Queering Public Space
In this episode of the Inclusive Growth Show, Toby is joined by Pippa Catterall, Professor of History and Policy at the University of Westminster, about her report written in collaboration with Arup called ‘Queering Public Space’.
This week’s guest is Pippa Catterall, Professor of History and Policy at the University of Westminster. We’ll be talking about her report, written in collaboration with Arup, called ‘Queering Public Space’.
The contents of the report are applicable to me both as a member of the LGBTQ+ community and as a disabled person so I’m keen to learn why the report was written. We’ll be talking about some fascinating topics like gaybourhoods; why we need to rethink inclusive practices; why and how we should be preserving queer heritage; what it means to be designing in desistance in diversity and how queering public space relates to diversifying our workforces.
Pippa is not only the Professor of History and Policy at the University of Westminster, so
To get the conversation started, I asked Pippa to give me a fuller introduction.
‘I’ll do my best to try and give you the expurgated version, which could cover a multiplicity of angles. I’m a trans woman and I finally plucked up the courage to confront that reality a few years ago after a lifetime of feeling fairly suicidal. I have to say, it’s really important to be able to be your authentic self. The second point is that I have written on a huge number of different things over the years. I’ve just published the chapters on religion and the constitution in the Cambridge Constitutional History of the UK.
So, my range of interest is pretty broad. In recent years I have been increasingly interested in the question of citizenship, riffing off that point about the constitution, because if you like, constitutions are the rules of the game between the governing and the governed. It seems to me that it’s important to think about what influence we, the public, can have on the spaces we inhabit which are very often designed for us, yet owned by others. What we do within these spaces is often quite heavily policed, not only in design characteristics but in authority structures as well. So, I’m really interested in all of those kinds of things.
I’m also interested in representation in public space. Another hat I wear is that I’m chair of AIDS Memory UK, which was set up a couple of years ago to work towards creating an AIDS memorial in London as a major statement in memory of all of the people who suffered and continue to suffer from HIV AIDS. That’s going to be located, with any luck, in the London Borough of Camden. But I’m also co-chair of the Westminster LGBT Forum. We do a number of different activities, one of which is coming up soon to support young people who are vulnerable and need help and encouragement in coming out and indeed staying out.
There are a few things I can pick up on from the introduction. For instance, one of the groups who are most vulnerable to hate crime in public spaces is, of course, disabled people. And as we’ve seen a rise in hate crime over the last few years, not least in the UK, disabled people have suffered from that increase in line with other groups as well.
It’s really important when we’re thinking about designing inclusive spaces to bear in mind all the groups who are marginalised within those spaces. What we shouldn’t be doing is allowing, for want of a better word, the right to use the usual tactics of divide and rule to divide people up and thereby play us off against each other rather than trying to ensure that everybody is included in public space and in our society.’
Pippa has touched on one of the reasons I found her report so insightful and validating, as somebody who’s disabled and also a member of the LGBTQ+ community. There was one particular paragraph in the report that stood out, and I’ve shared it with a few clients of mine, which said that public spaces are not neutral. Public spaces are dominated by certain dominant groups within society, and they’re shaped by the male gaze and they’re designed for use by particular groups, particularly the hetero patriarchy.
That jumped out at me about how we operate or live in spaces that are designed by others and then heavily influenced by others. It reminded me, for example, that the entrance to number 10 Downing Street is not very wheelchair accessible. The excuse that they give is that it’s an old building and there are heritage laws in place and it can’t be modified or something like that.
I don’t work in the built environment sector, but part of me thinks that’s a load of rubbish because, I mean, very recently the front entrance to St Paul’s Cathedral has been made completely step-free and accessible. And the Bank of England has managed to provide integrated access through their entrance. So, I suppose the point of saying this is that as a disabled person myself, I look at Downing Street, governing the country and even on a subliminal level it might be saying to me, This is not a place for you as a wheelchair user.” You can’t hold the office of prime minister. And the government doesn’t have a great reputation for supporting disabled individuals in particular.
