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Diversity: Am I part of the problem?

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The path towards greater diversity in the built environment needs to be trodden by those who sit firmly in the mainstream, too, says Oli Pinch

I’m a middle-class white male in my mid-thirties. There are more of me in the built environment sector than any other demographic.

Despite appearances, I’m an advocate for diversity, leading Future of London’s Speaker Diversity Network. This initiative promotes opportunities for under-represented groups and brings fresh voices to the urban debate.

This could be a problem, but I see my ‘lack’ of diversity as a strength. It’s an opportunity to stand out from my peers and show a way forward.

Achieving real diversity doesn’t mean moving people like me out of the way; for me, it’s about using my privilege to practice inclusive leadership and give opportunities to people from under- represented groups.

This isn’t easy for everyone and even the vocabulary – BAME, disabled, people of colour, LGBTQIA – can be confusing and difficult to use correctly.

“If we want to develop new solutions for the problems we face, we must invite people with different experiences and ideas”

We need to get comfortable with these terms. There is already considerable evidence for why diversity is important. One statistic shows that where at least 30 per cent of a business’s board is female, the company is likely to boost its bottom line.

The figure may not tell the whole story and could motivate people for the wrong reasons, but the point is that diversity brings innovation. If we want to develop new solutions for the problems we face, we must invite people with different experiences and ideas.

What matters now is how to achieve this. We need to give people within under-represented groups opportunities to grow their confidence, hone their craft and share perspectives.

Our own initiative is a case in point. Future of London’s Speaker Diversity Network provides free, small-group public speaking workshops with honest feedback from peers and experienced presenters. Tied to that effort, FoL hosts a vetted ‘Speaker Bank’ of sector experts from varied disciplines and backgrounds who can be matched to events.

The Network also invites organisations to publicly pledge to put forward people from under-represented groups and to avoid speaking on single-demographic panels – and to invite those event hosts to contact FoL for help.

Cross-sector groups can use this and initiatives like it to break down barriers and inspire new people into the sector so that one day I won’t be the most dominant demographic in the room.

Until then, I’m fortunate to work for a small, diverse and forward- thinking organisation that is not afraid to put a white male forward to speak on this issue.

It’s allowed me to become part of the solution.

Oli Pinch is head of networks for Future of London

​​​​​​​Photo | iStock


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