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RIBA reflects: One year on from the death of George Floyd

On the first anniversary of the death of George Floyd, RIBA's CEO, Alan Vallance, and Director of Inclusion & Diversity Marsha Ramroop, reflect on the impact it and the reignited Black Lives Matter movement has had on the organisation and wider architecture profession.

25 May 2021

RIBA CEO Alan Vallance:

“On 25 May 2020, George Floyd was killed by Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, USA. His tragic murder reignited the Black Lives Matter movement and brought to the fore discussions about systemic racial inequality.

As an organisation with history and responsibility, the RIBA was rightly asked what we were doing to tackle inequality, inclusion, and diversity within the architecture profession.

Last year I wrote a blog, Putting our House in Order. I wanted to acknowledge that our past actions on issues of equity had not lived up to the expectations of some of our members and staff. Moreover, that we had not given adequate attention or resource to tackling injustice, systemic racism and discrimination.

I promised that the organisation would not only do much more to listen to the lived experiences of RIBA staff, members, architects and followers, but moreover learn from them. We would take direct and targeted action to address the systemic issues so that we could effectively commit to leading by example to support talent and equity – and pave the way for a far more inclusive and diverse profession.

We have set out a number of targeted actions for the RIBA itself, ranging from data collection, increased representation at senior levels, inclusion training for managers alongside reviewing our assets to ensure they reflect our commitment to equity. At the end of last year, we held an Inclusion Festival, published an Inclusion Transparency Report, launched an Inclusion Charter, and recruited our very first Director of Inclusion and Diversity, Marsha Ramroop.

I believe that we are firmly on the right track – and I look forward to working with colleagues at the RIBA and across the profession to continue to drive forward tangible and sustained change.”

RIBA Director of Inclusion & Diversity, Marsha Ramroop:

“I am confident, that the RIBA has made good progress and is better equipped to tackle issues that will make a real difference.

For example, just in the past few weeks, we reacted quickly to acknowledge the injustice and systemic racism in the UK - recognition that was woefully absent in the Commission for Racial Equality Disparities report. We've also made some clear decisions to drop the use of the term BAME and have adopted the Halo Code - the UK’s first Black hair code to protect against racial discrimination.

However, these are pretty quick and relatively easy actions to take.

We know that who you are and what your lived experiences have been, will impact on how much you think has changed in the past year. People continue to experience racism in our sector, and behaviour must change.

Honest conversations and challenge are required, and this can be hard. Managers, leaders and colleagues need to be told: “the impact of your behaviour on me is rooted in racism”. They need to listen as to why that is, and to lean into their discomfort, so they can learn, grow and act differently.

My framework to drive change at the RIBA itself is centred on using Cultural Intelligence (CQ) - which will involve assessments, workshops, and coaching.

The Architecture Communities I am introducing for RIBA staff initially, and down the line for our members, will serve to provide underrepresented groups with safe spaces to have their voices heard. And their collective and individual lived experiences will give our work a new set of perspectives.

Saying you’re not racist is not enough. We have to be actively, consciously, and deliberately anti-racist; cognisant of the impact of race in language, thinking, behaviour, and actions.

I stand by, ready to be held accountable and to hold my colleagues and the profession to account.

I encourage everyone to educate yourselves - read and learn.

My current book recommendations about racial inequality are: Caste by Isabel Wilkerson; How to Argue with a Racist by Adam Rutherford; and Access All Areas by Lenny Henry and Marcus Ryder.

I encourage you to ask your colleagues from under-represented racialised groups if they feel comfortable speaking to you about their lives working in the profession. If not, leave them alone. If they do, then listen and believe them. Don’t make excuses for the behaviour they’ve experienced. If you find yourself saying “yes, but…” Stop and apologise.

Ask what support they need and take taking action seriously.

As I roll out CQ training over the next six weeks for my colleagues at the RIBA, I will be encouraging all to thoroughly engage and conscientiously work to implement the learnings we gain.

I encourage everyone across the profession to be a part of the solution. I sincerely hope that by next May we’ll be able to feel like we’re moving even further in the right direction.”

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