Pippa agreed, ‘Absolutely. There’s a famous example of that, I think it was last year, where someone was handing in a petition about the treatment of disabled people in the UK and they couldn’t get into Number 10 because there was no wheelchair access and they couldn’t even sort out a ramp properly to get in there. So, they couldn’t even do temporary access, which is shocking, given that the building has, of course, been extensively adapted inside. It may have a Georgian facade, but it’s not a Georgian building in any meaningful sense of the word. That’s a pretty poor excuse, but unfortunately par for the course.’
Pippa wrote the report ‘Queering Public Space’ in a collaboration between the University of Westminster and Arup. I asked, ‘Why did you write the report?’
‘Ok, here’s a note for anyone who’s interested in networking and what networking can get you. I always think every conversation can open a door, and you never know where it’s going to take you. In the summer of 2019, I found myself at Historic England’s Summer Party on the roof of Cannon Street Station in London. I didn’t know anybody there, so I was just standing, nursing my glass of wine and gazing at the River Thames.
I found myself standing next to a young Syrian refugee called Ammar Azouz, who happened to be an artist and an architect. We got talking. We found we had lots of interests in common. Ammar at the time was working at Arup. We didn’t talk about ‘Queering Public Space’ that particular evening, but we met for coffee a few weeks later. I mentioned that I’d seen this play called ‘Love Song to Lavender Menace’ at the Edinburgh Fringe a couple of years before. The play is a tribute to Lavender Menace, which was the first gay bookshop in Scotland. Male homosexuality was only partially decriminalised in Scotland in 1980, sometime after England. So, this bookshop opened in, I think, 1982 or something. And the play starts off with this guy trying to sneak into this bookshop without being spotted. He has a line that goes, “Fuck me, even the buildings are homophobic!”
And I found myself thinking about it. “How can a building be homophobic? Okay, all those dour Presbyterian buildings in Edinburgh, maybe.”
Anyway, I talked to Ammar about it and we started thinking about it. Actually, of course, you can have a queer sensibility to architecture. A lot of architecture is very masculine. A lot of architecture is designed to make statements. So, a lot of it is designed to make statements about the person who designed it, rather than the people who it’s supposedly designed for. We could say that an awful lot of space is really badly designed, insofar as they’ve not taken women, say, into account. There’s no provision for prams. There’s no provision for the very different types of journeys that women still do around cities.
But if you think about planning as well, there’s a guy called Michael Frisch, who a few years ago published an article called Planning as a Heterosexist Project. He points out that the prime influencer of planning in America and Britain in the 20th century was Patrick Geddes. And Patrick Geddes very consciously thought of planning and designing housing estates in terms of the nuclear family, the heteronormative family, 2.4 kids, all of those kinds of things with the result that you have these housing estates where if you’re queer you really stand out.
A friend of mine who is trans got burnt out, fire-bombed out on a housing estate like that in Reading a few years ago. So, in other words, once we started thinking about it, we started noticing these structures and the way in which public space is not, well, public, or the levels of public accessibility vary and the places where you will feel safe vary according to who you are.’
In the report, Pippa writes about gaybourhoods. So, we’re talking about, for example, Soho in London, and Canal Street in Manchester. As people both living and working here in the UK, I asked Pippa ‘Why do you think it is necessary for us to be rethinking the gaybourhood?’
‘Let’s start off with what the gaybourhood is. Historically, one of the problems that queer people have is, “Where do you meet other queer people safely?” We could argue that’s still, to some extent, an issue, even though you are less likely than in the past to end up falling foul of the criminal law because of simply engaging in sexual activities with someone who’s the same sex as you.
If we go back historically, we find that there have been areas where people met which were known in the 18th century as molly houses in London. A lot of these spaces were perhaps more accessible for gay men. So, you might argue that to some extent gay women have other possibilities because of the confinement in the home to a greater extent. So, you don’t necessarily need these spaces outdoors where you can do what you have to do, as it were. Particularly when it’s illicit, particularly for people who are relatively poor.
