BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

Boosting building surveying's appeal for women

In recent years the number of women becoming chartered surveyors has increased, but building surveying continues to lag behind other disciplines. How do we attract and retain female talent?

Author: Jo Williams

16 September 2021

Seated young black woman surrounded by white women of different ages

I've been a qualified building surveyor for more than 26 years. I've had a fulfilling and rewarding career, working on fantastic buildings with inspiring people. I love my job, and the variety every day keeps me interested and engaged. Surely that should attract many other women into the profession?

It seems not. Although there has been a modest increase in women becoming chartered surveyors in recent years, with figures from the RICS standing at 22% in 2021, the discipline lags behind related professions, with women comprising only 9% of all those who are chartered.

Since 2016, there's been a 6% net increase in women joining building surveying, compared to 22% for all other pathways. That compares to an 8% net increase for men over the same period. Building surveying is still the poor relation in the surveying world.

Perceptions of the profession

Perceptions of building surveying vary dramatically. We are a diverse discipline, and people's preconceptions are based on their own experience of us. An estate agent may think we only do house surveys; a local authority client could believe we only deal with maintenance; a commercial surveyor might suppose we are only concerned with dilapidations; a bank may think we just monitor projects.

The vast skill set of building surveyors is not fully understood across the board – so how can we sell it to those outside the profession and improve its appeal to the talented individuals we all want to recruit?

I myself became a building surveyor purely by luck. I had extremely poor careers advice at school, but I knew I wasn't interested in an office job. I wanted something practical that was worthwhile and sustainable.

I was attracted to the construction industry and worked in a few on-site jobs, and then discovered building surveying by doing some work experience. It offered me diverse experiences and challenges, and fed my inner geek. Indeed, after 26 years, I'm still able to learn new things and come across new challenges – which is more than can be said for some professions.

Creative career choice

I believe the profession is a great choice for women, as a creative career that plays to our strengths. We are good problem-solvers, managers and communicators, and empathise with our teams.

But what attracts other women to the profession and building surveying in particular? I asked my colleague Lauren Clark – who works in our Newcastle office, and is just starting her fifth year of a degree apprenticeship – what made her want to be a building surveyor.

Jo Williams

© Sanderson Weatherall

'My dad works in construction, and I was interested in what he did. At school I loved geography, and construction and property represent geography in practice – they deal with the interaction between the human and natural environments.

'My interest in building surveying developed during my studies on the advanced technical extended diploma in constructing the built environment, and I went on to become a degree apprentice. I'm learning something new every day and making the built environment a more sustainable place with every small step.'

Read about why the degree apprenticeship offers Lauren the best of both worlds here.

Lauren Clark with two male colleagues

Another of my colleagues is Jackie Mills, who is now working in our London office; she joined the profession after choosing to change career later in life and taking a degree in construction as a mature student. Jackie has always been fascinated with buildings and the way they are built, and is now close to achieving her chartered status.

'I love the variety of my role, my colleagues and the fact I'm not stuck at my desk from nine to five. I'm adaptable and flexible, and love the sense of achievement I get from refurbishment projects in particular. I have the chance to make things better for other people. Building surveyors are essentially problem-solvers.'

Jackie Mills
Absence of role models

It is true that in the past seven years RICS has had three female presidents, but none have had a background in building surveying. In fact, throughout my career, women have lacked role models in building surveying, even though there have been inspirational male sponsors and mentors.

Lauren, Jackie and I have all taken our own personal journeys into building surveying through desire and determination. And we've all received disparate advice and understanding; yet have ended up in our chosen careers and love what we do.

If we want other women to consider building surveying as a career, then, I think we need a threefold approach.

Threefold approach

First, built environment professionals need a better awareness of the diversity and adaptability of building surveyors. We are very useful people, and our potential as part of a professional team is often overlooked. I'd ask other surveyors to keep an open mind about building surveying, and improve their understanding of the benefits we can bring to their projects.

Second, building surveyors – both women and men – need to be more visible so they can serve as role models. Those role models need to be in the mainstream media as well, to break down stereotypes and preconceptions.

In the six most recent RICS Matrics Young Surveyor of the Year Awards, three of the winners in the building surveying category have been women. We need such role models, young and old, to raise awareness of what women can do. If we're hiding our women and the profession away, how can we attract others?

Third, careers advice at schools is essential. RICS' Inspire Schools Programme promotes the profession on YouTube. But are parents, guardians, aunts and uncles reading this article asking schools to share these resources with students? Are we as building surveyors going into schools to promote the discipline as a career option and raise awareness among teachers who may never have heard of it?

Preconceptions about gender-specific careers can begin at primary school age. We need to be mindful of our unconscious bias, and empower young people to achieve their potential in whatever career they want to follow. No career should depend on gender.

Missing talent

Lauren, Jackie and I have found our pathways into building surveying in different ways. There will be other determined women out there who would make excellent building surveyors if they could be informed and encouraged about the profession.

Building surveying won't be the right career for everyone, but we're missing out on our fair share of the talent by not making the options available and visible. As chartered surveyors, we should showcase the diversity and opportunity offered by all our professions, as well as building surveying.

I'd like to think you share my views, and can help me tell the next generation of women, as well as those returning to work, what a great, rewarding career this is – full of opportunity for the right person.

RICS' view

RICS diversity analyst Barry Cullen comments: 'The continued growth in numbers of women entering the surveying profession, as a whole, is really encouraging, and we are keen to see this extend into the built environment pathways, in particular building surveying.

'Through work in schools to inspire the next generation and the increased visibility of exceptional, talented women who are building surveyors, there is certainly a focus on attracting and engaging women at all stages of their professional journey to see how becoming a building surveyor can be a rewarding and worthwhile career choice.'

Jo Williams MRICS is a partner in building consultancy at Sanderson Weatherall, a former national chair of the Association of Women in Property and an RICS APC chair.
Contact Jo: Email

 

Related competencies include: Diversity, inclusion and teamworking, Inclusive environments

Read about a new scheme to mentor women in the built environment here

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