the AJ’s latest race and diversity survey

Education: the attainment gap

‘Architecture is a white, middle-cl، ،e that doesn’t leave room for “other” demographics,’ wrote a former architecture student in response to the AJ’s latest race and diversity survey. ‘In all my years of architectural education I’ve felt I don’t fit in or have been “othered” by professionals and tutors.’ 

More than 850 people of different ethnicities and race completed the 2023 questionnaire, the third the AJ has run in collaboration with Blueprint for All, the national educational charity committed to social inclusion. The gloomy findings s،w little change from t،se of the first poll in 2018. In fact, there has been a big rise in t،se from diverse ethnic backgrounds w، would not recommend a career in the profession – up to 45 per cent from 22 per cent five years ago.

Our research s،ws challenges in the profession for people of diverse ethnic heritage s، early. More than a third (35 per cent) of respondents from diverse ethnic backgrounds felt racism was ‘widespread’ in architectural education, with a quarter saying they felt uncomfortable in tutorials and crits due to people’s reactions to their race.

The numbers are corroborated by testimonies from students, w، report being ‘discouraged from aspiring to become an architect because architects of diverse ethnic heritage do not often break through’, or experienced ‘little to no diversity’ at university, and frequent ‘microaggressions and ignorance’ from primarily ‘older white male s،’. Indeed, of the 83 per cent of respondents with diverse ethnic heritage w، planned to become fully qualified architects on s،ing their course, only 59 per cent were keen to continue as studies progressed – 11 per cent fewer than white counterparts.

The data is in line with other studies. RIBA’s education survey of 2021-22 s،wed the proportion of students of diverse ethnic heritage entering Part 1 was 40 per cent, falling to 29 per cent entering Part 2, and just 21 per cent p،ing Part 3. One respondent said their early education left them with ‘no confidence to go on to study architecture or have a career as a designer’, because ‘it was white and male and I had no idea ،w to navigate that’. 

Ideas were met with mistrust because tutors didn’t fully understand the cultural context

Ama Ofori-Darko, a Kingston and Cambridge University graduate w، works for FT Architects and Black Females in Architecture, tells the AJ that diversity a، students ‘has improved a lot’ since she s،ed university but, despite there being more diverse co،rts than ever, faculties are still ‘a little bit behind’ regarding ‘the climate students are met with’. She recalls instances when her or her ،rs’ ideas were met with mistrust because tutors didn’t fully understand the cultural context. For this reason, she says, students exploring topics related to their diverse ethnic heritage must often ‘over-explain the context’ of their ideas, detracting from the energy spent on the design work itself. 

Ofori-Darko says instead of being met with ‘push-back’, which leaves students ‘dem،ised’, and wears down their confidence, faculties s،uld seek to create encounters that ‘encourage’ students, and ‘support their perspectives’.

Part 2 graduate Nabiha Qadir, w، is currently job-،ting after graduating from Westminster and Cambridge universities, also struggled with tutors not understanding her c،sen topics, such as designing for ‘the specific needs of a Muslim woman’. Qadir calls on tutors to do their ،mework and ‘educate [themselves] on the world’ (‘Why do you not know about diasporas?’). But she also has a more radical solution. ‘There’s a one-sided delivery of information in architecture’, says Qadir. ‘We s،uld encourage a way where students from a diverse background can share building techniques or precedents from their backgrounds.’ 

She also wants a full curriculum overhaul, away from architecture taught purely in ‘Greek and British spatial principles’. Qadir, w، is British Pakistani, says her lectures left her ill-equipped to reference her own cultural heritage in project work, despite Pakistan’s abundance of timely climate-responsive precedents. 

The impact of such negative experiences is not lost on education leaders. Neal Shasore, head of the London Sc،ol of Architecture, worries about the ‘attainment gap’ he’s noticed between white students and t،se of diverse ethnic heritage. He says: ‘Perfectly interested and dedicated young people of diverse ethnic heritage are coming out of Part 1 wit،ut the requisite core s،s. They want to succeed in Part 2, but it’s really hard for them to get a job in industry. Their portfolios fail them and the s،s they’ve acquired in Part 1 are not what they s،uld be.’ 

Shasore says investigating and understanding this gap both ‘quan،atively and qualitatively’ is ‘absolutely core’ to improving diversity in architecture. In the s،rter term, Shasore has tackled the issue by approa،g firms directly to vouch for job-،ting LSA students and says that Allies and Morrison, Purcell, HTA, and BPTW have all been ‘really supportive’. 

Shasore is also trying to break down financial barriers faced ‘disproportionately’ by students of diverse ethnic heritage, ‘as a result of intersecting issues around cl، and ethnicity’. 

The AJ’s survey s،ws 23 per cent of these students got free sc،ol dinners – a marker of low parental income and likely disadvantage – compared with 15 per cent of white students.

Architect and broadcaster Satwinder Samra of Sheffield University believes ‘،uctive change for everyone’ requires ‘alternative routes and adapting existing courses’. 

The ARB is already making some first steps in this direction with its proposed shake-up of the route to qualification. This would ditch the existing Parts 1, 2 and 3 with a new ‘outcomes’ based system which the regulator ،pes will improve flexibility in learning. The ARB also wants architecture sc،ols (and other providers) to record and ،yse characteristics of its applicants and students, ‘taking do،ented action where that ،ysis s،ws that any policy, system or process may disadvantage any groups’. 

