Black Lives Matter and the Interior Design Industry

By July 7, 2020Events and News

In June, the British Institute for Interior Design (BIID) issued a call for ideas to ensure change in the industry on diversity and inclusion.

We welcomed this request for feedback, which focussed the discussions we’d been having internally on the Black Lives Matter movement; our response is below.

How we hire & manage our own teams.

  • The prevalence of unpaid internships in the industry makes it very difficult for anyone lacking privilege to make a start. Could the BIID advocate for e.g. living wage accreditation (and other hiring or management practices that make a difference?)
  • Encouraging the adoption of flexible work hours in the industry. Recognising the need for flexible work hours gives people with less privilege a better opportunity to get into the industry while maintaining their other life commitments.
  • Engaging & educating members on unconscious bias and the impact it can have on hiring practices (e.g. by offering / recommending unconscious bias training). As the majority of design companies are small businesses who hire infrequently and with a close eye on ‘team fit’, unconscious bias is likely to have a particularly significant impact in our industry. It’s great to see you’ve already added the Inclusive Leadership training module.

Similarly, lack of diversity self-perpetuates as lack of representation, making it less likely BAME people consider it as a career. 

Recognising that, as many BIID members are one-person teams, or sufficiently small that opportunities to make an immediate difference through hiring practices are limited, we could look at e.g.

  • Are there any e.g. charity partners we could work with to go into schools to present interior design as a career option and offer advice/ support as to how to get started? We have a relationship with a local inner London comprehensive school with a diverse student body. We offer work experience weeks and present at their careers fairs, and have found that extremely rewarding, not to say useful, in that we were able to offer one of our work experience students paid work for several weeks over the summer holidays in 2019.
  • Similarly, the BIID could look at diversity-focussed mentorship schemes or similar, who could be invited to present to BIID members?
  • The BIID could ask university tutors for their input on what would make a difference to the number of BAME applicants they get, and how many are successful in going on to form a career (i.e. what insight do the tutors have about the barriers to entry that their students face) – perhaps starting with the tutors already engaged in the BIID Student Challenge event.

How (and to whom) we represent the industry.

  • While important to avoid tokenism, it would be great to boost the profile of BAME members – e.g. a webinar or talk hosted by BAME members of the industry could be a useful start?
  • It would be interesting to look at the diversity of the audience of the current marketing / partnership/ event channels that the BIID is engaged with and see if there is an opportunity to increase that diversity. Increasing the potential diversity of our members, but also of the potential client base of our existing members can only be a good thing.
  • If anyone has done any research into the history of the industry highlighting the role of Black people or culture on the evolution of today’s style it would be amazing to share that with members (in the same spirit as ‘decolonising’ curriculums in schools or universities)
  • Encourage members to have their whole team represented on their websites – especially if they have BAME team members.

How we spend our (client’s) money. 

  • It would be great to have a training module or supplier presentation that gets people thinking about the supply chain, and how to find and support BAME owned businesses – for example 
    • what research tools, events or publications are good for finding products outside the ‘white European’ aesthetic. 
    • how to source textiles that aren’t depending on oppressive practices,
    • what to look for when looking for suppliers whose employment practices support diversity (i.e. beyond their surface statement).
  • Showcasing BAME owned businesses in the BIID newsletter.

How we as individuals behave in society. 

  • A diversity training CPD module covering topics such as unconscious bias, micro-aggressions etc would help us as individuals consider how we can make a difference (as well as hiring practices, as noted above).

Useful further reading – I’m sure many of these are on your radar, but we have found these useful and thought provoking (and might be to other members);

While these measures could help support existing members, establishing a fair wage practice across the industry is fundamental to driving meaningful change to diversity in the industry. We appreciate that some members & prospective members will need education, support and time to make this change (especially given the additional financial challenge currently) – but now is the time to commit to the change, and to start the work to get there. Any public-facing statement on diversity from the BIID should address this point- we want to see the BIID leading the way as it did on bribery, rather than be another example of ‘empty brand activism’ that we’ve seen elsewhere.

Since then BIID has received a powerful open letter from a large group of interior design professionals advocating for a number of specific measures.

As a result, we’re pleased to see the BIID announce it will conduct a survey on diversity and publish an initial action plan in Sept 2020.  We welcome these initiatives and look forward to being involved in rapid, meaningful and longstanding improvements in diversity in the industry.

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