Historically, if you’re wealthy and you’re queer, you’re much more likely to get away with it, as it were, than if you’re not. There have always been these spaces, and often these have been liminal spaces. Places where the properties are relatively cheap. Places where the law themselves do not go that often. Places where you’ve got rabbit warrens of narrow streets where you can easily dive down a corner and hopefully not be spotted and so on.
The gaybourhood as we now know it seems to have emerged in the 1950s. Looking at Canal Street in the 1950s, it’s a run-down area on the fringes of the industrial districts of Manchester, properties are relatively cheap. Queer people move into the area and they start dominating particular businesses. Once you’ve got partial decriminalisation, at the end of the 1960s, you then get a critical mass of businesses emerging. In some cases, those businesses stay in those areas. So Soho, for instance, has been a liminal space for a long time. It’s sort of between the administrative district of London and the West End, the pleasure zone of London of the West End, a relatively low-rent space with a relatively high number of immigrants. It has a transient population, which often makes it easier for queer people. You then get a concentration of businesses starting to emerge there. After decriminalisation in the US and UK, I mean, you look at the Stonewall Inn, for instance, it was run by the mafia.
It’s that marginal. You’ve got those kinds of areas starting to develop and then the premises become gentrified. One of the problems is, going forward that you start getting notional gaybourhoods emerging. And as they get gentrified, if you like, the pink pound goes up in value, then the property prices go up in these areas, including commercial rents, which means that sooner or later some parts of the community get priced out. Because whilst gay men are, generally speaking, often better off than heterosexual couples, the rest of the LGBTQ community is not.
Usually right at the bottom of the pile are trans women from global majority origin. So, you’ve then got the phenomenon that the gaybourhood is a good safe space for certain people, but not for everyone. A friend of mine’s just done a book ‘A Queer New York’ about lesbian New York. In it, they talk about most of the lesbian enclaves in New York having disappeared because of rising property prices in the last few years.
Also, of course, there are intersectionalities, so spaces where white lesbians feel safe may not be the same for Black or Latina lesbians. So, you start realising that if you’re going to try and be inclusive, the gaybourhood is not really working that way. And also because of these rising commercial rents, the gaybourhood is also becoming quite vulnerable. So, if you look at Soho, it’s less of a gaybourhood now than it was 20 to 30 years ago.’
What Pippa says is interesting because I haven’t found gaybourhoods particularly inclusive for me. When I lived in London, I rarely went out in Soho and I didn’t really enjoy the, quote-unquote, “scene”. I found it quite inaccessible as well. Then there are other factors like apps where people can meet each other which have had an impact as well since you don’t have to physically co-locate to a particular area.
When I wrote my book ‘Inclusive Growth’ I wrote a chapter called ‘Colleague Experience in Design’. The reason I wrote that chapter was because I was getting frustrated by a number of employers who were creating interventions or programmes that were designed to fix individuals.
For example, they would say, “Okay, we don’t have enough women on the board, so we’re going to design a career development programme for women. We are going to teach women how to be more confident and be better at negotiating; how to manage work-life balance; how to have more emotional intelligence and things like that.”
This frustrated me because I don’t think people need fixing. I think it’s the systems and the processes that are the problem. When I was working for one organisation where we had a problem with people rising to the top of the organisation, I asked, “What is it that’s holding you back? Is it a lack of confidence?” And they were like, “Hell no, that’s not the problem. It’s the fact that this company is not very good at flexible and agile working.”
So, the chapter I wrote is based on the premise that we need to think about journeys that people go on within the workplace. It could be a recruitment journey, for example, or it could be acquiring a disability whilst at working age. It could be becoming a parent for the first time. We need to think about the speed humps and the roadblocks that are getting in the employees’ way, and then we have to eliminate those speed humps or roadblocks.
