If only upper management attend the big jamborees we risk excluding under-represented groups – and everyone ends up losing
Like many of my peers, in a few years’ time I hope to be in a senior leadership position and responsible for helping to run the practice I work in. The team will look to me for my connections and contacts; relationships I need to have started bolstering already.
Industry conferences are undeniably useful for meeting potential clients. I found myself at MIPIM for the first time this year and I wondered why so many of my contemporaries were missing.
The business case is clear: for the built environment to be relevant, and representative of the world it builds, we need people of colour and women along with other industry minority groups to represent, and to be represented, on industry stages and in audiences. Events like MIPIM need to diversify to remain relevant - now. Platforms like @MIPIMLads, although humorous on the surface, highlight how deeply this under-representation is ingrained.
It is likely, statistically speaking, that industry minorities who often don’t feature in the upper tiers of management, may well be excluded from being represented at and attending big industry events.
Look no further than the RIBA gender pay gap reporting a 13.7% difference in male and female pay in the 10 largest architectural practices for 2022. If that is the case, now is the time to flip that narrative.
A well-prepared and supported next generation (no matter how young or old, but of progressive representation) must be in the room if we’re to help lead our industry forward in its carbon, biodiversity, health and social-class entanglements.
Individuals have an opportunity to stand out, to represent a diversity of age, gender, ethnicity, but only if they make it there
The industry events springing up across the country are critical points of contact to discern those willing to work alongside you in future – whether it’s to define environmental and social targets, or better still, surpass them with even more ambitious benchmarks in their place.
Women, people of colour, those with neurodivergence or disabilities who haven’t necessarily been at the table when solving urban problems in which they have lived experience, need to be in attendance.
We must start breaking moulds to progress our thinking, starting within our own representation in person. Employers should invest the time and resources necessary to give opportunities to those who have the most to gain from building new connections.
Being in the room at COP26 in Glasgow and stepping off stage on day one in Cannes were two powerful moments that I was privileged to experience. These allowed me to talk with others who wanted to learn and connect in similar ways, and on similar topics, as me. I was able to share my thoughts across generations about what, in my view, was important. I felt valuable and a contributor to the industry agenda. If we are to make progress on staff engagement, and social and environmental goals, we need to make space for everyone to be heard to bring people together.
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As head of sustainability for an architectural practice, it occurred to me that there are more environmentally-friendly ways to experience ‘being in the room’. Civic Engineers released a set of calculations for the carbon footprint of the travel and food consumed by the Cycle to MIPIM peloton. This is a big step in the right direction - conference organisers need to measure their impact, not just in pounds and pence but in environmental consequences and social value. Increasingly, events are being held with great success in the UK, which offers more cost and carbon friendly opportunities to put our new ambassadors forward; undoubtedly, much to the benefit of cities beyond the capital.
Cost is another serious consideration. A real positive to come from lockdown was the democratisation of attendance, where free tickets allowed for broader attendance at online events by those less experienced, living more remotely or less mobile. To support more diverse representation, and attendance at all, perhaps it’s also time to look at more flexible ticketing models as part of organisers’ ESG value sets.
I felt valuable and a contributor to the industry agenda. If we are to make progress on staff engagement, and social and environmental goals, we need to make space for everyone to be heard to bring people together.
On that note, the train is your friend. Environmentally friendlier than flying, the scenic journey affords its advantages: a mobile office for uninterrupted work; a chance to address fistfuls of business cards; the perfect rocking motion for some much-required recovery sleep. With some entrepreneurial spirit and a bit of coordination, organisers could capitalise on this too as an added networking opportunity.
I’m thrilled to be back at events in-person and at a time where collaboration with others is more critical than ever. I personally and professionally benefited from being at MIPIM. I only wish the experience were more accessible to others. I stood out for all the obvious reasons, not just because of my bright clothes and Fluro trainers, but for the absence of a blue suit. Other individuals have an opportunity to stand out, to represent a diversity of age, gender, ethnicity, but only if they make it there.
To see a better balance going forward, we need to rethink who stands to gain the most from attending conferences and networking opportunities. It’s up to us to change the climate of the conversation. I’ll be speaking at Waste Build in Amsterdam this September, please get in touch if you are attending. Or perhaps I’ll see you on the train.
Stephanie Crombie is head of sustainability at Morrow + Lorraine
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