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Tamsie Thomson: ‘For too long discrimination has been the elephant in the room’

Tamsie Thomson
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London Festival of Architecture director Tamsie Thomson talks about its new campaign to tackle discrimination and harrassment in architecture

Published earlier this month, the AJ’s Women in Architecture survey quantified what many of us anecdotally long knew to be true: that women within our industry are routinely experiencing unwanted sexual approaches. The survey presented the hugely troubling statistic that one in seven women architects has experienced sexual harassment.

What is particularly shocking is that the one-in-seven statistic is not just those experiencing harassment over the course of their career – but those experiencing it within the past 12 months. This is clearly a huge and very current problem.

The AJ figures are part of a growing body of evidence that confirm the same problem, including the President’s Club scandal and UK Construction Week ‘Showgirls’ fiasco. Women are nobodies’ property and should never be treated as such.

The London Festival of Architecture is about to launch important new research produced in partnership with the Greater London Authority on the value of architecture to London’s economy. For the first time the report looks at diversity [including ethnicity as well as gender] within the profession to better understand the industry. The figures – which will be released in full at MIPIM – show that women in architect jobs in London number just 37 per cent, still below the pre-crash peak of 40 per cent. We are not moving things forward at anything like the rate we should be.

How can we expect a more diverse profession if it’s still acceptable for women to be groped, harassed and assaulted in their work environment? How can we expect that profession to deliver for society if it’s not of the society it seeks to serve?

There are doubtless countless more stories to emerge of inappropriate and illegal behaviour. For too long it has been the elephant in the room. Those stories should still be told. But it’s also time for the industry to acknowledge its problems, pivot and find a way to move forward.

Launching at MIPIM this year – but addressing this issue across the industry – is our Elephant Campaign. We seek to make it easier for the profession to acknowledge its problem. Easier too – for both men and women – to call out discrimination and inappropriate behaviour.

The campaign calls on those already at the top to recognise the influence they have in creating a culture and acknowledge the power they have in leading by example.

So, too, everybody needs to acknowledge that discriminatory behaviour and attitudes remain a problem within the built environment profession. Everybody needs to feel safe in calling out inappropriate behaviour. Everybody needs to offer unequivocal support to any colleague if they call out inappropriate behaviour wherever they encounter it.

These should not be controversial points to sign up to. But when I called out the inappropriateness of using ‘Vegas Showgirls’ to sell roofing products, the response from some dark corners was abuse. We should feel safe from harassment. And we should feel safe calling out harassment and exploitation. Too many places, both physical and online, still don’t feel safe.

Other industries are starting to embrace diversity and are seeing the business advantages of creating a safe and welcoming environment for everyone. Unless change comes soon, our industry could be left an embarrassing anachronism

To show your or your practices’ support, post a sketch of an elephant on Instagram or twitter with the #SeeTheElephant

We’ll also be handing out elephant badges at MIPIM. By wearing one you’ll be doing your bit to show others that you won’t tolerate – and won’t hesitate to call out – inappropriate or discriminatory behaviour.

Elephant lfa (2)

Elephant lfa (2)

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