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Why does the RTPI champion diversity?

Posted: 7th January 2016

Trudi Elliott, CBE

Chief Executive

Royal Town Planning Institute

There’s been a lot of talk about diversity lately. Whether it is equal pay for women, transgender equality or race at work, diversity is being discussed and championed across society, from the highest levels of government, to the UK Parliament and in offices across the nation.

Why now? It is clear the ‘times they are a changin’. Research shows that our cities are increasingly diverse and it’s not just the centre of cities’ which have historically been diverse areas. Increasingly, ethnic minorities are moving out of inner city areas to smaller cities, towns and suburbs. Ethnic minorities accounted for 80% of population growth over the past decade, taking their share of the population from 9% in 2001 to 14% in 2011. This demographic change will continue through 2040, when there is projected to be a 40% minority population, to 2070 when Britain will be majority non-white.

Meanwhile lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people have never been more accepted or visible in the community. Marriage equality was legalised in England, Scotland and Wales in 2014 while the UK’s closest neighbour Ireland legalised it through popular vote in May this year. Transgender issues are being discussed in the mainstream like never before.

It’s great there has been so much progress but there is always more that can be done.

But what does this have to do with the RTPI? Like many organisations, the RTPI has had a long and ongoing commitment to equal opportunity and anti discrimination for its employees and those engaging with the organisation.

However, the RTPI is in a unique situation given the nature of the work its members undertake as planners. The RTPI considers diversity from a number of different perspectives:

  1. As an employer, like any other, not only supporting equal opportunity and ensuring anti discrimination but championing the diversity of its employees
  2. As the membership organisation of the planning profession and given the diversity of our cities, the profession should be representative of the communities they are shaping through planning and be aware of diversity throughout their work
  3. As a learned society with responsibility for maintaining professional standards and accrediting planning courses, ensuring that our spaces and places are inclusive for people of all backgrounds and cater to the needs of a diverse population

So what is the RTPI doing about diversity? The Institute has long been committed to equal opportunity and anti discrimination. Management and staff have fostered a workplace environment that is inclusive, caring and welcoming. The RTPI requires, through its Code of Conduct, that members in their role as professional planners do not discriminate on the grounds of race, sex, sexual orientation, creed, religion, disability or age and shall seek to eliminate such discrimination by others and to promote equality of opportunity

In The Planner I responded to one of our members who asked what we were doing as an Institute to support women in planning.

The Planner is but one avenue the RTPI is using to champion successful women in the built environment (think Alison Nimmo on the cover of the August edition) and through a number of senior women across the organisation, including myself, the President, Directors and staff, the Institute has advocated for and delivered gender equality and worked with the female presidents of the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Royal institute of Chartered Surveyors to promote the message . We have also promoted the work of Women in Planning, a professional network of women working in planning.

Meanwhile, the RTPI’s new pathways into the profession will mean those that would not have otherwise chosen planning as a career, perhaps because they were unable to attend university or have had a break in their career, will be able to transition into planning.

The RTPI plays a role in forming policy and shaping debate so its significant that many of the Institute's policy and research publications already deal with the issues around diversity. A recent blog on inclusive planning discussed why planning for everyone, regardless of age, ability, gender or background is important. Similarily, the RTPI's Planning Horizon's series look at the impact of demographic change in the twenty-first century and how promoting healthy cities is required to make cities more inclusive.

On top of its long term thinking and policy work, the institute has also produced a toolkit for helping integrate gender issues into plan making, guidance to deliver satisfactory services to gypsy and traveller communities and planning for an ageing population whcih are practical resources for planners.

The institure celebrates planning excellence annually through its Awards for Planning Excellence and, again, diversity is already found across the finalists, like Shree Swaminarayan Mandir and Whitechapel Vision Masterplan.

It is not just the RTPI that is acting on diversity. The wider built environment sector is building networks, providing support and contribting to diversity initiatives such as the Freehold network for LGBT people in the real estate sector, Women in Planning, or the Construction Industry Council's Diversity Panel in which the RTPI has had a longstanding involvement. There are many more terific initiatives across the industry.

Championing diversity isn't just about 'doing the right thing'. We've known for a while that its also good for society and business. And, more importantly, its about the RTPI's role in influencing policy, disseminating practice and shaping our communities so that everyone feel included.

Contributor: Trudi Elliott has been Chief Executive, Royal Town Planning Institute for 4½ years.Trudi has a wide-ranging and in-depth knowledge of planning, where she has worked in one capacity or another for the past twenty years. As Director, Government Office for the West Midlands, Trudi had responsibility for advising on large and controversial planning applications, managed the national planning case work on behalf of all government offices and advised on all aspects of planning, housing, transport and regeneration as they affected communities across the West Midlands.

Trudi has experience of working across all sectors – public, private and voluntary. Her previous roles have included Chief Executive of Bridgnorth District Council and Chief Executive of West Midlands Regional Assembly and West Midlands Local Government Association. She has also worked as a lawyer in both the public and private sectors.