I borrowed a lot of insights from the social model of disability, which says that I’m not disabled because of my underlying disability, I’m disabled because of barriers that are created by society, whether they are physical, attitudinal, procedural, etc.
I asked Pippa, ‘Is it that we also need to rethink inclusive practices?’
‘I’m astonished to hear men talking about women needing emotional intelligence, but it seems to me that one problem with a number of boards is that they tend to hire people like us. Even with the Equality Act in place, you still get people saying, “Well, you wouldn’t fit in, you wouldn’t feel comfortable doing these kinds of things.” So instead of thinking diversity will bring different things to the table, different ideas, and help to avoid the kind of group think, which leads to some massive mistakes in government and in business, the tendency is instead to get people who reinforce your prejudices and assumptions and so on.
I think that’s a major barrier to people climbing and it is a cultural one as well as the more structural ones. It is about how you articulate things like flexible working. How you understand what people can bring to the table. How you allow for people who’ve had career breaks for a whole series of reasons. How you take into account that someone who is able to navigate the world, despite all the barriers that society puts in their place, is maybe better able to think laterally than someone who has risen without trace, like so many of the members of the current government, for instance.
I think that those of us who are marginalised are often much better at problem-solving because we have to. Too many boards have people who have never had to think about how to solve problems, so they don’t recognise problems when they do see them. Again, that’s a kind of structural barrier to improving the growth potential of whatever you are doing.
Of course, we know that people who bring diverse perspectives help create a more learning environment, where we look at questions from a wider variety of angles. This helps to create an environment where we can think more broadly about the question, “Who is going to use these spaces?”
Going back to the point about design factors, we know that in the latest survey of architects, the number of architects who were willing to out themselves has actually gone down. We know that there are architects who are gay but won’t admit they’re gay at work or whatever. We know that despite the efforts to build equality, there’s still an awful lot of homophobia in large parts of the construction industry. That tends to mean that some of those perspectives around asking how to make this space work better for everyone are screened out.’
I am interested in what Pippa said in the report about Queer Heritage and how we need to preserve things like monuments, street art and statues because they can make us feel seen or validated. It got me thinking about the role of these artefacts in supporting us.
A couple of related stories came to mind for me. For example, when I went on holiday with my boyfriend over to Washington, we walked around the city and stumbled across the Franklin D Roosevelt Monument who was sat there in a bronze wheelchair. I’ve got a photo in my flat of me sitting next to this monument of FDR. I remember this other tourist giving me this kind of look of like, “Oh, how, how nice for you, darling!” But I had this big grin on my face because to my knowledge I think that was the first time I’d ever seen a statue in a wheelchair.
Another story is when I was working for a big company, I remember there was one individual who I met through the LGBT+ network. He told me that he felt confident coming out at work because a senior manager was walking around the office with the Pride Network mug. He said, “Well, if the senior manager’s walking around with this rainbow-coloured mug, then it must be a safe space for me to come out at work.”
So, it’s really interesting to think about how these artefacts or statues have such an impact on our experience in the built environment. I asked Pippa, ‘Why do you think it is important that we are preserving queer heritage through these artefacts?’
‘One is that, sometimes, you could look at, say, rainbow crossings and go, “This is a bit of pinkwashing, isn’t it?” You might argue that having a rainbow crossing in Camden probably isn’t doing very much for the local community. There are other kinds of interventions that you perhaps need more in places where you’ve already got a concentration of LGBTQ people with businesses and services and so on.
There was a report on a small village or town in Gloucestershire a year or so ago where this guy wrote to the local paper and said, “We’ve got a rainbow crossing. We don’t have any gay pals, we don’t have anything like that, but we’ve got a rainbow crossing.” Acknowledging that we exist is important because I think there are still people who don’t acknowledge those kinds of things. I mean, there was something in the Times a year or so ago saying, “Well, Terry Pratchett couldn’t have had any ideas about trans people because he died in 2015, and trans people didn’t exist then.” And I might say, “Well, A, you obviously haven’t read his books, and B, trans people have existed since time immemorial.” But of course, unless you know that, you are not going to be aware of it. And a lot of LGBTQ+ people themselves are not necessarily aware of the history.
