United by Light, New SLL President Calls for Increased Representation
Posted: 21 May 2021
Recognising that strength lies in diversity
SLL should be truly representative of all who work with light and lighting.
On 20 May 2021, the Society welcomed new President, Dr. Ruth Kelly Waskett into the role at the SLL AGM, Awards, and Presidential Address. Following the formal proceedings, the Society celebrated the achievements of its members and the lighting community, with its annual awards, held online. Immediate past president, Bob Bohannon reflected on the challenges and achievements of the previous year before handing over the virtual floor to Ruth, for her inaugural address as President of the Society of Light and Lighting (SLL).
Ruth acknowledged that whilst we look forward to COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, the increase in virtual events has made SLL events accessible to members and the lighting community globally. Going forward, the Society intends to harness this increased reach in continuing to provide online events and CPD content.
In thanking Bob Bohannon for his leadership in the face of unprecedented challenges and uncertainty, Ruth acknowledged his significant contribution to the progress of the SLL. In reaching more people than ever before, Ruth highlighted the importance of working with CIBSE to strengthen the collective voice of the Institution and its divisions and special interest groups.
Ruth’s love of light began with a school trip to Newgrange, a UNESCO World Heritage site located in the Boyne Valley, North West of Dublin. Believed to have been built by Neolithic farmers around 3200BC, the structure includes a narrow passageway that leads to a central chamber. Each year, on the morning of the winter solstice a beam of light penetrates the structure through an opening above the entrance, traveling up the 19-metre passage, illuminating the inner chamber.
"The shortest day of the year gives way to such beauty and warmth."
Reflecting on the profound and rich symbolism demonstrated by the role of light at Newgrange, Ruth described how this experience ignited her passion for light, leading to her wanting to explore the power of light within buildings. Ruth is now a Lighting Designer, with a focus on natural light.
The Society is open to all and represents a broad range of people who work with light. As well as providing guidance on the use of electric lighting in the built environment, the Society’s output and guidance have always included daylight. Whilst daylight is undeniably an essential element in creating more sustainable buildings, it cannot be commodified in the same sense as artificial lighting. Ruth emphasised that the Society’s impartiality is one of its main strengths in the conversation around the importance of daylight.
“One of the key roles that SLL has is to ensure that the importance of daylight in buildings is kept high on the agenda, of any design guidance in the built environment. The SLL, being part of a professional institution, is in a unique position to be able to talk about daylight and artificial light, as part of the same continuum.”
In addition to embracing light in all its forms, the Society must also represent the diversity of the industry that it serves. In her SLL presidential address in 2015, the late Liz Peck FSLL recognised that the strength of the SLL lies in its diversity, an understanding that Ruth wishes to build upon.
“I would like to honour my friend, by carrying forward her wish that the SLL should be truly representative of all who work with light and lighting.”
The 2019 Light Collective survey on gender representation in the industry, entitled the Lighting Family Tree showed a near equal gender split between those who took part. A further UK-based survey is currently underway, further details of which can be found here. Ruth reflected on the data gathered in the initial Lighting Family Tree survey, alongside the current demographic of SLL members.
“Our membership is still overwhelmingly male. This does not reflect the lighting industry. So what are we going to do about it?”
Identifying the steps needed to improve representation amongst its members, the SLL must increase its visibility to connect with all who work in lighting. Taking a lead from the Women in Lighting project, the Society will work towards ensuring a 50/50 gender split between speakers at SLL events.
“I would like to use my SLL presidential platform to highlight to women throughout the industry that SLL membership could be for them too.”
In working towards improved accessibility and representation within the Society’s membership, the team behind the Women in Lighting project will be publishing a selection of interviews and videos from women within the SLL.
“This is not about getting more members; this is about ensuring that our make-up reflects the industry that we represent.”
Along with improving inclusivity, diversity, and representation for the Society, Ruth highlighted the Society’s responsibility in spreading the message about light and health.
The SLL was recently joined by contributors to the Second International Workshop on Circadian and Neurophysical Photometry (2019) for a webinar discussion focusing on recommendations and practical applications for healthy daytime, evening, and night-time light exposure. The response from attendees demonstrated a clear appetite for more information and guidance in this area.
“We have been talking amongst ourselves about this for long enough. Now we need to engage with the wider construction industry and the public.”
As the foremost source of lighting knowledge, the SLL must seek to lead this conversation. To do so, the Society must develop clear, digestible information around the topic of light and health. Citing popular initiatives getting 5 portions of fruit and vegetables and walking 10,000 steps per day, Ruth acknowledged that whilst these might be an oversimplification of the science, they have been extremely effective in raising awareness. Once people are aware, the Society can lead them to more detailed information. In a recent article for Arc Magazine, Ruth collaborated with Dr. Karolina Zielinska-Dabkowska to highlight why the lighting industry needs to provide guidance so that people can make informed choices with light. It provided guidelines for the daytime, evening, and nighttime light exposure and Ruth would like to build off this, spreading this message beyond the lighting industry, to those who need to hear it.
With central goals relating to improving representation, prioritising daylight within lighting design guidance, and raising awareness around the role of light in health, Ruth concluded her address with a rallying call for unity, “Let's go forward together in hope of a brighter year ahead.”
The SLL AGM, Awards and Presidential Address were held online on 20 May 2021. President Ruth Kelly Waskett took over the Presidency from Immediate Past-President Bob Bohannon, who held office from May 2020. The new President-Elect, Andrew Bissell was also inducted and will serve his term from May 2022. The 2020 SLL Annual Report and Officer Roles are available to view online.