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Drop in BAME architects across UK’s top practices, new data reveals

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The number of BAME architects employed by the UK’s top 100 practices has dipped, according to new data collected by the AJ

The latest figures from the AJ100 reveal the proportion of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) architects has dropped slightly from 12 per cent to 11 per cent.

The total number of reported BAME architects at the UK’s largest firms increased in 2017 and 2018 but this year the research shows the profession’s ethnic diversity has failed to improve. The numbers this year are down from 785 to 776. 

Four practices failed to disclose their numbers of BAME architects in the UK while 11 reported employing no BAME architects.

The 11 per cent figure compares with about 20 per cent of the UK population as a whole.

While progress on increasing the profession’s ethnic diversity has gone backwards, the number of women employed by AJ100 practices has risen again.

The nation’s top 100 biggest practices continue to lead the way in the employment of women architects, with females accounting for 34 per cent of the architects employed by these firms (2,339 out of 6,972).

This is significantly higher than the 27 per cent of women within the total number of registered architects in the UK (9,814 out of 26,240). This proportion represents an increase of 7 per cent on the AJ100 figure from five years ago, although last year’s rise was just 1 per cent.

While the proportion of female architects employed in the UK by AJ100 companies is slightly lower among mid-sized practices, the proportion of BAME architects in the UK tends to increase with size of the practice.

According to Sonia Watson, the chief executive of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust who recently received an MBE for her efforts in increasing diversity within the profession, there are still barriers to entering the profession for those with a BAME background.

As a result, practices are struggling to attract a diverse pool of candidates.

‘Saying that if you work hard you can achieve anything plays a bit flat. You can’t play the game if you’re not invited into the game,’ she says.

The trust, which over the last 10 years has supported 132 young people of BAME backgrounds to become architects through funding, mentoring and work opportunities, is addressing this through initiatives such as an upcoming open-to-all recruitment portal as well as mentor and outreach programmes. It is also working with the RIBA, which will fund a member of staff to connect to opportunities available within its membership and build awareness of careers within the built environment from school age.

‘Statistically, it’s a challenge but there is hope,’ says Watson. ‘On Stephen Lawrence Day we distributed our marketing to 27,000 schools.’

The RIBA recently updated its Codes of Conduct and Practice to include strengthened requirements to promote equality, diversity and inclusion, and prevent discrimination, harassment and bias.

More analysis of the AJ100 data will be published in the forthcoming print edition. 

The winner of this year’s AJ100 awards will be announced at the annual gala dinner event on 19 June at the Tower of London. 

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Readers' comments (6)

  • Is anyone interested in class analysis any more -- and how that might correlate with BAME data?

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  • ".... but this year the research shows the profession’s ethnic diversity has failed to improve." No, it doesn't. According to the AJ100 from June 2018, there were 6,782 architects employed in the AJ100 listed firms. There were 39,987 architects registered with ARB in June 2018. What kind of 'research' can conclude that a dip of 9 people in a cohort amounting to approximately 17% of the total registered architects equates to the entire profession's failure to improve its ethnic diversity?

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  • As Elsie Owusu's (poorly supported from among architects) campaign highlights, the failure/non-completion rate among Black architecture students is very very high. Not all of it can be down to 'career choice' (I don't know of any families of Black architecture students that would lightly condone their kids not qualifying for 'activism/sticking-it-to-the-man reasons'). So what why is it happening? As a young/middle-aged Black architect, I think the Euro-centric nature of education and practice culture remains a sacred cow, the concomitant of which is the devaluing/belittling of Black culture/other cultures (with some notable exceptions). A lot of my fellow architects would say that was ridiculous (which is part of the problem), but the entrenched grand narrative of Greek/Roman/Renaissance as a lens via which we understand our built environment is undeniable. Part of this is that the White (and yes and Paul Finch notes 'middle-class' which I think today is actually a euphemism for people that are really quite wealthy) Education/Culture 'system' keeps on replicating itself creating what is actually quite a hostile environment for Black people and others who originate from the Global South. If this is not the reason, then the only alternative explanation is that Black/Global-Southern people are not as 'well-suited' (read less able) to become architects as White people are (and I've been told by students that this opinion has been expressed to them). The immediate and angry denial of every other explanation, (particularly those put forward by Black people themselves) by the profession and sections of wider society is in fact nothing less than tacit approval of THIS reason. White supremacist architects and their sympathisers can continue to deny it all they want, but for Black architects, the cat has been well and truly out of the bag for ages. We're tired of discussing it now. This is not to disparage or discount the efforts of the principled and well-meaning people associated with the profession who are doing more than virtue signalling/remaining silent (there the ones who really 'didn't' see colour when they taught us or looked at our CVs), but those guys are pissing in the wind. Nowadays, in addition to the real nasties, there are a lot more people who find it easier to glue their breasts to the pavement, then to give a promising Black person a break! Well done for AJ for plainly telling like it is (albeit without outrage or fanfare, as we'd expect to receive an announcement in the mainstream media that Jeremy Corbyn has cured Cancer, or that Boris Johnson had murdered someone), but how about leading by example? Where are the Black writers (why not give one of those N.A.W guys a regular gig)? Why not a Black/BAME in architecture magazine issue (there's been a Women is Architecture one for a long time)? Perhaps they wouldn't sell? Perhaps they would actually lose you subscribers? As James Baldwin said of White American Society "You created to nigger, so you have to find out why". White society has to decide if it wants to deal with this. I'm almost past caring whether or not it does. OK gas-lighters, sorry for piping-up. The comments section is all yours now...

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  • Why should anyone be given a break due to the colour of their skin? That’s racist...

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  • Why should anyone be given a break due to their gender? That’s sexist...

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  • BAME architecture and engineering community should create a strategy and lobby the RIBA/ARB and government, because the industry doesn't have any answers.

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