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Equity, diversity and inclusion at RIBA: putting our house in order

Chief Executive Alan Vallance describes what RIBA is doing to create meaningful change within the institute and the architecture sector, and introduces the RIBA’s Inclusion by Design Festival.

10 September 2020

The racial injustices and inequalities brought into the spotlight by Black Lives Matter and the death of George Floyd are a critical turning point for society and organisations like ours. And it is clear that the RIBA must do better.

Our words and actions on issues of equity have failed to live up to the expectations of some of our members and staff. We have not given adequate attention, resource or action to tackling injustice, systemic racism and discrimination. We have made decisions that have caused concern and offence, been defensive and too slow to change the way we operate.

As well as sincerely apologising for past decisions and our lack of progress, I want to take this moment to set out what you can now expect.

Over the past few months especially, RIBA staff, members, social media followers and groups of architects have expressed to us their very strong feelings about our track record on these issues. We have been listening and learning.

Architecture should be equally open to all, regardless of background or circumstance. But it is not. We know there are discriminatory barriers preventing talented people from studying, practising or even appreciating architecture. We need to break these barriers down to make the profession more inclusive.

I have not lived the experience of a talented black student or architect facing discrimination in education or in the workplace. That notwithstanding, my role is to ensure we are doing everything we possibly can to support everyone. I take this responsibility extremely seriously, as does the RIBA President and senior members.

The RIBA itself must also work harder and lead by example to support talent and equity. We need to draw on the expertise and experiences of a much more diverse workforce and ensure everyone can feel like they belong.

The RIBA’s senior leadership team have reflected over recent months. We have agreed that action on diversity and inclusion is critical and that we must be accountable for change at pace.

In order to ensure we do this right, we have sought expertise and appointed a highly experienced senior EDI (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) consultant to help develop and guide a new comprehensive plan of action, with targets to support equity for all.

Our plans follow the latest best practice, and are being developed in response to feedback from members, advisory groups such as Architects for Change and partners such as the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust.

From data collection insights to leadership development and targeted interventions, our initial actions focus on our organisation itself, with particular attention on underrepresentation within our staff team and at senior levels of employees who are Black, Asian or from another under-represented ethnic group.

We know that we need to increase representation at executive, director and trustee level and that we need to kickstart and support a sustainable pipeline of talent. Going forward, all managers will be required to complete Inclusive Leadership training and all our shortlists for recruitment at the RIBA, where feasible, will have a requirement for candidates from underrepresented ethnic groups.

In the last few weeks, we have introduced an annual data collection project, to enable us to record a more accurate picture of diversity in our workforce. Next year we will publish our ethnicity pay gap with targets to increase representation within the organisation.

Wherever we can support the recruitment of underrepresented talent in the profession, we will. For example, we are adding a new section to the RIBA Jobs board to showcase students from Black, Asian and other underrepresented groups seeking job placements.

We are reviewing all our assets, including our listed building at 66 Portland Place and collection items, to make sure that they reflect our commitment to equity. There are features in our building, and materials and descriptions within our collections, that are outdated and offensive or need further contextualizing: for example, references to the British Imperial past. We are working to address this to ensure our building, collections and descriptions are appropriate for audiences today. We are literally starting to 'put our house in order’.

We will also be focusing on support for the profession including the need to drive diversity at a local level. Great things happen within local branches and groups, and we want to ensure these are inclusive and reflect communities of students and architects from all backgrounds. We intend to make additional funding available through the RIBA Local Initiative Fund for outreach initiatives that support this priority.

We will be using our platforms to raise the profile and share understanding of some of the issues I have touched upon. I am pleased to be introducing the RIBA’s Inclusion by Design Festival from Monday 28 September. Over five days – leading into Black History Month, this festival of virtual events will provide an opportunity for all members and RIBA staff to hear from global experts and thought-leaders on a range of topics, from race and gender equality to social mobility, disability and LGBTQ+ inclusion. All RIBA members and staff are strongly encouraged to attend, learn and share and to help make the profession more inclusive.

This is the beginning, with more learning and action to come.

If you have any ideas or comments please email me at ceo@riba.org.

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