While the gender gap has been eliminated in schools of architecture, the gap in respect of race and class is scarcely discussed, says Paul Finch
An article in The Times this week, by Matt Ridley, concluded thus: ‘When it comes to gender, some sex differences are genetic; breasts and beards are not social constructs. It is harder to decide which sex differences in behaviour are derived from nature, but the paradox of heritability provides a clue. Two psychologists last month published a paper showing that in countries where women are least discriminated against, women are most under-represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM]. The percentage of STEM graduates who are female is twice as high in Turkey, Algeria and Tunisia as in Finland, Sweden and Norway. It appears that the more freedom girls have, the less likely they are to choose STEM subjects.
‘Today we rightly try to make sure that any differential outcomes by sex, race or education are not caused by discrimination. But the result is that we will maximise the contribution of innate preferences and abilities instead. A perfectly meritocratic society would be one in which people who went to Oxford were genetically, not socially, advantaged.’
As the AJ embarks on its survey of race and the profession, I couldn’t help thinking that what doesn’t get much discussed these days is class, except when yet another old-Etonian actor claims to have been discriminated against because of their educational background, usually as they are given a big TV role or are winning an Oscar. Our hearts bleed.
We live in a semi-meritocratic society, and that may be as close as we can get unless we start opting for positive discrimination. The thing about positive discrimination is that it is easy to define women and non-white, though at the margin we now have the ‘self-defined’, those people who like the looking-glass world where, because you say something, it is automatically true. As a child of Enlightenment thinking, I find this an absurdity, as I do the idea of discrimination of any sort based on extremely crude binary thinking.
In respect of architecture, the most likely way that the profession can grow and prosper is if it has the widest gene pool of intelligence and ability from which to draw. Currently, while the gender gap has been eliminated in schools of architecture, the gap in respect of race and class is scarcely discussed, let alone addressed.
Meritocracy does not mean that that everyone is equal, nor that everyone is paid the same
Meritocracy does not mean that that everyone is equal, nor that everyone is paid the same, nor that the constitution of every company or representative institution is a replica of the gender/race/class split at a given moment. It means that the opportunity for what used to be called ‘advancement’ is based on talent and application. In other words, a world in which everybody has the opportunity to achieve all they are capable of. This can only be a worthy aspiration, not an imposed condition.
And, as the research to which Matt Ridley refers notes, genes may play a bigger part in all this if educational and social playing fields are more equal – without any certainty as to the outcomes of individual choices as to career and lifestyle. At this point money enters the equation. People will make choices based on economic self-interest, so if society wants to give a nudge to, say, mathematics teachers, it can encourage them by enhancing their salaries. Is this fair to other teachers? Discuss.