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How can architects apply the principles of Pride all year round?

Making sure members of the LGBTQ+ community feel valued and included should be a constant.

29 June 2023

Pride Month is synonymous with riotous colour, joyous marches and a way to bring principles of inclusivity and diversity into the national consciousness. It comes to an end on 1 July but events will continue throughout the summer, so the question is then: what happens when the face paint comes off, and there’s a return to the workplace?

“I’m permanently LGBTQ+, not once a year,” says Colin Briggs, Associate Director at Leeds-based Bowman Riley, who believes that LGBTQ+ architects and their practice managers need to work at applying the key principles of Pride all year round. And that still applies to practices that have already made their public pronouncements on inclusivity.

He continues: “If you are leaving half of yourself at home and are not able to bring your full self, your best self, to work, then you are not going to give 100% to your projects, your colleagues and your friends.”

Last year saw the 50th anniversary of the very first Pride in the UK (Credit: BBC)

How to create a workplace culture where staff members can be their authentic selves

As one of the senior leaders at Bowman Riley, Colin sees it as his duty to create a culture where LGBTQ+ colleagues can be their open, authentic selves. It’s not an environment that one person can create for themselves, it’s an environment that others have to create and that is usually led from the top, he says.

So how can practice managers apply the principles of Pride in their workplace?

Language is a good place to start, Colin recommends. The language used across the practice, written or spoken, should not make any sort of presumptions about people’s sexual orientation. Casual and unthinking “bring the wife along” presumptions need to be laid to rest.

He says the arrival of pronoun choices under staff email names and photos is a great step forward: “It’s an indicator to someone who may cross your path that there is a culture of inclusivity in your organisation. When I was starting out, you never saw anything out of the norm. You could say it’s not so much the pronouns themselves, it’s what they signal about culture.”

People must also feel they are empowered to challenge behaviour that does not align with Pride’s inclusive values. Colin is clear that calling out an inappropriate comment that could make someone uncomfortable is an absolute must: “You may not have to do it yourself or in the moment, maybe you can talk to someone else, but at some point you have to call it out, otherwise nothing is ever going to change.”

But most important of all, Colin maintains, is that colleagues have an awareness generally of personal vulnerability. While people who are still uncomfortable with their LGBTQ+ affirmation at work may feel particularly vulnerable, this message can be applied universally.

“Everyone you will ever meet will have something about them that will be vulnerable,” he suggests. “If you treat people with honesty and integrity, they are much more likely to open up and share something about themselves. Confiding in someone is very powerful, it breaks down barriers and builds bonds.”

Treating colleagues with honesty and integrity helps to reveal common vulnerabilities (Photo: iStock. Stock photo, posed by models)

What are seven easy inclusivity wins architecture practices can make right now?

Establish an internal LGBTQ+ Employee Resource Group (ERG)
ERGs help to provide a platform for staff members to connect and share experiences.

Hold inclusivity and diversity-specific education and training courses
This helps to raise awareness and promote an inclusive environment.

Introduce rainbow lanyards
If your practice has identity security cards, why not house them in rainbow-coloured lanyards? They’re quick and easy ways to signify LGBTQ+ allyship.

Install a diversity champion in the workplace
Create a role for a diversity champion to represent the interests of LGBTQ+ staff members, and reward those who hold inclusive values.

Use social channels to promote LGBTQ+ work culture
Social media channels and email newsletters can showcase and celebrate LGBTQ+ staff members or promote in-house events.

Forge links with LGBTQ+-friendly companies that span the built environment
From construction to procurement, creating a network of likeminded companies helps to boost inclusivity.

Put in place HR policies to support trans and gender diverse people
Supporting trans and gender diverse staff members by introducing trans-inclusive HR processes can be a huge help, especially to those who are transitioning. My HR Toolkit provides valuable resources and ideas.

Pride should not just be about June (Credit: The Gender Spectrum Collection/Vice)

What work still has to be done?

Progress has undoubtedly been made in the profession. Colin recalls having to swap the freedom and openness of university for a dual work/home persona when he entered the workplace.

“When I started, I did not mention to people that I had a male partner," he recalls. "It was exhausting trying to craft every conversion so that I avoided revealing any personal agenda. The freedom to be able to talk about yourself openly without concern is key.”

But the battle is clearly far from being won. Colin points out that in a recent ARB survey of the profession, around 6,000 architects, or around 20% of the profession, chose not to reveal their sexual orientation, a statistic he finds staggering.

So, the Pride flame of inclusivity and self-affirmation – that it’s OK to be you, and you don’t have to pretend to be anyone else to be a valid member of the team – needs to be kept alive.

Pride should not just be about June, and especially not London in June. Pride is a great spotlight for the LGBTQ+ community across the whole country, but the principles behind it need to be kept switched-on all year round.

Thanks to Colin Briggs, Associate Director, Bowman Riley.

Text by Neal Morris. This is a Professional Feature edited by the RIBA Practice team. Send us your feedback and ideas.

RIBA Core Curriculum topic: Inclusive environments.

As part of the flexible RIBA CPD programme, professional features count as microlearning. See further information on the updated RIBA CPD core curriculum and on fulfilling your CPD requirements as a RIBA Chartered Member.

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