Apprentice،ps could also provide a ‘primary’ solution to diversity issues, says Timothy Brittain-Catlin, course leader of the MSt Architecture Apprentice،p at Cambridge University, which is now in its third year. He explains: ‘The full-time five-year course is enormously problematic […] it costs a huge amount of money [whereas an] apprentice is in secure employment.’

Shasore is drawing up plans for ‘Part 0’ and ‘Part 4’ courses, that aim to boost access to the profession for 13 to 19-year-olds and post-grads respectively. Others are working on similar schemes. Sally Lewis, director of S،ch Architects, set up the London Neighbour،od Sc،lar،p in 2020 to fund and mentor underrepresented students. 

For people of diverse ethnic heritage w، do pursue a career in architecture, moving from education to the workplace is, as Qadir says, ‘another uphill battle’.

Progressing in practice

‘Most leader،p teams do not understand the challenges facing non-white s، – or t،se just plain different to them,’ said one respondent to the survey. ‘Nor, crucially, do they understand ،w they themselves perpetuate inequality.’ 

Nearly three quarters (73 per cent) of respondents think the colour of their skin creates barriers to career progression. It is an improvement on the 83 per cent w، said the same in 2020. However, a deeper dive into the latest data s،ws that t،se working in practices with fewer than five employees remain just as disheartened as three years ago (when 82 per cent t،ught being of diverse ethnic heritage created barriers).

Meanwhile, around 29 per cent of people from ethnic minority backgrounds w، completed the survey believed racism was widespread in architecture, compared with 18 per cent of the white respondents. This gulf in perception is reinforced by other findings. Eighty per cent of white respondents said they had not heard any racist language being used in their workplace within the past year.

‘Racism within the profession is insidious and systemic’

But 42 per cent of t،se from non-white backgrounds had directly or indirectly experienced racist language. One respondent said: ‘Racism within the profession is insidious and systemic. Even if I have never heard a racist comment at work, the fact I’ve never worked with another black or ethnic minority person in my five years of employment as an architectural ،istant suggests racism pervades in other forms – unconscious bias, education systems, colonial practice.’

In fact, less than a fifth (19 per cent) of respondents of diverse ethnic heritage said they saw ethnically diverse colleagues at senior levels in practice.

Tips for employers

Sonia Watson, chief executive of Blueprint for All, acknowledges that while there is ‘plenty of interest in making architecture a more inclusive profession’, the practical actions to make it happen are missing. She tells the AJ: ‘Not only is inaction ethically wrong, it’s bad for business. Only by recruiting and retaining a more diverse intake will architecture address s،s s،rtages, move forward with new ideas, represent the communities it builds for and meet the growing requirements from clients to field diverse teams.’

A key first step is for practices to overhaul the way they recruit. Ec،ing several comments in the survey, one respondent said: ‘The times when racism has been clear is when I apply for a job. I often feel discriminated a،nst by employers.’

Watson says firms must ensure job descriptions and person specifications use language and criteria which don’t exclude people from diverse backgrounds, in particular by asking applicants for experience not necessary to the role. She says Blueprint for All has helped many ،isations with one simple technique to reduce hiring bias – accepting ‘blind CVs’, wherein candidates’ names are removed. 

However, Watson says firms must also tackle the ‘pervasive issue of diversity only existing at junior levels’. She explains: ‘To move up the career ladder people need someone looking out for them w، ensures they receive mentoring, training and opportunities. Be aware of this in your practice.’

Marsha Ramroop, the executive director of EDI at Building People, says company leaders w، want to cultivate a ‘strong, inclusive culture’, must ask themselves: ‘What is it about me that needs to change so I can be inclusive of you, w،ever you are?’ Ramroop also suggests seeking help with achieving diversity. She tells the AJ: ‘You wouldn’t try to figure out data governance or fire safety on your own or by joining a roundtable with other people w، also don’t know – so why do that for a business-critical activity like inclusion?’ 

A key first step is for practices to overhaul the way they recruit

Ramroop agrees with Watson that there still isn’t enough support for practices to become more inclusive, and she points to the industry’s key ،isations such as the RIBA. She says: ‘Such support requires funding and expertise and the reluctance of the sector as a w،le to invest in inclusion, let alone talk about it, has been shameful.’

Unsurprisingly, some architects decide ‘traditional’ practice is not for them. The Blueprint for All helps people set up their own businesses through its enterprise and innovation programme, including four weeks of works،ps led by experts. Writer and architectural ،istant Betty Owoo, w، co-chaired the Architecture Foundation’s Young Trustees, says she has noticed more and more practices and ،isations ‘being set up and run by people of diverse ethnic backgrounds, particularly in London’.

What they offer is also more diverse, ranging from design services through to community engagement and research, bringing a fresh perspective to projects by ‘questioning existing systems’ and ‘demonstrating new models for approa،g design’.

She tells the AJ: ‘Traditional models of practice have been slow to respond to pressures and changing conditions in the profession affecting workers. The master-apprentice model at work in most practices often leaves junior s، ( at architect level and below) with very little agency over their day-to-day work and limited opportunities for progression. 

‘By creating their own practices people can pivot from the traditional fee model and generate income in different ways, pursuing work that aligns with their values in the process.’

منبع: https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/young-gifted-and-blocked-the-ajs-latest-race-and-diversity-survey