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RIBA North East Change the Record on equality, diversity and inclusion

This year’s International Women's Day brought the usual flurry of activity across the globe. Here in the North East, we put on an RIBA event launching a new EDI campaign called Change The Record.

26 April 2019

Grace Choi, Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Representative for RIBA North East, gives us a run down on all the speakers at her first live event and her opinion on how we can all Change the Record.

This year’s International Women’s Day brought the usual flurry of activity across the globe. Here in the North East, we put on an RIBA event launching a new equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) campaign called Change The Record. The evening was aimed at exploring, challenging and addressing issues of gender diversity. Speakers were inspiring and exemplary. The content raised should resound across all practices and, critically, if tangible change is going to be encouraged we all need to take note and do something about it.

Setting the scene, in the North East, data was gathered from the RIBA students' destinations research from 2010-2018. It revealed that the number of female students entering architectural education and graduating was steadily on the increase, albeit still the path was slightly under-represented by females.

By tracking individual career progression, the research uncovered that women who did not continue into architecture said that they left as a result of a lack of confidence. In addition to this, after Part 2 graduation, a proportion of women also exited the profession, leaving 28% registered female architects nationally (similar statistics in the North East). Data also shows that as careers develop, the representation of women at senior levels is significantly lower, impacting the profession as a whole.

Contrastingly, in the North East, female lecturers and professors are well represented in education and gender balance is evident throughout the university ranks.

Set against this backdrop, there are many individuals and practices who do things differently, with an exciting, fresh approach to practice, inclusion and work life balance. If you couldn’t be there on the night, here’s a snapshot of what you missed.

Collective Architecture

We were joined by Nicola McLachlan and Fiona Welch from Collective Architecture in Glasgow. Collective are 47 in number with a strong gender balance across all levels of experience. As an employee-owned practice since 2007, staff have a shared and equal financial and intellectual ownership regardless of age, experience, role or gender. An open pay scale, based on education and experience, is published to encourage pay transparency amongst staff.

Flexible working is evident, to the extent that the office diary shows everybody’s movements, including remote working and compressed hours.

A culture exists where people feel invested in - they are encouraged to explore other things outside of the office and are empowered to be involved in how the practice runs. Nicola and Fiona themselves are evidence of mentorship. Nicola spoke highly of Fiona’s support through the years but with no hint of superiority from Fiona.

Ryder Architecture

Soo Darcy from Ryder Architecture was also contagiously enthusiastic about collaboration, encouraging involvement and inclusion in the workplace. Having been established in 1953 by a male-dominated work force, Ryder’s approach is actively seeking to address gender balance and is an example of how a practice can change for better balance.

Soo explained that an increased representation of women is on the agenda, becoming more visible at all levels at Ryder. It was clear that as a large practice across seven locations, Ryder wants to support more women to stay and develop their careers by encouraging inclusivity, publishing the pay gap and helping new parents to return to work by providing enhanced full pay parental leave.

Flexibility is extended to all staff, encouraging involvement in wider interests and even granting sabbaticals for senior colleagues who have been in practice five years. Ryder’s vision is 'Everything architecture' – to improve the quality of the world around us and, in doing so, improve people’s lives.

JDDK Architects

Nicky Watson spoke about being part of JDDK, originally established by Jane Darbyshire and now run by four directors (two men and two women). The diversity amongst the directors has clearly influenced the way the practice has continued to grow, with a matching 50:50 gender ratio amongst architects and students. In practice, there have been 11 maternity leaves, with all mothers returning to work and being retained. For many years a number of individuals have agreed part-time working hours of various patterns. JDDK therefore introduced a flexible working policy, which now avoids ad-hoc arrangements and allows everyone equal flexibility. They recognise that working part time does not mean part commitment.

There’s a sense of the practice genuinely feeling like a supportive family, looking out for each other and taking part in family events together. This practice embraces real life and a reasonable hours culture. Role sharing is encouraged and consideration given to meeting times and venues to remove barriers, particularly those which may prevent parents from being able to be involved. The practice portfolio of award-winning projects is simultaneously growing, which is evidence itself that flexibility, part-time working and embracing work-life balance creates happier, effective architects and a successful business.

Mosedale Gillatt Architects

Jenny Gillatt co-founded Mosedale Gillatt Architects with Tim Mosedale in 1995, straight from university. She completed professional exams while building up a practice, along the way. She opened her talk with an insight into what delights her and the development of Mosedale Gillatt revealed an inspirational story of growth.

The practice currently has a majority of female staff alongside their two office dogs. There are regular shared lunches, flexible working and a clear emphasis promoting a work-life balance. Jenny talked of the positive impact of having a joint male and female lead, resulting in a balanced workplace, where men are also encouraged to share 50% of the childcare. In Norway 90% of fathers take at least 12 weeks' paternity leave. By comparison, in the UK in 2015, fewer than 1 in 10 fathers took more than 2 weeks' parental leave.

Overall, the talks shared strong underlying themes. They marked the different ways architectural practices can cultivate inclusion, empowerment, flexibility and support each other through the realities of life and work. In each practice this was deliberately defined and encouraged from the top. Male and female joint directors set the practice culture, redressing the gender, flexibility and work-life balance.

I walked away wondering whether a non-hierarchical, open collaborative approach to practice can impact and attract similar project work. With Collective, there’s a distinct body of community and public projects, showing clear signs of collaboration. Being inclusive obviously works. Collective Architecture have just been named Architect of the Year 2018 by the AJ Architecture Awards.

These examples prove that architecture doesn’t have to be a profession that women leave. We can change the record!

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