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27/03/2018

How do we make a planning profession more attractive for all?

Words:
HTA Design Ltd team

As part of our ongoing coverage of diversity in planning, Natalya Palit MRTPI explains how her employer HTA Design does its best to attract and retain talented employees from a wide variety of backgrounds

Equality and diversity issues are increasingly at the forefront of debate. Inequality in pay at the BBC or elsewhere is very much newsworthy but the planning profession faces its own challenges. As a profession we influence the development of our towns and cities which form the backdrop to our lives. As such we need to reflect the composition of its people. Opening the profession up to a wider range of people and embedding diversity into the profession will enable us to consider the impacts of our work from a wider range of perspectives.

HTA Design LLP - as a multi-disciplinary practice who are housing specialists - strive to ensure our design teams take a sensitive approach to projects impacting on diverse communities. As a practice we actively encourage and enjoy the richness and diversity of the people working for us. Since the practice transferred to a partnership in 2013, we have been doing much more to increase awareness of diversity and inclusion for the benefit of our staff, clients and the communities we work with. 

We celebrate diversity in its widest sense. Diversity training was an obvious choice but we have gone further. We have established HTA Incl. (an LGBTQ group) and Women@HTA, both set up to champion diversity and we have members of staff trained as ‘Mental Health First Aiders’.

We also have a Diversity and Inclusion forum to discuss issues openly. We have hosted panel evening discussions where members of staff have spoken about their personal experiences, including life-work balance as working parents, being a gay parent, mental health issues and faith.

"We are proud that every single member of our staff is represented on our company website, and this small move has had tangible impacts. It has helped HTA to attract the right kind of talent"

Events such as these have been integral to creating a more open work environment, that makes people see each other as human, where people feel comfortable to truly be themselves and also feel empowered to speak up about and more crucially act on issues affecting them. 

At one of our panel discussions, a member of staff shared her shocking experiences of her struggle to find a suitable space to undertake her daily prayers, which amongst others, included the back room of a newsagent opposite her place of work. As a direct outcome, we took steps to book out a small meeting room as a prayer space, so she and others could use it during prayer times. 

But not all initiatives have to involve large scale steps like these. We are proud that every single member of our staff is represented on our company website, and this small move has had tangible impacts. It has helped HTA to attract the right kind of talent – one example is where one colleague was encouraged to apply after seeing other Muslim women in headscarves on our website.

"We also encourage active reflection on how our work as individuals impacts on diverse communities"

Alongside discussions about diversity of professionals within the industry we also encourage active reflection on how our work as individuals impacts on diverse communities. Conversations range from as detailed as the role of planning policy in the decline of LGBT spaces within London, to far broader discussions. Building up knowledge on a wide range of topics informs our approach to our work in turn enhancing our ability to advocate for the importance of respecting policies or guidelines which are in place to protect different groups.

Unlike other built environment professions planning is unique in that approximately half its membership are employed in the public sector, which gives it an advantage in its ability to attract and retain diverse talent. However, it’s equally important to ensure the private sector also champions diversity to maximise impact, as this is where arguably some of the sharper end of planning advice which shapes development happens.

The profession has a proud history of guiding the development of our towns and cities in the interests of the public, so let’s make sure all these interests can be represented in the profession.

Natalya Palit MRTPI is a planner with HTA Design LLP 

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