31st Jan 2020 — Our equality, diversity, and inclusion vision

Our equality, diversity, and inclusion vision

Over the last 18 months, we appointed a Diversity Champion and have been developing an equality, diversity, and inclusion vision for SWA. This is:

 

To be an inclusive practice, setting an example for the architectural profession, with a diverse set of staff and collaborators that are representative of London.

 

The process, steps we have taken, and our future ambitions are set out below.

Why is equality, diversity, and inclusion important?

Encouraging equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) and preventing discrimination in the workplace is a legal obligation. In addition, promoting EDI is ethically and commercially good practice as it will enhance innovation and problem solving through diversity of thought, because the make-up of the UK workforce is under-going considerable change, and it will also help us better serve the diverse range of people who use the spaces we create.

 

Our approach to EDI is informed by:

  • SWA’s ethos
  • The wider architectural profession and construction industry
  • London
  • Relevant legislation, such as the Equality Act 2010

SWA’s ethos

SWA is an ethical architectural practice that is socially and environmentally conscious. Sarah and the practice have a strong track record of championing women in architecture. We also have research interests and specialist knowledge in designing with communities and for later life.

 

While there is common ground between working with communities, understanding the barriers to women in architecture, and designing for older people, our ambition is to be at the forefront of EDI. To do this, we need to have a thorough understanding of the issues facing a diverse array of people. We also need to have a better handle on what it means to be equal when people have different needs and how to work and design in an inclusive way.

The wider architectural profession and construction industry

Architecture and the construction industry has a poor record for equality, diversity, and inclusion. Only 1% of ARB registered architects record themselves as having a disability while a 2018 survey by the Architect’s Journal indicates a worrying drop in the proportion of qualified professionals and students identifying as LGBT+ who have come out in the workplace. As a practice we need to provide outreach and support to aspiring architects from underrepresented groups.

London

As a London based practice, we should be representative of the communities we work amongst and for. The 2011 CENSUS showed that 40.2% of London residents identified as either “Asian, Black, Mixed or Other ethnic group”, making it the most ethnically diverse region in England and Wales. In contrast, the numbers of architects from Black, Asian, and minority ethnic groups (BAME) are low with 61% of students entering into Part 1 architecture studies are white, with the percentage increasing to 88% at Part 3.

Legislation

The Equality Act 2010 legally protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society. It sets out 9 characteristics that are protected from discrimination. These are:

  • Race/ethnicity
  • Disability
  • Religious/philosophical belief
  • Age
  • Pregnancy/maternity
  • Gender reassignment
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Marriage/civil partnership

 

It also sets out the different ways in which it’s unlawful to treat someone (such as types of discrimination: direct, indirect, harassment, victimisation, and discrimination by association) and a number of equality provisions including Positive Action (to fairly increase the numbers of underrepresented groups in places of work: see below) and Reasonable Adjustments for employees with a disability.

What characteristics are informing our vision?

Our vision is informed by a set of “diverse characteristics” that we created, which consider current social thinking, the Equality Act 2010’s protected characteristics, and our work. These are (in no particular order):

  • Socio-economic background
  • Race & ethnicity
  • Disability
  • Religion, spirituality & philosophical belief
  • Caring for dependents
  • Health and wellbeing
  • Gender
  • Age
  • LGBTQQIAAP
  • Marriage & civil partnership
  • Intersectionality
  • Neurodiversity

What are we doing?

Considering the above and best practice around EDI, we have developed 5 priorities to help us achieve our ambition:

  1. Develop a Positive Action and recruitment strategy based on data collection
  2. Undertake a Policy audit
  3. Create an EDI committee to deliver our vision
  4. Generate SWA Awareness months and a diverse calendar
  5. Develop an outreach and work experience programme

 

Below outlines the work we have done to date and will be doing throughout 2020 for each aim:

Positive action strategy/data collection

We are developing a recruitment strategy based on best practice and diversity data collected (from existing and prospective employees) that establishes if there are any under-represented groups within the practice. This strategy includes how we will approach Positive Action:

 

Positive Action is a provision within the Equality Act in which employers can support employees or job applicants it thinks:

  • are at a disadvantage because of a protected characteristic
  • are under-represented in the organisation
  • have specific needs connected to a protected characteristic

 

Employers must provide evidence to show that others are not being discriminated against and that positive action is reasonably considered. If this is demonstrated, employers can:

  • take proportionate steps to remove any barriers or disadvantages
  • provide support, training and encouragement to increase the participation of people with a particular protected characteristic.

