For the construction and environment sectors, the worldwide Black Lives Matter movement has encouraged a period of much-needed self-examination. One practitioner shares their experiences within the profession
Last week, architect David Adjaye became the first ever black recipient of the RIBA Royal Gold Medal. He told the Architects’ Journal that ‘architecture is the last industry to recognise the issue of white privilege,’ and called for a ‘conscious effort’ to dismantle it.
Architecture isn’t alone. Construction, environment and heritage are among the UKs least ethnically diverse sectors.
The LI’s 2020 Jellicoe lecture addressed the topic of equality, diversity and inclusion in landscape. Attendees heard that only 5% of LI members identify as non-white, compared to 18% nationally, and 40% in London. Accepting that the urban landscape interventions of tomorrow will be perhaps the most important, the disparity of representation in London is particularly alarming.
Diversity enriches companies and professions. It results in leadership teams with fresh ideas; open and accepting workplaces that inspire people to remain and progress; and outcomes that deliver for entire communities, not just some individuals within them.
If the landscape profession is to be as vibrant and diverse as the communities it serves, we must understand how to make it a welcoming one. In recent months, some members have shared stories that remind us how much work we have to do to make this a reality. One such member has shared their comments for publication.
The contributor to this blog has asked to keep their comments anonymous.
I dislike the term ‘white privilege’. But the landscape profession seems to be bathing in it.
When I started my degree in Landscape architecture, the course was very diverse. So initially, I didn’t see any problems. Fast-forward five years, though, and there are no people of colour still working as landscape architects.
One I know – a brilliant designer who won a competition at university – is working as a planner for a local authority. This is where people tend to end up. A couple have moved on to study architecture, because they couldn’t see a future in landscape. Their main fear was that they would never be as celebrated or successful as they would if they were white.
My own experiences, which have been difficult to say the least, have mirrored this. I left my last position after designing an entire project, only for my white colleague to be the one to present it and get the OK from the client. Over the years, I’ve sensed nervousness from companies about having a person of colour present in a meeting. Maybe they feel the client might be ‘put off’ hearing a pitch from someone who isn’t white. It seems totally ridiculous, but this is what’s happening.
Is landscape a racist profession? If the culture is built around white networks at the expense of non-white networks, if it puts white designers in front of clients at the expense of non-white designers, if it promotes and celebrates white leaders at the expense of non-white leaders, then it is. People may not intend to be racist. But if you buy into a culture that affords you security while discriminating against others, you are part of the problem.
Working in this profession has affected my well-being, among other things. And I can only assume I’m not the only one. There are hardly any people of colour working in practices. The system is set up not for you to succeed or flourish, but rather to play second fiddle to your white colleagues.
We’re very grateful to the contributor to this blog for sharing their difficult experiences publicly.
Stories like this help bring into focus the entrenched issues we as a profession need to tackle. If you’d like to contribute your own comments, experiences or insight to the LI blog, please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Please also get in touch if you would like to participate in our Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Forum, or otherwise contribute to the LI’s ongoing work in this area. We warmly welcome participation from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic voices in particular, and from other groups who are underrepresented in our and related sectors.