PARN Member Feature with Machel Bogues 

Machel Bogues has worked on managing equality, diversity, and inclusion projects for over ten years and he has gained expert knowledge in using design principles to deliver transformational change while integrating equalities diversity and inclusion principles into daily business activities. Machel works as an Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity Manager at Royal Town Planning Institute and is working alongside Brown University on a project to tackle inequality in the history of ideas. As a history graduate, Machel has a deep interest in addressing inequalities in both the production and teaching of history. He has been working with the Historical Association, National Union of Teachers and the Bernie Grant Trust on a range of projects to improve the teaching of black British history in schools.

 Machel has a strong commitment to equality, diversity, and inclusion and is very open about how his passion stems from his family being political refugees from South Africa. Machel has kindly dedicated the time to answer a variety of questions presented by PARN, PARN members and EDI Practitioners using his personal experience and expertise to address some pressing topics such as the removing statues of slave traders, best practice for recruitment from an EDI perspective as well as sharing some insights into his personal journey and more.

Machel is a member of PARN's Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Special Interest Group ("SIG").

What is a common mistake organisation’s make when thinking about diversity? 

I would say that it is thinking about EDI as solely a set of tasks, actions to be done; EDI as a discrete set of actions and projects that will transform an organisation. This type of thinking leads to associated issues of appointing a person, and it is almost always a person, and making them singularly responsible for transformation. This can result in some excellent project work with great outcomes but often also means that this great work is restricted to the area in the immediate sphere of influence of the project whilst the rest of the organisation carries on as normal.  This is perhaps, mostly easily seen in places like museums where they have people working on engaging very specific audiences, developing programmes to attract them into the museum through South Asian Heritage events, Black History and Pride events often temporarily transforming spaces to make them more inclusive and attractive but once that specific engagement has ended the spaces go back to normal and becomes impossible to tell that those events happened.  

I think the aim should be for EDI to become core organisational values from which informs all work, across whole organisation.  Thinking about museums again this would mean being able to uphold and see these values in, recruitment, public programming, building access, collection policy and interpretation. 


How do you ensure your membership profile matches that of the general population from an EDI perspective - have you identified any specific under-represented groups in the sector (BAME, disabilities, same sex etc) and what practices or strategies have you been able to put in place to address these? 

I think this is a work in progress.  

The first step is really understanding data as well as we can. There are a few layers to this. We will be working to make sure that our own membership data is as accurate and robust as it can be. To help with this we have developed a new role of Regional EDI Champions that sit on respective committees and one of their key areas of work will be to with me to build the data on our membership at a regional level. We will then compare that to overall demographics of that region and determine what action to take. We might, for example, find that in the Northwest that we are not where we want to be with LGBTQ members and initiate some targeted membership recruitment activity.  

Simultaneously we will also need to think about what our membership offer is or perhaps more accurately what our offers are. Do we have or need to have a range of offers that speak to specific needs/wants of different types of members? This work we are about to embark on will help us answer this question.  

We also need to place our membership data in better context by which I mean not just national and regional demographic data but what does the profession actually look like. It is easy to think about having a target to have a membership that reflects national demographics e.g. 7.5% members of East and South Asian heritage but if across our profession less than 2% of planners are East and South Asian heritage then how realistic is a target of 7.5%? At the moment that is not information that we hold, at least not reliably and we will need to find a way to address that; far easier said than done for a profession Chartered (MRTPI) status is protected but before achieving Chartered status identifying town planners is not straightforward especially as it is possible to have planner/planning in the job title but not be a town planner. 


How do you ensure your board adequately reflects your membership profile in terms of EDI, particularly where there may be an election process that may invoke individual bias?   

This is also a work in progress for us.  

Our board diversity has improved over recent years particularly in terms of gender, maintaining this is a function of what our membership looks like.  If diversity in our membership is concentrated at more “junior” membership tiers, then this is likely to have an impact on our what our governance looks like. We need to build a much better understanding of all our members journeys so that we can start identifying where there are gaps, issues and then develop appropriate interventions.  

Additionally, we need to make sure that there is sufficient interest from members from diverse backgrounds in taking part in governance activity. The work with regional EDI Champions should help with this.  

Once we have a better handle on this I will be able to give a much fuller answer to this – happy to report back in a few months time. 


What are the best methods for recruitment from an EDI perspective? Do you use surveys and effectively apply quota's ensuring you employee individuals from minority groups, by means of positive discrimination within recruitment adverts specifying applications from minority groups, or applying an EDI blind approach with all applicants having anonymity from the process - or is there another solution which would promote best practice in EDI from your experience?  

There is a lot in this question! I am going to start by pushing back on the idea of positive discrimination which I know is at best a controversial term or tactic – but I think its worth remembering that white men have been benefiting from de facto policy of positive discrimination and having favourable treatment in the job market for quite some time. On that basis I tend to think of finding ways to prioritise previously historically disadvantaged groups not as positive discrimination but as corrective action.  

I am not sure that there is a best only what works best for you and the sector you are in – the challenges are different in STEM professions then say legal or professional football - likely the answer will be finding the right cocktail of approaches that turn the needle. This will almost certainly include good data collection at point of application, consideration about where job adverts are placed and which networks they are promoted through, blind application process and target setting both in terms of applications received, interview selection and staff demographics. You could also include something like the US Rooney Rule where those from underrepresented communities are guaranteed an interview, developing specific programmes to support entry into professions and/or promotion or targeted use of training such as unconscious bias training.   

