I had just finished delivering a lecture on inclusion in architecture at a prominent school. A few students lined up to speak to me.
Some wanted to simply say thank you for the insight and how thought-provoking it was; others to tell me what their main takeaways were and how I’d really spoken to their experience.
Then, there was this woman – her eyes, wet; her demeanour, defeated. Her Part 2 experience in practice had been awful. The behaviours were bullying and minimising; the culture toxic and damaging. She hadn’t known what to do other than endure it. She wasn’t sure she wanted to continue in the profession.
A couple more women joined her. They were in practice having similar experiences. They named a big one. They also wanted to know what to do.
Another time, I had been on a panel talking about racial issues in the curriculum. Before the panel, I was mixing with students. We talked about their time in practice at Part 1. All bar one said the experience had them questioning whether they wanted to stay in the profession due to poor working conditions, presenteeism, overworking and feeling unheard.
Even now, long after leaving my full-time role in the profession, I still get DMs from people asking for help because they’re being treated badly in practice. Their experiences, despite their hard work and desire to progress, are worse than demoralising, they can be dehumanising. The AJ reports on this all the time. We have no shortage of anecdotal evidence and the surveys that highlight it.
And we have the Howlett Brown report into staff behaviour at the Bartlett School of Architecture, which found bullying, sexual misconduct, racism and a ‘toxic culture spanning decades’.
It’s these occurrences, of course, that have given rise to the ‘architectural antagonists’. If your behaviours are non-inclusive, your design will be.
I’ve long wanted to support those facing these issues in a practical way. I have written a book – (working title) Building Inclusion: A Practical Guide to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Architecture and the Built Environment – but it won’t be out until autumn next year (published by Routledge). It will cover behaviours first, with policies, procedures, processes to support, bake into design, and deliver with people, place and planet. I’m still tidying up the final manuscript but felt people couldn’t wait for that support. Hence my sharing this resource Having Challenging Conversations, an abridged version of the advice that will appear in the book, and available now.
Having Challenging Conversations is not a complete answer to ‘what do we do’; it’s a guide to help frame some of those conversations. A starting point. It can help with how to deliver feedback, listen well, say no effectively, and lead with safety. It’s freely available because, simply, the future of the profession needs help. The Creative Commons licence means anyone can download, copy and share it, you just have to make sure you attribute copyright, don’t modify and don’t commercialise it. I hope the more freely available it is, the more it can be used.
As always, I am happy to support, collaborate on and amplify all new and existing resources that professional bodies and institutions are producing. This is an additional one to encourage better behaviours, better culture and, ultimately, better design. I dearly hope it will be circulated and supported by them.
I would like to hear from leadership that put it to use in their practice. Leadership sets culture and ‘the culture of any organisation is shaped by the worst behaviour a leader is willing to tolerate’ (Gruenert & Whittaker 2015). This resource allows the culture of their organisation to be shaped by the best behaviours its leaders are willing to demonstrate.
As always, when we learn how our behaviour can be improved it’s an opportunity; to grow, be better and shape a more inclusive world.
Marsha Ramroop runs her own strategic inclusion consultancy Unheard Voice, working across sectors and across the world. Having Challenging Conversations: A toolkit for students, early career architects, practices, and schools of architecture is available to download here