Emma Dickson, Turley. Credit: Phil Tragen 2019

Emma Dickson is a director of strategic communications at Turley. Credit: Phil Tragen 2019


Why gender mainstreaming is critical for delivering inclusive and equitable cities

MIPIM provided a critical platform for international debates around how to shape our built environment for future generations, writes Emma Dickson of Turley.

Under this agenda, there was a strong focus on inclusivity within our cities to support the positive representation of women, girls and other vulnerable groups and support them and everyone in reaching their full potential.

There was an obvious change in the air around doing things differently this year, with inclusion, diversity, and ESG a mainline topic within agendas from the core UK cities. Women were more visible than ever, as they held prominent leadership positions, particularly in the public sector across Greater Manchester, the North East, and Yorkshire.

It was also clear more conscious decision-making had taken place around diverse business representation at the conference.

On the opening day at the Manchester pavilion, a discussion on the ‘Innovation-rich city’ featured representation from Joanne Roney OBE, chief executive of Manchester City Council, and city leaders from Stockholm and Antwerp. The session showcased how  cities are delivering innovation through partnerships between universities and businesses. This is underpinned by a strong social and cultural offering to attract and retain talent and entrepreneurs from all backgrounds and gender profiles.

The panellists spoke about how initiatives such as digital bootcamps, fast-track training, and supporting girls into STEM subjects will support a wider uptake of career opportunities and a broader talent pipeline for the future.

Thinking in parallel, a Gender Mainstreaming Working Group has been meeting at Turley since 2021. Our group was formed in response to the growing awareness of the gender biases that exist in the design and operation of the built environment and public spaces.

A gender mainstreaming approach places an emphasis on decision makers taking women’s security and wellbeing into account as a matter of course. This approach insists that the needs of women and girls must play an equal part in designing the infrastructure that shapes everyday life.

Gaining traction across the sector, gender mainstreaming is underpinned by research and thinking by professional bodies such as the RTPI, who have published a two-part study ‘Women and Planning: creating gender-sensitive urban environments post-Covid 19’. This was published in February 2020 and March 2021, and investigates the role of women in planning and the impact of the profession on the day-to-day lives of women.

The objective of our Gender Mainstreaming Group’s work is to undertake research, to explore opportunities for developing tools and solutions to the issues raised in the research, and to embed those solutions and behaviours into everything that Turley does.

Our work-to-date has shown:

  • There is a growing understanding that implementing a gender mainstreaming approach creates spaces that are inclusive for all marginalised groups. Meaningful engagement with women, girls, and vulnerable groups at every stage of the planning and design process not only provides valuable insights, but counteracts an unconscious bias towards the ‘default male’ which has come to prominence.
  • Women feel less safe than men in ‘all settings after dark’, according to evidence from recent YouGov surveys. Notably, Manchester City Council Leader Cllr Bev Craig committed to signing Manchester’s evening economy operators up to a Women’s Night-Time Safety Charter last year. One of the commitments specified in the charter is ‘designing for safety’. We have been tracking how other towns and cities are following suit.
  • More exploration is needed on how we can gather gender disaggregated data through our work to fully understand women’s needs and how they interact with the public realm and infrastructure.
  • Local authorities are not fully utilising policies and statues that could better support inclusivity such as provisions in the Equality Act 2010.

Through our conversations at MIPIM it was apparent to me that the time is now to make the meaningful root and branch change the built environment sector needs.

Cities such as Glasgow are already paving the way by adopting a gender mainstreaming approach into its planning decision-making in order to create spaces that support equality and inclusivity.

It was clear from responses to questions throughout the MIPIM programme and in discussions with developers that there was shared recognition of this objective. There is space for further collaboration to be had in a number of areas including:

  • Influencing politics and programmes by lobbying for positive policy change at national and local levels
  • Developing tools to support a gender mainstreaming approach, from co-creation and consultation to audits
  • Meaningfully engaging with all groups to provide insight-led design and user-led co-design
  • Sharing knowledge with collaborators and industry colleagues
  • Championing the progression of women into more senior roles within the industry to ensure the issues faced by women and girls are understood at the highest levels of decision making

It is fundamentally important that women are employed at every stage of the design, planning, and development process. Several of our services at Turley, including strategic communications, design, planning, and economics, are already collaborating to accelerate our work in these areas.

The invitation to collaborate and push forward this agenda continues post-MIPIM and we will be following up on our discussions to further this conversation. At Turley, we will actively work to create and develop more inclusive spaces in our cities, to break down barriers, and develop solutions for our industry.

Emma Dickson is director, strategic communications at Turley

Your Comments

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Are the two genders fundamentally equal or fundamentally different? Can’t we just treat everybody the same?

By Hmm

While you are at it: shape the privately-controlled for-profit built environment to fit other sub-categories of humanity including families and legacy communities instead of tearing familes (via only one-bed or max. two-bed apartments) apart. Single career women are not the only “gender” around.

By James Yates

Sounds like what should be common sense planning wrapped up in old fashioned identity politics gobbledegook.

By Anonymous

There is plenty of lingo to grapple with here, but I am struggling to grasp what any of it means e.g. what might the practical characteristics of a “gender sensitive urban environment” look like, and what on earth should Covid 19 have to do with it?

By Anonymous

Bit confused by all this. No idea what the objective is, or how to get there? Is something currently wrong? Is there proof of this?

By The Planner

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