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RTPI's CHANGE Strategy

Sue Manns, President of the Royal Town Planning Institute

Currently 39% of the RTPI membership is female. This is significantly better than in the early days of my career when it was around 15% (1988). However, as the gender pay gap suggests (28.6% in 2018) and research has confirmed, female representation at the higher levels of the profession is significantly worse. So why have we not closed the gender gap, why are women under-represented at the ‘top table’, which is after all where key decisions about the future of society are being taken? Women are not a ‘homogeneous group’. We are diverse socially and culturally; we have different life experiences, abilities and disabilities; but importantly what we all share is an experience of places and spaces that have primarily been designed by men and which often do not take into account the experiences or needs of women.  To ensure that our places and spaces are inclusive and reflect the diverse needs of those who will use them today and for generations to come, we need to ensure that those involved in their design and those who take the decisions are also diverse.   For a number of years now we have had policies in place that allow flexible working, we have quality childcare that can enable both parents to work, there are schemes in place to support for women and others in the workplace – but barriers to professional advancement still persist. Many of our working practices, from interviews, office hours and networking, favour males and, as the recent RTPI research confirmed, the language and practices of the workplace often leave women feeling uncomfortable – “I have to be better to be equal”. Gender equality is not just about being fair, it is also about ensuring access to talent at all levels. Whilst it seems that everyone recognises the importance of this, all too often working practices reflect ‘business as usual’ and so little changes. For us to be an effective and sustainable profession, we must be genuinely representative of the society in which we work. There is a need for broader visibility of diversity at all levels of the profession, from entry to the most senior. We need to be accessible and inclusive, adaptable to change and proactive in our support for members, wherever they may be. This means shining a spotlight on equality, diversity and inclusivity; it is not possible to correct problems that cannot be seen. The RTPI Corporate Strategy 2020 – 2030 contains, as one of its four pillars, the promotion of equality, diversity and inclusivity. This identified the need for an Action Plan to help members and the organisations that they work for, address this issue. Specialist diversity and inclusion consultancy, Brook Graham, were commissioned to look at how the planning profession currently performs and to identify a series of bespoke actions that could be taken forward to achieve a better balance. They found that whilst the planning profession performs relatively better than a number of other built environment professions in terms of equality, diversity and inclusivity, there remains much to be done. The first stage of the Action Plan was completed in February 2020. Snappily titled ‘CHANGE’, this has been published in the form of an on-line tool which can be accessed via the RTPI website. Work is now underway to take forward the high-level actions identified in stage one and combine these with a set of detailed supporting actions. Once completed, CHANGE will provide a framework to enable the identification of key priorities for delivery and a menu of actions to enable this to happen, leading to bespoke responses that reflect the different circumstances of individuals and organisations. From the perspective of the RTPI, it is important to ensure that sufficient resources are in place to support the effective roll out of CHANGE across the Institute and the wider profession. As such, a key priority is the recruitment of an Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity manager. Whilst the current COVID-19 crisis is inevitably impacting on the process for this appointment, once in post this new member of staff will lead the delivery of CHANGE. The importance of Women in Planning (WiP) in delivering CHANGE cannot be under-estimated. WiP have made valuable contributions to the development of CHANGE through the project Steering Group and are already making a real impact through the delivery of their programme of support and focused events. More importantly their research and monitoring of gender equality and diversity, together with their independence, means that they are well placed to hold the profession to account in terms of progress. CHANGE represents a strong and measurable commitment by the RTPI and its members to tackle the challenges of equality, diversity and inclusivity and in doing so, to transform the profession. Change can happen if we are all determined to make it happen.

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