive role models’.

It also said it would promote ‘equal opportunities for access to projects and public sector funded work and will use continuing professional development to ensure the culture of the profession does not tolerate bullying, harassment or discrimination.

Comment by Femi Oresanya: ‘We must represent the society we serve’

I love our profession – our creativity, our passion and our collaborative approach. But I cannot be proud of our diversity – or lack of it – where we lag behind other professions like law, medicine and accountancy. We need to be more inclusive and represent the society we serve.

The barriers to entry and progression must be eradicated. As a Londoner of Nigerian descent, I put myself forward to chair the RIBA’s expert advisory group for equality, diversity and inclusion – Architects for Change (AfC) – keen to share my insight and experience of the challenges I faced on route to becoming an architect.

With the combined expertise of my fellow group members – 13 practitioners, graduates and academics, all representing diverse backgrounds and locations – AfC are working together to address many of the equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) issues which face our profession.

Our next step is to build on the work the group has championed for the past few years, with great support from RIBA staff. So far, we’ve run a positive range of programmes including mentoring and role model initiatives, events for International Women’s Day, Pride and Black History Month, and work around mental health and wellbeing. These activities have had impact, but it’s time for a step-change and more concerted effort. Recently, the group has been closely involved in shaping guidance to help close the gender pay gap.

To raise the profile of EDI within the profession and to better align with RIBA’s Strategic Plan, AfC has developed a strategy, approved by RIBA Council alongside (crucially) further budget and resources for delivery, focused on an expanded programme of activity. The strategy focuses attention on seven key areas: social mobility, gender parity, BAME representation, LGBTQ+ communities, disability, mental health and wellbeing, and religion and belief.

If you can see role models that look like you, you are more likely to think that you can make it too

The programmes to deliver the strategy are still under development, but in addition to ongoing EDI projects, new workshops, training sessions and campaigns in the key areas will be delivered. Through new RIBA Codes of Conduct and Practice, which have also been approved by RIBA Council, we will introduce increased requirements for compliance by members in areas such as offering fair, safe and inclusive working environments and good employment practice.

We will be reviewing and assessing progress, holding the RIBA and the profession to account. It is our shared ambition that RIBA is recognised as a leading practitioner and an exemplar organisation on EDI. Ultimately the goal is to see a marked increase in the diversity of our profession – properly reflecting our society.

Like many other practices, at my own firm, HOK, we ensure that EDI is supported at the highest level in the company. Our Diversity Advisory Council is committed to guaranteeing opportunity for all at every level of the firm. In our London Studio, I put in place a work experience programme that has been successfully running for many years now. Around 50 per cent of the places go to pupils from state schools and we work to achieve an equal gender split between male and female participants.

I believe in that old adage, ’If you can see role models that look like you, you are more likely to think that you can make it too’, and I’m excited to get this new strategy underway.

 Femi Oresanya is interim chair of Architects for Change, RIBA’s expert advisory group for equality, diversity and inclusion.


Readers' comments (2)

  • Why are only 50% from state schools and not 93% which is the percentage of pupils attending them? This would appear to favour better off pupils attending Independent Schools.

    I'd be intrigued to know how other parts of the construction industry such as engineers, project managers etc, fare on percentage of BAME professionals. My experience suggests the whole industry is equally poor.

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  • Do we really lag behind law, medicine and accounting? By how much? More importantly is anybody bothering to find out specifically why before launching into the usual panic of doing something, -anything to try and prove what a lovely profession we actually are. I'm not really sure how accounting is perceived but when compared to architecture a career in law or medicine are seen as well paid and valuable. Meanwhile on this website there is yet another story about an architectural competition where none of the architects are getting paid, - effectively the architects have paid their own professional body for the opportunity to work for free!

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