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London Mayor issues ‘wake-up call’ to practices with diversity handbook

Dipa joshi partner fletcher priest architects and mayors design advocate
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Interview: Architect and Mayor’s Design Advocate Dipa Joshi tells the AJ how the London Mayor is hoping to influence practices to become more diverse and inclusive

What is the Supporting Diversity Handbook and what are you hoping to achieve with it?
It’s a tool to help address the barriers to greater equality, diversity and inclusion in the built environment sector.

The Mayor’s Design Advocates and the Greater London Authority have convened a Diversity Sounding Board, which will work towards a more representative sector.

This handbook shows the Mayor’s commitment and leadership in this area. It invites the sector to take practical action to increase inclusion in the built environment.

Based on 25 years of research, it brings together evidence, testimonials and best practice to support diversity in architecture and is structured around the different stages in an architect’s education and career. Case studies illustrate best practice and bring policies and actions to life.

We hope the handbook will be a wake-up call to the whole sector

We’ll use the Mayor’s power and influence to work with practitioners, advocate organisations and industry leaders. The handbook sets out six key actions we see as fundamental to creating a diverse, inclusive industry. Each sets out what the Mayor is doing, and what we expect the sector to lead on.

We hope the handbook will be a wake-up call to the whole sector. Progress will only happen if we work together to tackle barriers to equality, diversity and inclusion across the industry. We’ve included some clear recommendations and practical tools as a starting point – but It’s now up to those working in the industry to support this agenda and think about how they can change their everyday practice to work towards a more inclusive industry.

Why do you think it is different to other publications that are out here?
The handbook meets a demand from the profession to understand how to do better – there is already a strong appetite for this, bolstered by social and cultural pressure for change.

We felt it was important to gather this information in one place to understand and demonstrate the full range of barriers experienced by different groups, some of whom face multiple barriers. This allowed the recommendations and case studies to respond in a targeted way to issues we know exist.

The Mayor’s support is a powerful influencing tool and has already meant that organisations have stepped up and made big commitments to this agenda. We hope that this will continue to pick up momentum as more people become engaged. We will continue to champion the six sector-wide commitments, which are actionable and will make a tangible difference to diversity in the sector.

The handbook will be a resource for all delivery partners and will be disseminated and included as part of all delivery relationships – this touches all London boroughs, many architecture and design practices, multi-disciplinary delivery teams and other commissioning organisations.

Of course, it’s up to the whole sector to make sure they heed this for change to happen at scale. The point of the handbook is to be a catalyst for change, encouraging everyone working in the built environment to make a commitment.

Who do you think will use the handbook?
Educators, mentors, practice leaders, clients and advocacy groups working in architecture can use the handbook to find areas for action. There are also specific measures to adopt and resources to find support to help roll them out.

Practitioners can use the handbook to check and broaden understanding of the barriers to diversity and inclusion in the profession. Understanding the problem is a vital first step before making practical changes. The handbook can be used as a tool to structure conversations with colleagues in a way that feels both open and safe.

The handbook is also the basis for Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programmes to be run by practices and professional bodies.

What questions should architectural practices be asking themselves in terms of diversity?
Progress is not inevitable. To make change we must understand the complex dynamics of how discrimination persists within every day practice. Architectural practices should be asking themselves what they might be doing, consciously or not, to create barriers to people entering and progressing within the industry.

We know we’ve got a diversity problem in the industry

When talking to stakeholders about the handbook and the Supporting Diversity agenda we get a lot of questions about diversity targets and the make-up of practices. Practices should identify targets for the diversity of their staff that consider the make-up of their organisation relative to the community they most identify with.

For example, a practice in London could use census statistics to set organisational targets to reflect the characteristics of the city’s working-age population.

We must be ambitious about this – setting targets to be representative of the industry is not enough, as we know we’ve a diversity problem in the industry.

What are the three best practical tips for improving diversity in practice?
This is about being creative - there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer. My three ‘top tips’ would be:

  1. Understand what equality, diversity and inclusion means
  2. Use this handbook as a tool to discuss these issues with staff, and decide together what you would like to target
  3. Come up with an action plan and have dates by which you plan to achieve each aim.

What the biggest mistakes practices are making?
Assuming that this agenda doesn’t apply to them. If we don’t take positive action, we will be in the same place we always have been.

Dipa Joshi is a partner at Fletcher Priest Architects

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