But as the American author C. Riley Snorton points out, rather than talking about Black queer lives, if you don’t have a past, you don’t have a present; and if you don’t have a present, you certainly don’t have a future. So, inscribing us into the past, a past from which we have been excluded by what some of my trans sisters call cistory, it is really important because then you can confront people and go, “Well, people may not have used the same terms.”
Words like homosexual and heterosexual were invented in the 19th century, but people who manifest all the behaviours and the syndromes etc. can certainly be found going back to antiquity. So, I think in that sense it’s important.
If you think about it, in public space in the UK we’ve got a statue of Alan Turing in Manchester and another one in Paddington. There’s Oscar Wilde down by Charing Cross. There’s a bust of Virginia Woolf in Bloomsbury. Most of these don’t mention that they were queer. I mean, let’s face it, most people don’t notice statues in public spaces most of the time anyway. But it’s quite easy for people to go through public space and go, “Okay. Well, there’s no representation in the past of such people. Therefore, where did all these queer people come from?”
I think it’s challenging that kind of notion that is important in terms of representation. It’s also about having a sense that we have a past, and we have a past which is not just painful. I’m talking about the Ace Memorial and so on. I mean, that past is really painful, but it’s also important to express the joy of being queer. One of the things which I like about talking to the people who are involved in the project to recreate the trans memorial in Sackville Gardens in Manchester is they’re saying, “This is not going to be a memorial to all the trans people who die every year,” and things like that, “this is going to be a monument to us and our resilience.” I think that’s really important.’
In the report, Pippa writes about designing in desistance and diversity. I asked, ‘What is desistance exactly? And how does that relate in particular to, say, a chief people officer who might be listening to us right now?’
‘Desistance refers to the desistance of crime. It’s thinking about how to create spaces where hate crimes, in particular, are less likely to happen in these systems. If you look at the police service across the UK, the police forces habitually have designing out crime teams, but the way in which they think about that is very much on the idea that you maintain a reasonable standard of public space and you somehow thereby design out crime.
I don’t think that’s necessarily how it works. I think designing out crime is not just about reducing graffiti, which is often how the police seem to think about these things. I think it’s about creating spaces where people feel comfortable. Therefore, there’s going to be enough variety of footfall to make sure that things don’t kick off. I think it’s about creating spaces where people would not feel comfortable acting aggressively.
If we look at the perpetrators of hate crimes, there’s surprisingly little research on why people commit hate crimes. But what we do know is that for LGBTQ hate crimes, some of it may be internalised homophobia or transphobia and some of it is about resistance, feeling offended by people who you think shouldn’t be in that particular space. One of the things then is to think about how we create spaces where everybody looks like they should be there. And the third thing I suppose is that a lot of the people who commit hate crimes are, surprise, surprise, quite cowardly. They will often only attack people when they outnumber the person who’s being attacked. You find with some of the gaybourhoods, predators will go to those places and then follow you out of those areas.
So, the attacks don’t necessarily happen on Old Compton Street or Canal Street, but they happen a few streets away when you’ve moved into a different kind of space. It’s thinking about those kinds of things, and how do we change the ambience of those spaces. The final point is a lot of the people who commit these crimes tend to think that everybody around them is going to be a bystander and not an upstander. In other words, they’re going to stand by and accept seeing someone beaten up. What you need to do is try and articulate in those spaces is that particular people are very much included in these spaces and this is where things like rainbow flags help.’
As Pippa was describing the approaches to designing out hate crimes, I was reflecting on the kinds of things that HR directors and organisations should be thinking about. So, these are things like psychological safety within the workplace and being able to call out or escalate issues anonymously if need to be through various speak-up platforms that exist. But they also need to create safe spaces like physically. So, thinking about the quality of lighting if some people have to leave work when it’s dark so they feel safe to do so and the use of things like rainbow flags outside the office signalling that this is an LGBTQ+ friendly environment. Thinking about the provision of gender-neutral toilets, for instance. I mean, these are all things that I come across quite frequently.
