Jane Duncan, RIBA Equality and Diversity Champion on breaking down the barriers for women in architecture

Architecture

Jane Duncan was RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) Vice President, Practice and Profession, and a trustee of the RIBA Board until September 2013 and is presently the organisation’s Equality and Diversity Champion. Jane is currently standing for RIBA President with diversity as one of her core election aims. She runs Jane Duncan Architects, a practice of 16 staff based in Little Chalfont, Buckinghamshire, with a practice workload that varies from contemporary sustainable housing to leisure and sports facilities, and includes commercial, health and community buildings principally throughout the South of England.

Jane Duncan

Jane Duncan

“…Treating staff fairly and flexibly breeds loyalty, engenders innovation and stimulates productivity. This is not charity – diversity is good business…”

Moving away from the ostrich approach

It is partly an honour, yet at the same time it seems a pity that in 2013 the RIBA saw the need to appoint an Equality and Diversity champion. When I took the role at the start of last year it was to support the work and projects of the RIBA’s E&D forum ‘Architects for Change’.

Since then I have begun to understand that the profession is not just missing a key trick but failing to grasp the significance of taking the ostrich approach to diversity in practice.

What do we mean by the term ‘diversity’? Indeed what questions do we really need to ask ourselves as practitioners?

Diversity means difference, but do we seek to employ, promote and encourage difference in our staff or look just for those who ‘fit-in’?

The world around us is changing, but the profession seems not to reflect the social, economic and demographic changes which have taken place.

Tomorrow’s client markets will be characterised by diversity and not uniformity, thus diversity in practice workforce has become a business strategy. There is an expectation that employers need to accommodate diverse needs of their staff through a policy lead approach, encouragement of flexible working and clarity of ‘work-life balance’.

Research into the barriers to diversity in architecture

The barriers to true equality of access to and working within the profession have been sporadically documented over the last decade through research projects at the RIBA and by others within the industry, including the Architect’s Journal ‘Women in Architecture’ surveys, but definitive research to understand the full picture is long overdue.

I am delighted that RIBA committed to a more detailed programme of activity in 2013/14 that included a wide-ranging investigation into the current hurdles to equality and diversity in the construction industry, including lessons from other professions.

In 2013 with the CIC (Construction Industry Council) we carried out a survey on the diversity of the membership. With the information gleaned we wanted to find out the barriers to diversity in the profession in 2014.

The many versus the few

48% of workers in the UK are women but only 16% of our chartered architects are women. One third of the workforce is doing part time or flexible hours, whereas the profession still relies upon a culture of long hours and unpaid overtime which suits only the few.

I have been working hard to establish a more diverse profession – bringing together initiatives and increasing opportunities to broaden options for more inclusive entry and training, retention of diverse staff by introducing mentoring, through life, including encouraging younger and more elderly architects to stay with us and contribute to the future of the profession.

RIBA’s E&D forum ‘Architects for Change’ has supported many projects including the excellent FLUID Diversity Mentoring Programme, which supports the development of future managers and leaders from diverse backgrounds in the construction industry. The programme was set up in response to recent research findings identifying mentoring as a key tool in supporting improved diversity and professional progression.

In with the new…

New ideas include:

  • Joining forces with others in the construction sector such as engineers and surveyors as the challenges faced are very similar. Women are strong networkers so there is surely an advantage to be had by playing to this strength.
  • Introducing initiatives to build women’s confidence. Get a mentor, be a mentor. Encouraging mentoring across genders.
  • Increasingly procurement policies driven by corporates incorporate a diversity requirement. We want to encourage our members to develop an Equality and Diversity policy and help them promote this to their clients.
  • Encouraging women to keep in touch and return to work after having children by helping our members create practices that are responsive to the needs of their female architects to reduce attrition rates.
  • Helping our members embrace agile working solutions so working parents (mums and dads) are able to enjoy a balanced work and home life that is as productive as possible. Changing the long hours / presenteeism culture that is prevalent in the industry.

Architecture needs to reflect and respond to society and our clients’ needs. To ensure the success of our future, our profession needs to better understand the issues and their impact, take positive steps to drive out inequality, and ensure that we support, encourage and inspire the widest possible talent pool.

Treating staff fairly and flexibly breeds loyalty, engenders innovation and stimulates productivity. This is not charity – diversity is good business.

 

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