Last week, upon the findings of the Royal Institute of British Architecture (RIBA) and Fees Bureau’s 2012 Employment and Earnings Survey, it was announced that a huge 94% of the UK’s architects are white. Not only is this unusually high, but it shows an actual increase on the 81.1% which was recorded in 2001 by RIBA Education Statistics and UCAS on-line data, and the 93.3% which was recorded last year.
Sandra Kerr OBE, Director of Race for Opportunity, expressed her disappointment in these findings: “These are disappointing employment figures from the architectural profession. That 94 per cent of the UK’s architects are white indicates that the issue of diversity is not firmly on the profession’s radar. We know that the STEM industries traditionally struggle to attract and retain Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic (BAME) candidates, yet significant effort has been put in over recent years to address this - with some headway being made. However, these RIBA statistics show that despite recognising that the architecture industry is failing to engage with diverse candidates.”
British architectural news resources are consistently inundated with new and exciting projects by the likes of Zaha Hadid, an Iraqi-British architect, David Adjaye, of African descent, and Sunand Prasad, RIBA’s president 2007-9, senior partner of his own architectural practice, born of Indian heritage, are all considered (and rightfully so), British. So how is it possible that ethnic minorities are so poorly represented in 2012? That some of the UK’s top architects are BAME is testament to the notion that creativity bears no ethnicity.
It has not yet been fully speculated upon in reports, but the suggestion that universities and architectural firms recruiting architecture undergraduates and graduates have been failing to practice diverse recruitment in their candidate selections has been raised. The Minority Ethnic Students and Practitioners in Architecture report of 2002 observed that: “Looking at those accepted on a degree course in Architecture, Planning & Building, 78% of those accepted were white, 10% did not declare their ethnic origin, fewer than 1% were of mixed race and 11% were of minority ethnic origin. Thus, the representation of minority ethnic groups in Architecture, Planning & Building is lower than for higher education as a whole.”
Kerr suggests ways in which architecture firms can work to combat these startling figures:
-Monitor every stage of the undergraduate to recruitment process to see where BAME candidates are dropping out
-Widen the net of universities and networks traditionally used to recruit graduates from- this will break the ‘like-for-like’ recruitment cycle and increase the feeder talent pool
-Improve direct engagement with diverse architecture undergraduates to identify top talent early on
-Clearly advertise and promote yourself as a diverse employer- ask recruiters to present a diverse shortlist
She continues: “The architecture profession should also consider more active engagement with schools to demonstrate to young BAME students in the breadth of careers available to them in architecture, and that it is a profession that welcomes ethnic minorities.”
Though some blame is to be put at the door of the universities, it is certainly the place that the issue can be remedied. The selection of qualified architects depends entirely on those who receive places in the most prestigious institutions and the most coveted courses. If the universities can be sure to uphold fair methods of selection, there is no reason why these startling figures need continue to rise further. It seems that architectural Britain faces a challenge in maintaining fairer and more modern modes of practice.