Kate Watson-Smyth, of Mad About The House, and Interior Designer Rukmini Patel discuss how the Design for Diversity initiative was born and how to be a part of the change.
Image: Co-founders Rukmini Patel and Kate Watson-Smyth
Q1: What does Design for Diversity mean to you and what compelled you to act?
KW-S: Following #blackouttuesday I wrote a blog post about the lack of diversity in the interiors industry and then Sophie Robinson, my podcasting co-host and I devoted an extended segment of the show to listening to a range of people from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds talk about their experiences. We heard from designers, stylists, journalists and insiders and they all told the same stories of under-representation and exclusion. Following that, I was chatting to Rukmini, who had taken part in the show and we came up with the idea during a conversation. In addition, I have a large platform and felt I could harness that audience to spread a message.
Q2: Tell us about the Design for Diversity pledge and sticker?
RP & KW-S: The Design for Diversity is a three-point Pledge stating that anyone who signs up to it promises to make their channels more diverse (from websites to social media), to actively seek out candidates from a range of backgrounds to interview for positions and endeavour to ensure that all events involve people from BAME communities. While many businesses may feel they are doing this already, it is a way of them publicly acknowledging this so they may appear more welcoming and inclusive and therefore more likely to attract consumers and staff from the whole community and not just a narrow segment of it. The Pledge is symbolised by a sticker which is placed on your website /social media and clicks through to a page outlining the Pledge’s three elements. We also encourage businesses to add their own top line so that people can see the specific actions that business is taking. People who see the sticker will know what it represents: that the door is open for opportunities for jobs, for suppliers etc. for those from Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic communities. The initiative is for brands, businesses, bloggers, influencers, interior designers and stylists.
Q3: What is your own experience or perception of diversity in the design industry?
RP: As a British Indian, it is clear to see that people from BAME backgrounds are being excluded across many areas of the design world – from magazines, events, design awards, marketing imagery right down to securing a job within a design studio. Personally, it can feel quite daunting going to an event and not seeing yourself represented, whether it’s on the speaker panel or on the guest list. It feels less relatable and can come across as elitist and excluding. People from a BAME background want to be seen as experts in their field and need to be represented as equal to White designers.
Q4: What has the response been so far and which brands have already taken the pledge?
KW-S: I think it’s fair to say we have been blown away by it. We had over 100 brands, bloggers and businesses sign up in the first week and more are coming forward all the time. It’s a simple idea and one that, in all honesty, we all should have been doing anyway, but it clearly wasn’t happening and this is about spelling it out publicly.
One of the issues, perhaps, is summed up in two conversations I had, one after the other. In one, a Black journalist told me she had always been encouraged to apply for jobs within the White-dominated media by the line, “We particularly welcome applications from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minorities”. That line has often disappeared from job advertisements because, as a White business owner told me, “I never include it because surely it’s bloody obvious?”
And it turns out it wasn’t obvious and it did need saying.
Q5: What would your advice be to our readers from the design community on how to address these issues?
RP: Each person has a part to play no matter how big or small; we are all responsible. From the initiative we have seen big brands like Heals come on board as well as independent interior designers take the pledge. Being silent is part of the problem and it’s time to do something about these issues, whether you take the pledge or offer mentorships. If you are a person of influence the small act of opening up can start conversations which lead to action. There are many initiatives and actions people can undertake. We hope to see the conversation continue and action taken until there is no longer an issue.
If you would like to find out more about this important initiative or if you would like to take the pledge please visit:
Sign up to take the pledge here.
TheHouseDirectory.com pledge our support to the Design for Diversity initiative. Diversity is a quality to be celebrated in the design world where influences and references can stem from any person, place or culture around the globe – and is made all the richer as a result. It is a sad truth that this same diversity has long been under-represented within the design industry and this shortcoming is only beginning to be addressed. With the sticker on our homepage, we openly invite businesses, brands and individuals from all diverse backgrounds to apply for membership with us or subscribe to join our community and feel welcome.
Here is a quote from our members at Style Library who have already taken the pledge:
‘Walker Greenbank and its brands stand in solidarity against racism, and for equality for all. To help turn words into action, and make much-needed change happen’. Style Library incorporating Zoffany, Harlequin, Sanderson, Morris & Co, Scion and Anthology.
Please help to increase awareness of the Design for Diversity initiative by sharing this blog with a friend or colleague or on social media.