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Diversity or bust

Jane Duncan

Making the most of all the people available to the profession will help us meet the changes ahead

I am of the firm belief that a new culture and attitude is needed for our profession to navigate the changes coming towards us.

These are not just the plethora of technical and technological changes, but global and societal responsibilities. Much more is going to be expected of our profession in business, in our contribution to our own and the wider world communities, and towards the stewardship of the environment.

We are at a pivotal point in the place of architecture within society and within the construction industry. It is no longer simply a question of creating fine buildings; we now need to demonstrate an equal level of social responsibility and economic engagement, and an ethical stance which delivers what our clients, stakeholders and the industry seek from us. The answer is leadership.

Innovative solutions to complex challenges are what we, consciously or not, create every day of our lives as architects. We are in effect paid to think, analyse, create and communicate these solutions. But the best design decisions are the product of challenge and innovation, not necessarily of consensus and acceptance. And the most successful practices rely on diversity of thought to create innovative ideas and offer broad and ambitious services. This can only be achieved within a working culture where differences are valued, encouraged and respected.


Only 12% of architects in leadership in the UK are women despite parity in student numbers

Our profession can no longer afford to ignore the financial benefits of gender equity and social diversity. Workplace diversity can make architects’ businesses more productive and profitable. Profitable businesses can afford to pay their staff well, treat them flexibly and allow them to feel valued.  

Diversity in leadership positions within practices is also vital. There is substantial proof, from a wide body of research, that gender-diverse executive teams and company boards achieve better financial performance than those whose boards are dominated by men – but only 12% of architects in leadership in the UK are women despite parity in student numbers. This attrition must be stopped.

As president of the RIBA I want to be part of a step change in the diversity of our profession. Our Role Models project is an important start in challenging perceptions of architects. Those 12 individuals challenge stereotypes of who an architect is  and will, I am sure, inspire others to consider our great profession and stay within it after training. But we must do more. The government is consulting on the introduction of gender pay reporting for all companies over 250 employees.

The threshold it has set means that very few architects will be included. In our response to the consultation, the RIBA has called for the limit to be lower. We need to identify and dismantle the barriers that stop people aspiring to become architects or cause them to leave during or after training, and better information on pay in our profession can be part of this.

I want concrete actions to increase diversity in our profession to be one of the lasting legacies of our next strategic plan. Please join me.

To here from Palladio

The latest exhibition in the RIBA’s Architecture Gallery captures the enduring legacy of Andrea Palladio. Designed by Caruso St John, the exhibition includes never-before exhibited works from the RIBA Collections and original designs spanning nearly 500 years. Seen together, the exhibits demonstrate how a historical collection and contemporary practice find common ground.

Palladian Design: The Good, the Bad and the Unexpected is open until 9 January at the RIBA, 66 Portland Place. More information at