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RIBA boots out Elsie Owusu as chair of diversity group

Elsie owusu credit nana humphrey barclay crop

The RIBA has removed Elsie Owusu from her role as diversity group chair following a row sparked by further allegations of racism at the institute  

RIBA president Ben Derbyshire wrote to Owusu yesterday (15 October) to inform her that her tenure as chair of the Architects for Change (AfC) group, which supports the institute on equal opportunities, had ended with immediate effect.

Derbyshire said it was ’no longer possible’ for Owusu to lead the group after she accused an unnamed RIBA staff member of bullying, racial and sexual harassment and discrimination.

According to the RIBA, Owusu has refused to withdraw or apologise for her allegations despite an independent review which ’fully exonerated’ the staff member and ’found no evidence in support of any of the allegations’. 

The main allegations relate to a meeting on 8 March, convened to select a new chair of the AfC group, during which Owusu claims two trustees she had invited to the meeting, who were black, were ‘ejected’ by the staff member.

Owusu claims this was ‘discriminatory’ but the RIBA argues that the women were asked to leave for data protection reasons, to protect the privacy of the candidates, whose personal data was under review.

According to Owusu, the women were not interviewed by the independent investigator, but the RIBA denies this, arguing that they chose not to take part in the investigation.

Owusu also accused the staff member of bullying, sexual harassment and said there was a campaign in place to remove her as AfC chair.

The architect’s removal from the panel is the latest in a long-running and bitter feud between the institute and the unsuccessful presidential candidate and trustee. 

In July the RIBA sent a ‘cease and desist’ letter to Owusu in a bid to prevent her making ‘damaging public statements’ about the institute. The institute had previously reported her to the Charity Commission, the charity regulator, over potentially reputation-damaging statements made in the media in April.

Responding to Derbyshire in a letter (dated 15 October), Owusu said: ’The reasons which you gave for my dismissal are disingenuous. This is yet another example of the racism, sexism, bullying and harassment to which I have been subject since my election to RIBA Council in 2015.’

Owusu said she would be raising a complaint with the RIBA’s grievance procedure about her removal to investigate the concerns about ’personal and institutionalised discrimination’ with a view to ’resolving these issues as soon as possible.’

In a statement, Ben Derbyshire said: ‘Earlier this year Elsie Owusu made serious allegations of bullying, racial and sexual harassment and discrimination against a junior member of RIBA staff.

‘An independent grievance investigation has found no evidence in support of any of the allegations, wholly exonerating the staff member. Elsie Owusu was interviewed as part of this investigation.

’Disappointingly, despite the clear outcome, Elsie Owusu has subsequently refused to work with the staff member. As the staff member’s key role is to support the RIBA Architects for Change advisory group, which Elsie Owusu chairs, it is unfortunately no longer possible for Elsie Owusu to continue as a member of the group.’

Owusu has been contacted for further comment.


Readers' comments (4)

  • Phil Parker

    How much has this whole debacle cost the RIBA in legal fees and independent enquiries? It’s not how I and I expect many other members want their RIBA subscriptions spent......

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  • Industry Professional

    This is victim shaming. Any ethnic minority reading will now be less inclined to raise issues regarding racism for fear of losing their job/credibility.

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  • For industry Professional: Is it not possible that the way issues are raised can be counter-productive if the 'raising' is too confrontational, if there's too much of the firebrand in evidence?
    Just wondering, prompted by Dame Laura Cox's handling of similar issues in the Westminster Parliament.

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  • Phil Parker

    ‘Industry Professional’ : A victim, in this case, would have had their complaints / accusations upheld..... an RIBA independent enquiry has said there was no evidence to support the allegations.

    You could argue that if the RIBA employee at the centre of this had been named, which they weren’t, that would have been wrong.

    As far as I see it the RIBA are making clear why the Chair of the Architects for Change Advisory Group all not be turning to her post. Would you rather it was just sweep under the carpet?

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