It’s nothing new that the AEC profession lacks diversity. In addressing this, the notion of quotas comes back like a chorus. Quotas enforcing that a certain percentage of non white-straight-males be hired, for example, are put forward as a solution to balance things out. Or others that aim to evenly distribute salaries between men and women doing the same jobs.
Don’t get me wrong, having more marginalised groups such as women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ and disabled people in positions of power in the architecture world is a must and these initiatives are going in the right direction. But real change with regards to diversity and inclusion asks for more than just numbers.
Real change with regards to diversity and inclusion asks for more than just numbers.
Present but silent
I’d like to share an illustrative anecdote from last year’s BNA Architecten Dag—a day in which a ratio of about 50-50 men and women architects came together to network. The speaker giving the opening speech invited the audience to participate, giving us the opportunity to take the mic and share our thoughts.
Of the 9 people who volunteered to speak, not one was a woman. Not one. Yet probability would have it that at least 4 women would have come forth. But the real world doesn’t behave according to simple probability. It’s far more complex than that.
If you had asked any of the women present if they had felt ‘discriminated against’ or unequal at this particular event, I am pretty sure that the answer would have been a hard no. So what went on then? Although women were equally present, we can assume that we dared not speak. We left our places to the more outgoing and outspoken males. And all of this without anyone, including us women, noticing.
The issue runs deep. It’s clearly far more complex than initially meets the eye. Ingrained in our behaviours, perceptions of ourselves and others as well as societal norms, it requires serious active attention to overhaul. This particular example focused on women, but the same could apply to any minority group.
Inclusion is about our experience; even when we’re already present. An experience that empowers and doesn’t silence.
A new narrative
Inclusion isn’t merely about hitting quotas or having people who identify as part of a set minority group simply be there. It’s about our experience; even when we’re already present. An experience that empowers and doesn’t silence.
We need to be intentional about addressing our biases and learned behaviours; seeking to understand the realities that minority peers face everyday, acknowledging our role in our and their experience and taking action to change the narrative. That’s when we can start talking about real inclusion.