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How can planning as a profession become more diverse and inclusive? Danna Walker offers some suggestions

Diversity and inclusion are a set of principles and strategies which aim to build spaces in culture, public life and work which harness the strengths and value the potential contribution of all.

Sounds good, right? So why has it proved so challenging to achieve in many sectors, including planning?

I believe that exclusion operates as an ecosystem encompassing the foundations of society, including social, cultural, educational and economic norms.

While this system needs individuals to contribute to the exclusion of others, the vast majority of those taking part do not question their actions or the fact that there is so little diversity in some professions; it has become normalised.

“Look at your company’s attraction, recruitment, and progression activities holistically”

Planning seeks to balance the built ecosystem, but how can this be truly possible when planning does not reflect the society it serves? Lived experience, new approaches and skills are essential to drive the creation of greater communities for all.

Here are just three things the planning profession can address that will make a change:

1. Address discomfort. Many people feel uncomfortable about even debating diversity. Whether it is fear of causing offence or not fully understanding the issue, start with gaining insight from those you want to include.

2. Go beyond policy. Naysayers often dismiss potential positive actions by pointing to a nicely drafted policy on their website. Policies set out aims and objectives, but they are not the same as living and breathing inclusion as a culture. Many baulk at the idea of taking action, citing concerns about quotas and ‘positive discrimination’.

In truth, positive discrimination that benefits women or minority groups is a myth – at present, the only people that benefit from actively recruiting and promoting individuals based on their background and connections are those in the majority.
The Equality Act 2010 does allow organisations to take positive action to address gaps in representation, however.

Look at your company’s attraction, recruitment, and progression activities holistically.

3. Assume nothing. Organisations often view diversity as something that would be nice to have but is not an essential business strategy. In reality, positive action is an investment that can provide huge benefits to an organisation, such as bringing new skills, increasing employee engagement, improving productivity, innovation and decision-making.

I believe that embedding robust strategies to foster diversity and inclusion are not only essential for the 21st century but long overdue.

Danna Walker is an architect and founder and director of Built By Us

Image credit | iStock


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