Meet Olafiyin Taiwo, a chartered town planner who holds various influential positions - she is chair of the Commonwealth Association of Planners Young Planners Network, co-founder/director of BAME Planners Network and doctoral researcher at University College London, to name a few.
Having worked with a number of local authorities as a planning consultant, Taiwo sat down with Joshua Elliott and Chloe Dickinson, recruitment consultants at Oyster Partnerships to share her experiences and what it means to create a truly diverse team.
Olafiyin, what does a diverse team look like in your work?
In my eyes, a diverse team is not just diverse in terms of discipline, it should also be diverse in terms of race, background, and experience, including experiences outside of planning. This all helps with decision making, whether it's a development management decision, a planning enforcement decision or even when it comes to heritage and regeneration projects. Planners within local authorities also need to understand the local context in order to truly represent the interests of the community that they serve.
How can the planning sector take the lead when it comes to equality, diversity and inclusion?
I think it starts with training and awareness of planning as a profession, as well as recruitment. Now that more apprenticeship opportunities are created by the Royal Town Planning Institute and partners, it is getting people from all different backgrounds into the field at an early stage. It is important to ensure that apprenticeships and similar opportunities in planning are readily available and accessible to young people from all backgrounds. The advertisement of these opportunities should be intentional, deliberately targeting underrepresented groups. I also think it's important that individuals with disabilities are not left behind in the recruitment process.
Why is it advantageous to have a diverse planning team?
I think the biggest advantage of having a diverse team is the richness of its contribution to making better places. A diverse team that is representative of the local community projects a positive view and promotes the role of planning as a champion of the community. This applies to all aspects of planning, including regeneration, conservation, urban design, development management, policy, or enforcement and all the other elements interwoven in planning.
A team with diverse backgrounds, diverse training, and diverse experiences have the potential to work more efficiently. There is also the additional opportunity for knowledge sharing. This is important as planning is not a siloed profession, you're always working closely with your team, and the more effectively you can do this, the better the team's output.
In what ways have the planning teams that you've worked with in the past embraced diversity, and what have you witnessed as a result?
I have worked in different local authorities and the experiences have been very different - some are very diverse and supportive; some are equally diverse, but not supportive. There needs to be greater understanding of what diversity means in practice.
From my observation, diversity might not be a concern at the early career stages. For example, planning officers are often from diverse backgrounds. However, at senior officer levels, the teams become less diverse, especially at principal/team leader level. Perhaps this can be caused by different circumstances such as lack of career progression opportunities, family responsibilities or inadequate support. It is vital to make sure that all staff, no matter their background, have equal opportunities for training, including leadership training, and career progression.
What support is there for people from BAME backgrounds to progress their planning careers?
The BAME Planners Network actively supports members to progress in the planning profession. Steering Committee members regularly provide one-to-one career development support, including CV reviews, interview preparation, work experience, advice, and social support, including confidence building among others.
Within the last 12 months, the network has provided direct support and guided a number of our members in securing new roles despite the limited resources and capacity available.
Apart from the BAME Planners Network, I am not aware of any support that specifically targets planners from BAME background.
The Royal Town Planning Institute provides some level of support to all her members regardless of the ethnic background. However, I am not aware of the proportion of planners from BAME backgrounds who are members of the institute in comparison to those who are not.
Taiwo offers the following basic steps to help your organisation kickstart or build on its diversity strategy:
- Be genuinely committed. Rather than following the bandwagon, it is important to define what diversity means to the organisation and create a diversity strategy that the organisation believes in. Otherwise, it's a wasted effort, or perhaps a publicity stunt.
- Identify the purpose of your diversity strategy. You don't simply want to increase the diversity of the group. Organisations and teams also need to identify the kind of diversity that is critical to achieving their business objectives.
- Create a robust strategy. The diversity objectives of any organisation should not only be clear and accessible to all employees, the implementation process and training should also be readily available.
- Ensure diversity at all career grades. It's crucial to ensure you have diversity from planning officer level through to leadership level.
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