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The RTPI must empower BAME planners

Minority ethnicities are under-represented in planning, says Emma El Deen Luke. The RTPI needs to work closely with BAME planners to improve this situation

As a planner of dual-heritage, I’ve long been aware that minority ethnicities are under-represented in our profession. The Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs is no different. And like the RTPI, Defra is confronting this issue.  

Defra launched ‘Project Race’ in 2018, when only 7 per cent of staff were non-white. Its goal is to create a more inclusive culture so that minority ethnicities can truly belong, not just ‘blend in’, and to increase diversity at middle and senior grades. We have representatives in every Defra team, critical to keeping racial equality high on the agenda.

Fifteen months on, change is visible. Strong leadership has delivered increased diversity at most grades, and Cabinet Office data shows that more than 9 per cent of Defra staff are now from minority ethnicities.

A grass-roots approach has been key to success – colleagues across the whole of Defra have run workshops, trialled new approaches to recruitment and shared successes.  

But our challenge continues. We have not yet reached our diversity targets, and better representation is needed in senior roles, so Project Race has been extended until the end of 2020.

“We need to know that people like us have a place at the table. Otherwise, why would we want to work in planning?”

The RTPI also has a plan to improve ethnic diversity. It was great to see RTPI president Sue Manns launch the CHANGE strategy for a more diverse planning workforce earlier this year. It is much needed: just 6 per cent of planners are from minority ethnic backgrounds. As over 14 per cent of the UK population is BAME, this is far from representative.

Look around you at your next seminar – look at the stage. The RTPI must ensure that planners of all backgrounds are seen and heard. It must create real BAME role models; we need to know that people like us have a place at the table, otherwise why would we want to work in planning?

As with Project Race, the RTPI CHANGE strategy needs to be delivered in partnership with BAME planners: with us and by us – not just for us. This is what will secure the diverse new wave of young planners we desire, and the important perspectives they bring.

The disproportionate impacts of Covid-19 on BAME communities has amplified the need for diverse planners. Their insight can help inform the way we design communities. This is an opportunity to review our approach and learn lessons from the past – let’s embrace it.  

Emma El Deen Luke MRTPI is working to establish the Office for Environmental Protection at Defra  

Image credit | Shutterstock


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