 

In recruitment and promotion, a candidate with a protected characteristic may be selected in a “tie-breaker” situation, when deciding between candidates that are equally qualified and/or capable of doing a job. In this situation, the employer must provide evidence to show that candidates with that protected characteristic:

  • experience disadvantage related to that characteristic in the workplace, or
  • are disproportionately under-represented in the workforce or the particular job where there is a vacancy.

 

So that we have a clearer picture of any protected characteristics amongst our current and prospective staff, we have collected diversity data through an anonymous questionnaire and stored the responses according to GDPR compliance. At the same time, we have researched best recruitment practice and have applied it to our recruitment process, for example introducing standardised questions into the interview process and blind scoring to reduce unconscious bias.

 

Next, we will be assessing the diversity data and using it as a basis to inform our recruitment and Positive Action strategy.

Policy audit

We have undertaken research into best EDI practice both in the workplace and everyday life and are now in the process of updating our EDI policy to reflect this and our EDI vision.

 

We have begun research into our diverse characteristics and are increasing awareness within the practice about the issues facing a diverse array of people (see Awareness months and diversity calendar below). From this research, we will create a checklist to inform an audit of our other remaining policies to ensure that we are not indirectly discriminating against any diverse characteristics.

EDI committee

We are expanding our Diversity Champion role and have created an EDI committee to refine and implement our vision. This will bring diversity of thought into EDI decision-making processes, so that more people in the practice are included in shaping our vision.

 

The EDI committee is led by our Diversity Champion, Natalie, and is made up of staff in various positions throughout SWA. We meet once a month to review and agree EDI actions, consider events to attend, and hone both how we will achieve our vision and what it looks like. Our next steps are to appoint a Health & Wellbeing Champion to tie together our research and project experience of designing for better health & wellbeing with our HR responsibilities. The Health & Wellbeing Champion will work with the EDI committee to promote wellbeing within our practice and beyond.

Awareness months and diversity calendar

We have created a diverse calendar that includes significant events for people with our diverse characteristics. We also have a programme of awareness months that raise-consciousness about the diverse characteristics that inform our EDI vision. Each calendar month is assigned a characteristic (e.g. race/ethnicity, disability, socio-economic background, LGBTQ+ etc.) for which we undertake research into the key issues faced by underrepresented and marginalised groups and highlight relevant events, sharing our findings internally and externally. As a practice, this makes us more aware of diverse social issues and helps us design better for people.

To coincide with awareness months, we have a monthly soup club where 2 members of SWA prepare soup for the whole team and each member of staff donates (the money they would have otherwise spent on lunch) to a charity that relates to that month’s diverse characteristic.

Our next steps are to partner different members of SWA’s team with awareness months so that everyone in the practice is undertaking research into at least one of our diverse characteristics. We will then share findings and discuss the month’s awareness topic at our soup club. This is to properly embed awareness into practice culture.

Outreach and work experience programme

It is our aspiration to be an inclusive and diverse place of work, part of this challenge is to make the architectural profession more accessible. To do this, we have been involved in Celebrating Architecture, leading design exercises with a primary school to help give children from BAME and working-class families the tools to shape the world. We have helped develop an architectural programme, Homegrown Plus, bringing students into the professional environment to undertake a short workshop and get a better idea of what to expect from architecture school and the profession.

Furthermore, we are currently mentoring through Arts Emergency, a charitable organisation committed to increasing social mobility within the arts and humanities. We have also formed links with Paradigm, a network seeking to increase BAME representation within the architectural profession – we have attended and presented at their events, sharing our experience in building for BAME communities and reviewing portfolios of aspiring architecture students. Finally, as part of our outreach agenda we are running an annual work experience programme, showing young people that are underrepresented within the architectural profession what it is like to work in our practice. We have hosted Arts Emergency mentees and a student from Kingston University through their Access to Architecture Programme.

 

Our next steps are to continue working with the organisation above, to form new links, and expand our work experience programme to include a greater range of aspiring architects with diverse characteristics.

We’re excited about the direction that our EDI work is going in, as well as continuing to develop the priorities outlined above, we are also working towards bringing our project and EDI work closer together. We have a track record in sensitively designing spaces for BAME communities, neurodiverse children, social housing and later life. We will be building on the existing expertise in the practice to increase our knowledge of how architecture can better serve people with diverse characteristics.

 

For more information, please feel free to contact Natalie via natalie@swarch.co.uk.