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IWD: The diversity champion


Lisa Taylor is chief executive of Future of London, an independent policy network, and the founder of the speaker diversity pledge, which aims to get a broader range of people speaking at built environment events. She spoke to Simon Wicks about equality, diversity and why International Women's Day is not enough.

"I think International Women's Day is a good thing to mark, but at the same time we believe that diversity cannot end with gender. It needs to go further than that. It would be good if it were IWD+ or International People's Day. Having a day is not enough. The point for us isn’t to have gender or other diversity issues be put into a separate committee or event, but be part of the mainstream.

Our goal with the diversity speaker network is to have mixed panels and mixed discussions at events. For me a successful roundtable on placemaking has everyone represented, with different opinions, too. One of the things with the strength of diversity is you are getting fresh ideas. Given the challenges we are facing now, we really need fresh ideas.

To get people into planning and related disciplines, they need to see people who look and sound like them. Once you are inside a company if you are an under-represented group of any kind you are typically not seeing people like you at higher levels. Typically, your white male colleagues will be put up for speaking engagements and so on before you because it’s easier. We need to make choosing diverse speakers quicker and easier."

"If you have diverse people in your group during a consultation you might have some who understands the issues from a personal point of view"

[Changing this] involves CEO-level decision making and it needs to be pushed down and out to everyone. Gerry Hughes at GVA realised his own company had a problem with diversity and he set out to address it. Mike Haigh, managing director of the engineering firm Mott McDonald is completely behind this, internally and externally. These are the kind of people we need to get on board.

[Diversity] is also a huge competitive advantage. I spoke to a woman yesterday and she said 'I’m watching my female colleagues leave and it’s not to have babies it’s because they don’t see anywhere to go [within their own company]'. Events and panels are shop windows for businesses. And when you're doing a consultation, if you have diverse people in your group you might have some who understands the issues from a personal point of view. People in the audience relate better to someone who feels more like them.

The genesis of the speaker diversity network was a 16-year-old black girl from Croydon who came to us for work experience through The Girls’ Network. She was working on our 2015 conference, and though we had 50 per cent women speakers, I realised we had no people of colour on panels. I was embarrassed for feeling smug about the gender issue and contacted peers who came up with just six minority speakers – three had left the sector.

We built the diversity speaker network to identify and promote all under-represented people working in the urban sector, and to help hone presentation skills amongst the next wave. What we need is the sector to be willing to engage with us.

From the other side of the equation, women and minorities, particularly women, need to speak up and ask for or accept speaking and chairing gigs. Stop saying ‘someone else is more expert’ or you don’t have time; this is about your career – and if it’s just about presentation confidence, we can help.”

To join the Speaker Diversity Network, pledge as part of the #DiversityPledgeLDN, or find out about presentation coaching, visit bit.ly/diversitypledgeldn or email[email protected].

Lisa Taylor was speaking to The Planner's features editor Simon Wicks


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