Institute plunged into sexism row by former employee

The RIBA has been accused of having “some way to go” in tackling sexism in an explosive tweet by a former member of staff on the day the institution was marking the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the UK.

Sarah Gaventa, who is founding director of placemaking consultancy Made Public and whose career has included stints at Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners and Cabe, said she had been subjected to demeaning comments when she worked at Portland Place.

“When I was at RIBA a past president told me how attractive I was compared to the last press officer,” she said.

“Not so long ago I attended a meeting there and a male staffer (now dead but not by my hand) horrified me by asking if I were Belle de Jour! Think RIBA still has some way to go.”


Belle de Jour was the pseudonym of an American scientist who blogged about her double life as a London call girl in the early 2000s until her identity was revealed. It is also the name of a 1967 film starring Catherine Deneuve as a bored housewife who lives out her sadomasochistic fantasies as a prostitute.

Gaventa, who also tweeted about wearing a suffragette brooch to mark Tuesday’s anniversary, sent her blistering message in reply to an official RIBA tweet celebrating the progress women architects have made in the last 100 years.

It said: “Today marks 100 years since women won the right to vote in the UK. Today we celebrate the progress we have made and continue our commitment to value the contribution of women in architecture.”

The RIBA then posted a picture of Ethel Mary Charles, the first female architect to gain RIBA membership, in 1898.


Today, about 12 hours after Gaventa’s tweet, the RIBA replied saying: “The behaviour you have described is completely unacceptable. Please DM us with further details.”

Architect Jonny Muirhead of Muirhead & Co praised Gaventa for going public, adding: “No one should forget the RIBA is still a club, not a union and the profession has not actually got itself into the 21st century.”

BD has contacted the RIBA and Gaventa to give them a chance to comment further.