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Practices Present at BDP

Anna Sinnott, planning director at BDP, was joined by engineer and director at Arcadis Lara Potter and sustainability lead at UK Parliament Katherine Lowe at the second session of Practices Present as part of the W Programme on October 29 2019

‘The juggle is real’, Anna Sinnott, planning director at BDP declares at the first event of the current 2019/20 W programme. Colleagues from the W partner practices gathered at the offices of BDP in Clerkenwell in London on October 29 for an evening of talks about inclusivity, diversity and equality across a cross-section of the industry. Sinnott was joined by Lara Potter, an engineer and Director for Workforce for the Future at Arcadis, and Katherine Lowe, the sustainability lead for the Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal programme and the House of Commons decant. 

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Anna Sinnott (centre) was joined at BDP’s offices by Lara Potter (left) and Katherine Lowe (right)

The juggle is real – and for a lot of people in the profession. Each speaker described their career journeys, from initial curiosity about their field of work, through their detours and to where their careers have taken them to today. Despite representing different industries within the built environment, they shared similar experiences and stances on their career and personal developments, the things that have shaped them, and things that have been difficult.

Transitions throughout a career and the resulting challenges were common threads. Not one of the speakers’ careers have followed a straight path, and have all had detours, pit-stops, blind alleys and U-turns along the way. All three illustrated how they have allowed their career decisions to be informed by their employment, other interests or personal life, and shape their paths, despite the difficulties that starting a new job or a family might bring with it.

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Questions from the audience broadened the conversation into a discussion of broader diversity

Key to all three was the importance of working in a company or environment in positions with the opportunity to grow, personally and professionally, and with the opportunity to be challenged and trusted throughout their careers. Feeling comfortable and supported goes hand-in-hand with the notion of being able to grow within a company. The importance of ‘role models’ was discussed in all its facets. From learning from other women how to ‘find one’s way’, to having a supportive colleague or co-student network to rely on, the figure of the role model proved to be multi-faceted. For several of the speakers, being a senior role model is now part of their job, and they asserted that they as mentors are learning just as much from the mentees, as the mentees are from them.

Support doesn’t just originate from within one’s place of work, but also very much from outside it. Having a personal network of friends or family as support is of equal importance – as Potter asserted it ‘take your personal stakeholders along on your journey’.

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Other pieces of advice from the speakers were: to work with what you have a passion and curiosity for; to do something that you love; saying yes to opportunities that come your way, and have confidence in that you can do them, or that it is fine to try; be true to what you believe in, and don’t work with people or companies that you don’t like.

The questions that this event rose pick up ongoing lines of enquiry developed at previous W programme events. The question of how we solve the issue of diversity and equality in the built environment is pertinent and will continue to be so until it has been solved. In discussions around diversity and inclusion in practice, the interdisciplinary nature of this particular event brought with it perspectives from outside architectural practice. The conversations teased out the notion that having a more interdisciplinary industry – hiring people from, and tying links to, other fields within the built environment, as well as other industries or backgrounds, would both add value to the industry overall and could be a way to encourage a more inclusive profession. We need to be open and to acknowledge unconscious bias, and emphasise that hiring or promoting people with attributes different than what already exists in a company is important, and can add a lot of value.

The W Programme promotes equality and diversity in architectural practice. To become a W programme practice partner and join us in building a sustainable future for the profession, contact