Written by Lana Lopesi
Supported by Creative New Zealand
Lana Lopesi is the editor of Aotearoa Design Thinking 2018, a series of commissioned critical design essays published by Design Assembly and funded by Creative New Zealand.
Whose tired of the diversity conversation? I sure am.
As some-one who ticks multiple diversity indicators I have spent a large portion of my career so far talking and writing about the importance of diversity. You can read some of that here, here, here and here. And in all honesty, since I have started not too much has changed.
The thing about the diversity conversation that fatigues people, is that it is left to those who are excluded to bang on the door and those who have power to move over—which is a slow process to say the least. For one group of people it’s a conversation about meritocracy and for the other groups where systemic oppressions and biases have contributed to their exclusion—it’s a conversation where women, Māori, Pacific and all other peoples have to explain why we are important and why we should be valued as humans.
What we often don’t understand on the surface is that this conversation on ‘if diversity is important’ is also asking if sexism, racism, ableism and all other -isms are justified under the meritocracy argument. Design—and many other sectors for that matter—are perpetuating inequality. Many of us hold implicit biases that impact our behaviour and allow for structural and systemic inequity to remain, unless you’ve made a conscious effort otherwise. The question is not why is diversity important, but rather why wouldn’t you want to work in a world where everyone is valued?
Rather than rehashing the same ‘diversity is important’ argument I thought instead I would shine a light on people who are already doing great work for us mine for ideas, learn from and move forward.
The Equity Design Collaborative led by Caroline Hill, Michelle Molitor, & Christine Ortiz have formed equityXdesign – a practice that merges the consciousness of racial equity work with the methodology of design thinking. equityXdesign is explained in an article published by the collective titled Racism and inequity are products of design. They can be redesigned. In that article, they used the example of American being an experiment which is 240 years old and that within that time systems were designed and established to separate people and empower a select few – these systems including slavery, segregation, capitalism. The article claims that these systems laid the groundwork for “misunderstanding, fear, and ultimately hate”. If we take that model, then New Zealand too is an experiment which started in 1814 with systems introduced by colonial powers which saw innovation and power as a restricted right to colonial men.
As the Equity Design Collaborative believe, racism and inequity are products of design which can be easily redesigned. Merging the consciousness of racial equity and the methodology of design thinking the collective offer equityXdesign — a new way to think about and approach achieving equity. “equityXdesign creates the conditions and relationships for inclusive innovation. A process for anti-racist and equitable design, it is guided by three central beliefs: innovation’s need for inclusion and intentional design, the indistinguishable relationship between the past and the present, and our moral imperative to live in the future we desire to create.”
How Urban Design Perpetuates Racial Inequality–And What We Can Do About It
Similarly in Diana Budds article How Urban Design Perpetuates Racial Inequality–And What We Can Do About It she picks up on the ways in which cities have shaped by many forces but cities can often reveal the policies which have helped shape them and as she writes at the “root of many of these practices is racism, and modern cities bear the legacy of that discrimination.” In this future looking article Budds asked “architects, scholars, urbanists, and planners to share their recommendations for ways design can be a starting point for more equitable cities.” Columbia University Architecture Professor Justin Moore commented that there “is a need to redesign the designers, and to give them the tools and competencies to work within social constructs and spatial contexts that they are meant to serve”. He goes on say,
“There are major blind spots, and the design professions and design education systems need to develop other sensibilities, frameworks, skills, and technologies for designers and design practice that includes not only social or community engagement but also better understanding and relations.
“The demographics of the design fields are improved from a few generations ago, but there are still very few people of color or from lower-income backgrounds in these fields or in the schools–and certainly there are few in the leadership, resource-allocating, and decision-making positions. This results in a missed opportunity to have the diversity of understanding, ideas, talent, and perspectives for the very important role that designers have in influencing the constant change of urban and built environments.
“In 2016, it remains the case that the majority of the people who plan, design, and build our communities and cities lack the diversity of those same communities and cities.”
While the article and Moore’s comment relate specifically to urban and spatial design it is not so different from the graphic design industry well actually it’s scarily similar.
The Diversity Agenda is “about driving change in New Zealand’s engineering and architecture firms. It started as a partnership between Engineering New Zealand, the New Zealand Institute of Architects and ACENZ – and more than 40 firms have already come on board. Our goal is to get 20 percent more women in engineering and architecture roles by 2021.”
The thing that I love about the Diversity Agenda is that they are actually doing it. They have acknowledged an inequality and instead of having conversation after conversation they have actually started to address the issues. As they write “ We’re addressing the real issues that hold people back, like retention and promotion of women, equal pay and a modern work culture that benefits everyone. At the Agenda’s core is a clear target: 20 percent more women in engineering and architecture roles by 2021. It’s a goal which gives all organisations something to commit and measure up to. The leaders of tomorrow are waiting for you to act. Now’s the time to start.”