Me and my team are quite privileged to be able to work with our clients on helping them with things like engagement surveys and stuff like that. But some of the things that we see come through engagement surveys are shocking. Comments like, “Why on earth are we changing our logo to the rainbow colours during Pride Month?” “Why are you rubbing this gay stuff in my face?” These are literally the kinds of comments that we’ve seen.
Obviously, those individuals probably think it’s quite safe to use derogatory language and abusive language in an anonymous engagement survey, but I am wondering about what kind of, quote-unquote, “banter” might be happening on the shop floor. We have spoken to people that are working on the front line and they have shared with us some pretty shocking behaviour about microaggressions that their colleagues frequently use in their direction. Transphobic, homophobic remarks – it’s really quite shocking.
Pippa replied, ‘Yes. But anyone who feels so insecure that they feel validated by putting down someone else clearly has some kind of issue. If you are secure in who you are, you shouldn’t need to put anybody else down and you should be able to live with other people. There is no justification for abusing anybody just because of who they are.’
My next question was, ‘How does queering public space relate to diversifying our workforces?’
‘I think it’s really important in terms of helping to signify that these are welcoming spaces. We’ve been talking about doing a phase 2 of the Queering Public Space Project, and it’s now gone global. We’ve got collaborators in Australia, Switzerland and Poland. Not Uganda yet, but India and so on.
The people I’m working with in Poland have been thinking about how you can make police stations more inclusive. If you think about it, members of our communities are less likely to report crimes to the police. That’s partly because the police, deservedly, have a terrible reputation, for large numbers of us, but it’s also that going into police stations is just a really alienating experience for virtually anybody. They’re not designed to be warm, friendly spaces for the public. They’re not welcoming spaces. Nor, more surprisingly, are hospitals. Again, if you look at the LGBTQ communities, we are differentially less likely to go to doctors, and that is partly because, again, you go to the doctor, you find the doctor is often baffled or unhelpful or whatever, and certainly not got a good bedside manner, shall we say.
But I think it’s also that the spaces that the NHS has are frequently absolutely horrific, not only for the people using them, going to them as patients, but also for people who work there. They’re not friendly spaces. They are alienating, and cold. They’re not designed to help people. They’re not therapeutic spaces. And I think, in a sense, we want spaces to be inclusive. They should be therapeutic, they should be supportive of warm colours, warm lighting, and a warm ambience, all of which I think tend to play down and reduce levels of aggression. It also tends to create a more calming atmosphere, which is definitely what you need in hospitals. So often the lighting is horribly harsh and difficult to use or to navigate and gives you headaches and so on. It puts people off going to these places in the first place.
Also, you’ve got to try and signalise visualisation in all of these spaces. And of course, if you think about it in terms of posters, the NHS has tried to do that but the police have not been nearly so good at that. Some of them, like “See it, say it, sort it” is the scaremongering the police specialise in. Theresa May has been rightly pilloried for featuring people in the images who look like they’re supposed to be the wandering Jew of anti-Semitic legend. The police need to get their act together much more on these kinds of things.
There are some people in the police service who are aware of this, but not nearly enough. I suppose getting back to that point about the kind of banter, it’s holding up standards around these people who make it quite clear, that this is not okay. People do it because they think it’s okay. If you treat them like they’re absolute plonkers when they behave like that, which is indeed what they are being, then they’ll stop doing it.
If they think they’re being funny and they’re going to get something out of it, or they’re getting a rise out of it, they’ll carry on. People bully people because they think it will make them look better in comparison with someone like that. I was on a train recently and I found myself surrounded by Millwall supporters, who are not normally the people you say, “Oh this is good, lots of Millwall supporters around me,” but sitting right opposite them was a trans woman who was probably a drama student and she was so out there, so loud, so proud and they didn’t say anything. They were completely silent while she was on the train, and when she got off, they looked at each other and one said, “Was that a bloke?” and the others said, “I don’t know”.
