img(height="1" width="1" style="display:none" src="")

Action more than simple awareness leads towards true inclusion

Marsha Ramroop

Architecture could achieve so much more. This first article in a series tackling inclusion shows how equity, diversity and inclusion can realise that potential

David Adjaye, on receiving the Royal Gold Medal, spoke about the purpose of his great architecture – function, beauty and community. These core architectural themes show how important it is to bring about change in equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI). 

When you consider the swing of a door or the position of a window, is it only functional, beautiful and encompassing for you, and those like you, or for many? 

When we place architecture in a city, do we involve the voices of the communities? 

When we try to problem-solve, do we ­approach with a true mix of perspectives? 

Some say we do not effectively deliver function, beauty and community. 

There are people who can bring greatness to this profession who we are not letting in. Those who do get in aren’t always given a strong enough voice. Architecture has greater potential, which with proper EDI thinking, strategy and action, we can fulfil. 

What can we do? 

What is stopping you from using your existing skills, knowledge and abilities to be inclusive leaders driving change? What causes discrimination and under-representation? Can ‘how to tackle discrimination in architecture’ be taught? Can we future proof architecture so it works for our fast evolving demography? These are the questions we must think about if we want to be effective inclusive leaders in architecture.  

If Diversity – the mix of visible and invisible difference – is the richness of the landscape, and Inclusion is the road through it, to the land of Equity, then Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the best, most roadworthy vehicle to get you there.
If Diversity – the mix of visible and invisible difference – is the richness of the landscape, and Inclusion is the road through it, to the land of Equity, then Cultural Intelligence (CQ) is the best, most roadworthy vehicle to get you there. Credit: Henry Causeland

So we come back to the question: What stops us from doing this better? Where are the roots of discrimination? Peel back the layers of this question we find an answer: our bias. 

We have 11 million pieces of information going into our brain at any given moment, but only the conscious capacity to process 40 (Timothy Wilson, Stranger to Ourselves, 2002). The shortcutting of information is a human biological need, and the root of bias. 

But report after report shows that awareness is not enough to mitigate our own bias. We must stop saying and teaching and believing that. We need to put less store by training and more by the overall structures and processes we need to create, implement and enforce to mitigate it.  There are tools around cultural intelligence and organisational change that make this easier.

CQ – cultural intelligence or quotient, as it’s a measure as well as a skill – is the ability to work and relate effectively with people different to you. When applied properly, it forces us to consciously and deliberately challenge ourselves, our perspectives, and the systems we’re succumbing to. This, through behavioural change, is how we break the cycle. 

What is the difference between those that succeed in today’s globalised, multicultural world and those that fail? Researchers asked nearly 100,000 participants that question in nearly 100 countries, and discovered four capabilities were widely shared: cultural intelligence drive, knowledge, strategy and action.

It starts with wanting to – CQ drive – and, when you don’t want to, how to motivate yourself to do the work required. 

Like all the CQ capabilities, CQ drive  has sub-categories to help pinpoint areas that need work. Here, these are intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and self-efficacy. 

Deriving enjoyment from the task itself, of interacting, supporting and enhancing the lives of those different from you, is fairly straightforward, as are the potential rewards or repercussions, but I’d like to emphasise self-efficacy – your confidence in success. 

What stops us from doing inclusivity better? Where are the roots of discrimination? Peel back the layers of this question we find an answer: our bias

So much of our ability to be effective at doing better here is tied up in fear. Recognise and be conscious about it being an opportunity to learn and grow. We will get things wrong, we always do – it’s human nature. However, how we react to our mistakes is a mark of high cultural intelligence and high self-efficacy. We must listen to those telling us we’ve got it wrong, and learn. Reflect on that and move forward differently, hands aloft, acknowledging room for improvement.  

Embedding inclusive change

While we will explore each of these capabilities in more depth in our series on, it is not enough to simply have practised cultural intelligence traits. Every organisation and practice needs to embed inclusive change. How do we do that?

The McKinsey influence model of change is based on four cornerstones (notably it has been proven to be eight times more successful at embedding change when all four are used rather than just one). They are: fostering understanding, developing talents and skills, role modelling, and formal mechanisms. 

People are more likely to change their mindset and behaviour if they understand what is being asked of them and why. This is about inspiration and the data to inform change – formal structures, systems and processes to support inclusion. Recruitment, procurement and other policies can support inclusive working and give staff the skills and opportunities to behave inclusively. Training can be provided and supported with coaching, while appraisals can be backed up with inclusion-based objectives. Colleagues need to see leaders and peers behaving differently – we do mimic those around us. The culture of any organisation can be shaped by the best behaviours the leader is willing to demonstrate. 

This work on behavioural change needs to be implemented across individual, studio and practice levels, starting with the most senior leadership, and then across four areas of business: attraction/education of people in the profession, retention/progression of colleagues, creation and delivery of services and products, and how we communicate with our users, customers and clients. 

I have implemented this approach in other organisations; it is what I’m doing at the RIBA and what I will support across architecture.

There are no silver bullets nor quick fixes, only a deliberate, considered, conscious chipping away at the systems that create discrimination. Organisational inclusive change is not an option, it’s a leadership obligation. There will be challenges. There will be strife. But there is also hope. This is an opportunity to join an effort to build better workplaces, better environments, and a better world.  

Marsha Ramroop is RIBA director of inclusion and former BBC journalist. She will be hosting RIBA Radio, a lively mixture of chat, interviews, discussion, debate, music and poetry, focusing on promoting diversity and inclusion on 18-26 November. You can pre-register here


PiP webinar: Architecture for Schools and Education Buildings

The three architects in the running to succeed Muyiwa Oki answer key questions on how they will support you and deal with the big issues of the day

The three architects in the running for the job say how they will deal with the big issues of the day

Design and build a rare plant horticultural exhibition, reinvent a capital city for the future or repurpose a former Carnegie library: these are some of the latest architecture contracts and competitions from across the industry

Latest: Exhibition design and build, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

Terrazzo flooring with exposed structural concrete and glulam gives the charity’s addition to its London campus an appropriate modesty, with a calm Scandi feel to its showpiece atrium

TateHindle sets the right tone with terrazzo and glulam

Will Wiles takes another foray into the world of fantasy in his quest to understand its contrasts and parallels with reality

Dune offers convincing places and realistic resonances, finds Will Wiles