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DIVERSITY AND THE AJ ROUNDTABLE

I read through the latest AJ Roundtable: From Business Management to BIM (login may be required to view) and the interesting part was the single comment at the end. Pictures, as they say, paint a thousand words but M. Waring was more to the point:

"Good to see a diverse and representative panel...".

The string of ellipses beckoning the way for further discussion. But no-one (at least so far) has taken up the conversation. M[r] Waring's only other comment I can see on AJ is from 2013: "Are there really no talented female student architects?!". You don't need to be Waring to think that little has changed over the last few years. Waring's comment got me thinking along several lines:

Can the true level of diversity be established from a photo and article?

Well, no, but first impressions aren't good - all white males, roughly the same age group and of similar seniority. If I were to make assumptions based on this  photo then this roundtable has the hallmarks of (in diversity language) a 'kinship' group. It is innately built into us, as humans, to be with people with whom we easily identify with. The men around the table could possibly say that each of them "is just like me".  Whilst this is not wrong, it is limiting. Diverse teams work harder at listening and understanding, which is not a bad thing, as research provides compelling evidence that diversity unlocks innovation and drives market growth. Here we see no women, nor black attendees. Yet without knowing these men personally, we cannot rule out a diverse representation of nationalities, disability, sexual preference, religion, class or education and experience.

How do AJ go about selecting the 'experts in their fields'? 

I did a quick tour of the AJ Roundtables of 2015 to see if this representation was the norm and the answer is as you would expect. With a falling number of black and ethnic minority groups taking up architecture, is this roundtable representative of AJ's undiscriminating Rolodex, or just indicative of the slow pace of change in our industry? 

Diversity and inclusion will only make the agenda when we put it there. As Jane Duncan, RIBA president-elect and equality and diversity champion so succinctly put it:

"We need to be more explicit about linking inclusion with business strategy and the bottom line. We are currently part of an industry that is neither diverse nor fully aware of the extraordinarily sound business reasons for inclusion." *

If we dilly-dally about getting diversity into the business strategy it will be a long time coming before we see any change. RIBA has stepped up diversity efforts by enforcing chartered practices to have in place an equality and diversity policy, but that doesn't let AJ off the hook. There is a large step between policy and practice and the industry equally needs the media to step up to the challenge too. Is the AJ doing enough to track down a more diverse representation of 'experts'?

It is no longer enough just to point a finger

Yes, it's perfectly ok to make an assumption about a person, or group, or photo. Waring's comment is not surprising. I would like to think, though, that individually, these men are champions for diversity. I wonder how the roundtable discussion would go if this were the set topic. I wonder who AJ would choose to debate this topic. I also applaud Waring for making his observation obvious. However, we must do more than make a passing comment if we are to change the way things work and the way things look. Waring's three ellipses say it all really - what next? I like quoting Jane Duncan so I leave you with a final point: 

"But I need and want collaborators: if we are going to be really inclusive and reach lots of people we need lots of voices, not just one."*

  

* Jane Duncan quoted from RIBA Role Models