UB training has been getting a little bit of an unfair rap lately. The issue is not if UB training is any good or not but much more has been asked to carry a load that it is not capable of doing. If UB training is being deployed to change the way an organisation works then the chances of it being successful are at best remote. It’s the nature of near enough any training programme that the further in the past the training the less and less it is remembered – particularly in a context where the training is not reinforced by process ways of working when back at the desk. UB training as part of a recruitment process, where those about to undertake recruitment are given UB training as part of that process that can have impact on the decision about to be taken. 


What is the most important thing you wish to convey about EDI?

It is not a series of discrete projects but has to be treated much more like connective tissue that stretches out from the organisations core and binds together all activity. 


Would you agree that it is both unethical and impractical for the burden of dismantling systematic discrimination to fall to the very people who have suffered by it? 

Yes and no.  

Yes – it cannot be solely the burden of those who face discrimination to dismantle it – particularly as it’s a condition of that discrimination for them to be excluded from various corridors of power. Yes, also because operating in the EDI space as a member of a disadvantaged group often brings with it a level of stress and pressure that can be unsustainable.  

No – because the perspective, knowledge and ideas developed by those who have had to face down discrimination are critical to understanding all the various ways in which systematic discrimination operates, the impact it has and what a system that does not operate in that way might look like. 


For meaningful change to happen, can it be said that those people who have benefitted from inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities must first recognise their own privilege?  

I think would go slightly further in not only a recognising that privilege but understanding what that privilege is. Too often this idea is dismissed because someone will think it does not apply to them because they do not come from money, or don’t have a high-flying job. Privilege is not the absence of struggle it is the absence of a particular kind of struggle. Typically, men don’t worry about what time they go for a run on their own, women do. That is part of male privilege. Typically, white people are not concerned that the actions of other white people will be taken as reflection of how they behave as an individual. Black people often do. 


What would your view be on the removal of statues of slave traders in public spaces? Should they be in the street to serve as a reminder, or in a museum as a relic? How far can it be said that this debate is ultimately a distraction from the wider issue of systemic racism? 

I might take the last part of this first – it’s only a distraction if we focus only on question of removal or not. If we understand the question more as what it is, which is a question of what it means to memorialise, and what we choose to memorialise – which itself is a question about the past the want to celebrate and use to build an understanding of who we are in the present. How we answer this question will have real impact on how we treat public spaces.  

An honest interrogation of the past should really force us to address not only the visible symptoms of an illness (public memorials) but also to treat the deep-rooted malaise of the selective and partial truths from the past that are used to form the molecular bonds that bind the national project together.  

With specific reference to statues of slave traders and colonisers this means not just thinking about the ways in which their wealth might have built and supported communities but also the lives and communities destroyed in that process and coming to grips with the reality that modern Britain is a direct consequence of atrocity, and that atrocity lives not in the distant past but in the lived experience of the present in substantive and banal ways. Whether that be the fact the loan taken out by the UK govt to compensate slave owners for the loss of their “property” in 1834 was not repaid until 2015 meaning that the formerly enslaved and their ancestors have in a very literal sense paid for their freedom or that even that most English and seemingly benign tradition of Afternoon tea is bound up in Empire and colonialism taking in tea from Indian subcontinent, sugar from plantations in the Caribbean and enslaved Africans to work on those plantations. Doing this is nothing short of transforming our relationship with history.  

Any hesitancy I have about removing statues is that it may achieve the goal of redecorating public space(s) but not that to transforming our relationship with the past and that forcing an argument about removal or not the real conversation about transformation is avoided. 


How did growing up in Jamaica shape your perception of race and racism? And the weather aside, what was the biggest surprise when you moved to the UK? 

The second one is easy – the almost complete lack of any understanding of school age children of Britain as a former Empire and what that means for its relationship with former colonies including Jamaica. Aspects of British history I had learned about in primary school in Jamaica had not yet been taught to secondary school children in the Britain.  

As for the first perception of race and racism – slightly more complex. Initially I think the biggest impact Jamaica had on me in terms of perception of race and racism is that I did (and to an extent still do) have the perspective of someone used to being in the majority and not a minority which does slightly change the way in which relate to the world which is both good and bad.  

As I have gotten older the link to Jamaica, I think has given me ability to think about race and racism and identity in nuanced ways and how that identity can flip or change depending on context but also to understand those nuances as functions not of localised systems but a global one. 


Please identify a personal piece of information that might surprise our readers

I used to be a huge fan of Heavy Metal – though not anymore, but I have been and remain a big fan of science fiction and fantasy. Despite having not read it for ages the Lord of the Rings trilogy is probably by most well-thumbed book(s) 

Provide your personal ‘top three’ – choosing from one of the following genres: books/films/tunes  

I will take music – which is huge part of my life almost always on, but I can’t possible offer a top 3 of all time – only a top 3 of the moment!  

  1. Sackodougou by Weedie Braimah 

  1. Point and Kill by Little Simz  

  1. Latino Negro by Madlib

If you could travel back in time to a particular place anywhere in the world – where and when would it be and why?

You know I don’t think I would, how on earth could one possibly pick one moment? I would love to have been there to see Jamaica gain independence, same for Ghana or to have had the opportunity to talk to Amilcar Cabral a too often overlooked (in English language circles of thought) giant of African Liberation. To meet Sylvia Winter or Nanny of the maroons – or be in room when Coltrane improvised bee bop would be amazing – but in the end this historic moment is mine and the challenge is to not think about going back but how we go forward. 

We'd like to take the opportunity to thank Machel for his valuable insights shared with us as part of our member feature, we hope you found his unique insight valuable. We look forward to developing this feature and bringing more acuity to our readers.