New Speaker Bank platform to boost diversity at urban events

An ethnically diverse group of laugh and chat on stage of a conference while they wait for the session to start. Three are wearing bright orange tops

The built environment sector has made progress, but still has a diversity problem. Future of London renews its commitment to helping people from diverse backgrounds raise their profile.

Future of London is launching a new, web-based Speaker Bank platform, to help improve the diversity of event speaker panels.

We aim to bring diverse perspectives into the cities debate and reflect London citizens who are the sector’s ultimate clients. The new Future of London Speaker Bank platform is supported by L&Q and the G15, the group of London’s leading housing associations.

Event organisers can browse speaker profiles or filter by expertise, such as sustainability, urban design or data analysis. There are about 30 profiles on the Speaker Bank, with a drive to find new members. We are keen to hear from prospective speakers now!

Go straight to the Future of London Speaker Bank

Ending all-white, all-male speaker platforms

With its roots in construction and property development, the built environment sector retains a reputation as a club that recruits from within. All-white, all-male speaker platforms still appear at sector events, which is satirised by the social media feed @MIPIMLads.

A group of people in men's business suits and ties speak on a stage at an event with a slide projected behind with company logos.
Self-reflection: Future of London event in 2010

“The Speaker Bank aims to improve the diversity of the whole sector by amplifying the voices of speakers from marginalised groups at sector events,” says Nicola Mathers, Chief Executive of Future of London.

“Our new web-based platform will make it easier to find speakers with different backgrounds and help raise the profile of people with something important to say.”

G15 group backs Speaker Bank

The G15 group of London housing associations backed the relaunch of the Speaker Bank, which has been welcomed by its member organisations.

“The Speaker Diversity Network provides an excellent platform for emerging talent in the sector who are typically under-represented,” says Stephen Burns, Executive Director Care, Inclusion & Communities at Peabody. “It responds to a real need in the sector to promote greater diversity, particularly at management levels.”

Patricia Chinyoka, ED&I Lead at Hyde, adds: “I am delighted to be part of this network and look forward to sharing my knowledge, expertise, and experiences as well as learning good practice from others.”

After first launching in 2016, the Speaker Bank initiative was backed by a speaker diversity pledge. Over 100 organisations in the sector committed to putting forward speakers from under-represented groups.

Claudette Forbes who describes herself as a black woman is standing at a laptop speaking with her right arm gesturing and phone in her other hand
Claudette Forbes: “be yourself”

“When it comes to diversity, visibility is everything,” says Claudette Forbes, a Future of London board member who joined the Speaker Bank from the start. “When diversity is demonstrated, it shows these voices matter. Another reason why diversity matters is we need to hear different perspectives and insights. This surely leads to better outcomes, right?”

Public speaking is key to built environment careers

Claudette forged an executive director-level career in local and London government before becoming an independent consultant. She sees public speaking as crucial to career success and believes the built environment sector should reflect the diversity of London.

She has seen inexperienced speakers from different backgrounds people trying to fit in, which makes them even more nervous.

“I still see people trying to sound like the usual suspects,” she says. “I’ve done presentation skills training. You’re advised to lower your voice and go down at the end of the sentence if you want to be seen as credible. But that’s just being a bloke of a certain type! My mantra now is to go up there and be yourself.”

Four people are seated. Two are wearing men's business suits and one is in chino, all three are turned toward the fourth person. They are speaking wearing a bright green skirt and lipstick.
Katya Veleva: “I came with an immigrant mindset”

Katya Veleva joined the Speaker Bank after taking part in a Future of London speaker showcase event to help develop public speaking skills. They trained as an architect and worked on projects ranging from healthcare to large-scale infrastructure. Now Katya is a full-time inclusion consultant. They describe themselves as a queer, non-binary person with an intersex variation.

“I came from Bulgaria with an immigrant mindset,” they say. “It took me five years to come out as bisexual and over ten years to come to terms with my gender identity and grow out my beard.”

Why representing marginalised groups is hard

Katya agrees with Claudette that people with different backgrounds and experiences offer different perspectives. However they warn against assuming people will want to represent their marginalised group.

“After George Floyd’s murder, I knew quite a few black women architects who wanted to leave the profession because they were expected to educate colleagues on their own trauma and experience. That is hard work.”

Members of the Speaker Bank put themselves forward primarily based on their expertise in the sector. But they also regard themselves as part of under-represented or historically marginalised groups.

“Not everyone wants to be a representative, so we have not asked Speaker Bank members to identify their protected characteristics,” says Nicola Mathers. “We felt that labelling people as representatives of a group went against the spirit of diversity.”

Quality assurance for the Speaker Bank

Future of London has assessed the speakers’ public speaking experience, including at our own events. Event organisers can be confident about the speaker they are contacting.

However we recognise that a significant barrier for people from under-represented backgrounds is a lack of opportunities to gain speaking experience.

To tackle this our Speaker Showcase enables up-and-coming speakers to build their confidence and develop their skills. Participants deliver short presentations, followed by targeted feedback from highly experienced mentors.

For those without a track record in public speaking, completing a speaker showcase enables us to check their capability and determine if they’re eligible to join the Speaker Bank.

The Future of London set up the Speaker Bank to increase representation through two key actions – increasing skills and confidence of a more diverse range of people, and providing a platform.

Whether you are looking for speakers for your event or opportunities to raise your profile, please check out the new platform and help it grow.

To find out more about joining the Speaker Bank or inviting a member to speak click here

Thanks to L&Q and the G15the group of London’s leading housing associations, for supporting the Future of London Speaker Bank.