They weren’t aggressive or anything like that because she owned the space and she didn’t look vulnerable. When we signal that people are vulnerable in spaces, that people shouldn’t be in those spaces, then we make them vulnerable.’
I love Pippa’s example. On the topic of the inclusiveness of police stations, I remember I had a friend at university who was also a wheelchair user. He got arrested for being drunk and disorderly, and then the police had to let him go because the police station was not wheelchair accessible and they couldn’t get him in the police station.
Pippa added, ‘A less risible version of that is that I was chairing a conference recently about safeguarding students and one of the speakers was from the charity Stamp Out Spiking. Of course, spiking is a very serious issue. It’s not just done on women but the majority of victims are women. There were universities there who were saying, “We say to the police, you do not take statements from our students at the police station. You come to us. You have to come to us because we don’t want to put our students through that torture and you have to do it in a sensitive, supporting environment.”
This is something the police are still working on, shall we say.’
For my final question, I asked Pippa, ‘What would you like the person listening to us today to do as a result of hearing our conversation?’
‘Firstly, make sure that they are upstanders. That means, don’t put yourself at risk, but do make sure that behaviour, which is discriminatory or harassment, or victimisation, is resisted. But in terms of designing in inclusivity, I think it’s important to celebrate humanity in all its variations including, despite the hostility of our current government, refugees because, let’s face it, we’ve all moved. You know, you go back far enough in any family, we’ve all moved from somewhere else.
It’s important to think about things like the quality of lighting in a workplace, not the intensity of lighting. Think about a coffee shop. They don’t have really harsh lighting. They have soft wall lighting for a very good reason. They have natural finishes. They use a lot of wood rather than harsh white surfaces. Use, not necessarily pastel shades, but relatively warm colours. Don’t use harsh colours or stark black-and-white contrasts.
Don’t have harsh soundscapes. I was going through a new housing estate just near Tower Bridge recently, and a hundred yards away from a pub where there were four guys sitting outside, I could hear their voices really, really clearly. For women, I think male voices carrying a long way is often intimidating. And male voices do tend to carry more. So, it’s, you know, thinking about soundscapes as well. If you have really echoey spaces, that doesn’t make for great conversations or great workplaces. I was doing a gig recently about how we design more inclusive offices. One of the people on the panel is writing a history of office design, and she said, “I’m going to call it, where do you cry in an open plan office?” Which I thought was absolutely brilliant because where do you cry in an open-plan office? Offices are almost like panopticons these days and that’s not good.’
As a wheelchair user, I remember when I was working with a company and I was on the client site. The health and safety manager came around and basically kicked me out of the office because he said I was a fire hazard in my wheelchair. I went to the disabled toilet and cried because I was working in an open-plan office at the time. There was nowhere else for me to go, but at least I had a pass to the disabled toilet. So a parting thought from me is that if anyone is thinking of doing an office refurbishment, then they should definitely bring in somebody who can look at inclusive design of the new office.
I think a lot of organisations will do an audit looking at things like physical access for wheelchair users, but that’s only a small proportion of the population that is going to use your office. You have to do a holistic review of how inclusively designed your office is. That means looking at people with disabilities, including neurodivergent individuals, but also members of the LGBTQ+ community, looking at it from a gender lens, gender identity lens, ethnicity and race.
Pippa agreed, adding, ‘It’s really not good that you have those kinds of things happening. I think when you’re designing an office, you need to think, “How do we make it as inclusive as possible?”
The Queering Public Space report can be accessed here and you can connect with Pippa Catterall over at LinkedIn. Hopefully, you’ve taken away some practical tips and insights and can start to think about applying for the inclusivity of your workplaces.
If there’s anything that Toby and his team can do to support you on your diversity and inclusion journey, then please do reach out through the Mildon website.