Speakers were inspiring and presented topics around visibility and role models which challenged how we all fit in to the built environment. This provided a fresh perspective for all in attendance, sparking ideas on how we can learn from one another to create more inclusive and supportive practices. These conversations are too often pushed aside for going against the masculine tone embedded in construction, which is the very reason why we need to encourage and provide a platform for equality to thrive.
Architecture LGBT+ is an independent grass roots organisation which was formed in London in 2016. It’s so important that we, as architects, have an LGBT+ network. Last year the AJ published the shocking results of its survey, which found that 59% of architects and 83% of LGBT contractors have encountered homophobic comments at work. The same survey revealed that 30% of LGBT architects are not out at work. The LGBT charity Stonewall publishes an annual Equality Index of the 100 most inclusive firms in Britain, this year topped by MI5. Architecture struggles to support LGBT+ equality in the workplace, with no practice ever making the list. Many other sectors are well represented, which indicates an obvious gap in how we work.
Nick Walker, a tutor at the Mackintosh School of Architecture and a gay architect at Collective Architecture, gave a presentation that outlined his background and life both in and outside of work. As an employee owned practice since 2007, the office naturally encourages collaboration and social responsibility practice wide.
Speaking about the various roles and relationships we have as architects, Nick spoke on being out at work - whether that’s in practice, on site, or having a catchup with the project team at the pub. The difference between being a gay architect, or being an architect who is gay, struck a chord with the audience, who questioned if indeed our sexuality or any other diversity should define us? We seek acceptance when ‘coming out’ in new social circles in the hope there is no issue, so how do we progress and not feel the associated anxiety, stress or shame related to this? Naming this ‘imposter syndrome’, many of us who are LGBT+ are inclined to feel tension which may or may not be there. This often results in working harder, putting in more hours to prove ourselves or, in contrast, that person may lose motivation and confidence, resulting in unproductivity. Both trigger mental health issues, presenting a need for support at work.
Collective Architecture is looking to establish mental health first aiders within the practice - a wonderful idea which resonates with everyone, not just those who are LGBT+. This issue has been heavily publicised in our industry for some time, with recent statistics indicating almost a third of UK architecture students are treated for mental health problems. At work, one in six British workers are dealing with stress, anxiety or depression at any one time, as published by the RIBA. The idea of mental health first aiders at work is a great step in ruling out the stigma and discrimination attached to the issue.
My wonderful colleague Elly Williams joined us to discuss bisexual visibility and how we tackle inclusion in how we work and what we create as architects.
Speaking of her upbringing, Elly discussed the shift towards a safer environment for all over the past 20+ years. Elly was taught whilst Section 28 was in place - a piece of legislation which stipulates teachers are not permitted to ‘promote homosexuality’ or present any homosexual relation as an equivalent to a heterosexual relationship. Aside from the discriminatory issue here, there is a huge education gap in children growing up throughout this period not seeing themselves represented.
Moving on to working life, there is a perception that your sexual orientation is defined by the person you are in a relationship with, which simply is not the case for many. A continual process of coming out is therefore needed to reinstate and remind, sometimes even those close to you, that you are not homosexual or heterosexual.
With the presentations focused around inclusion, Elly discussed a model developed by her wife, Meri Williams, which poses three questions to find out if where you are working is supportive to you and your career.