BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

Creating a gender-balanced profession

There has been a huge push to create a more gender-balanced profession over the past five years – but a lot more still needs to be done

Author:

  • Sophie Perkins

22 April 2021

Woman approaching ladder

Efforts to create a more gender-balanced profession continue, and over the past five years there has been a huge push in this regard. This is reflected in the statistic that, by November 2019, the number of women in the profession in the UK has risen 1% year on year since 2015.

In February 2017 – when I last wrote about this topic for RICS – only 13% of RICS' membership was women. According to the organisation's diversity analyst Barry Cullen, at March 2021 the figure for qualified female professionals is 16%, while 29% of newly qualified professionals and 28% of APC, AssocRICS and senior professionals are women.

This article will look at some of the achievements that have been made in attracting women to the profession in recent years – while acknowledging that we still have a long way to go.

Providing visible role models

In November 2014, Louise Brooke-Smith was elected RICS' first female president in its 146-year history. It was a big step in the right direction, and she has proven to be an incredible role model.

In addition to leading the RICS Sub-Saharan Strategy for land registration reform in Africa and supporting the establishment of three RICS centres across the continent, she has contributed significantly to diversifying the profession.

She has spoken frequently about the need for the property sector to be more inclusive, not only for women but also LGBTQ+ and BAME professionals. Reflecting this, she launched the RICS Inclusive Employer Quality Mark, a voluntary, self-assessed benchmark – the first such for the sector – to help diversify the workforce.

In November 2016, Amanda Clack took on the presidency, and has also made huge efforts to promote the diversity and inclusion agenda. In February 2019 she co-authored with Judith Gabler Managing Diversity and Inclusion in the Real Estate Sector. The book provides guidance on how professionals can make diversity and inclusion an inherent part of their organisation.

In November 2020, we welcomed the third female president of RICS, Kathleen Fontana, who is managing director of critical infrastructure and projects at Mitie PLC. It is great to see that diversity and inclusion is one of her top five priorities for 2021. When highlighting her priorities, Fontana said: 'Our profession can only work to the public advantage if we reflect the needs and experiences of the diverse societies we serve.'

Having a mix of male and female presidents in the past six years has certainly had a positive impact, encouraging female surveyors to aspire to leadership roles. But the momentum of women in the profession is not just about those in senior positions.

I have been very inspired by the achievements of women at all levels. I particularly related to Jordanne Dunn AssocRICS, a building surveyor at Savills, who like myself entered the profession as an apprentice.

After discussing the topic of this article with her, Dunn told me: 'I believe the best way to attract more women to the profession is just to attract more people – to spread awareness of the role and the profession to places it's never reached before.'

This is a good example of how to achieve greater gender balance: as members, we must all involve ourselves in promoting our fantastic profession, reaching out to the diverse citizens we serve.

How diversity benefits employers

There is strong evidence to show that having a diverse workforce is beneficial to employers. Why diversity matters – a report co-written by Vivian Hunt, Dennis Layton and Sara Prince published by McKinsey in 2015 – specifically explored this issue in relation to the workplace, and found that 'companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians'.

So why do diverse companies perform better? McKinsey's research indicated that the most important factors were advantages in recruiting the best talent, stronger orientation towards customers, increased employee satisfaction, and improved decision-making.

I work in a diverse environment at Atkins, and this has helped me and the people around me to thrive as we balance a range of approaches to design and problem-solving. As a team, we reflect the diverse clients and stakeholders we serve.

"There is strong evidence to show that having a diverse workforce is beneficial to employers"

Atkins' female staff inside the company's Bristol office

PPE for all

I am proud to be part of the movement to create personal protective equipment (PPE) for all – a topic I also covered in my previous article – especially as women and men tend to differ in terms of physical size and shape. The most rewarding part of this work has been attracting women to the profession, and helping to retain those already working in the industry.

When I began my career at the age of 18 I didn't have PPE that would be suitable for me as a woman, and it made me feel as though I didn’t fit in. I discovered that I wasn't the only one who felt that way, and many women have shared with me their experiences of having no PPE in their size available on site. Likewise, men have also expressed frustration that they have been unable to source women's PPE for their teams and colleagues.

In 2014, I launched the Sophie Shoe – PPE designed with women in mind – in collaboration with Amblers Safety. Last October, I went on to launch a ten-piece collection of safety footwear for women, which keeps on growing as the demand for dedicated PPE increases. My intention with the Sophie Collection is to provide a choice of footwear for different types of task, from a lightweight safety trainer to heavy-duty waterproof boots.

In my own experience as a surveyor, I may visit a residential property one day and a nuclear power station the next, and the level of protection required differs immensely. I have therefore worked on designing a range to offer the right boot for the right job, and I am delighted to have named each of the shoes after a woman who has inspired me – from surveyors to engineers to family. If you want to support PPE for all, please post on social media with the hashtag #PPEThatFits and #PPEForAll.

The author wearing the 'Alice' lightweight safety boot

Awards bring recognition

I have personally contributed to making women more visible in surveying, by reaching out both to the industry and to those outside. I was selected as one of the Women’s Engineering Society Top 50 Women in Engineering 2019, and I was also lucky enough to win the Constructing Excellence Future Leader award in 2018. I was also the winner of the Best Woman Building Surveyor in the European Women in Construction and Engineering Awards 2018.

By winning these industry awards, I have helped to highlight the many career paths in the built environment and given greater visibility to the diverse workforce. The Top 50 Engineers award, for example, was covered in the Telegraph, and seeing winners such as myself in a national newspaper may have encouraged a young man or woman to go into surveying.

I have also put myself forward to speak at conferences and sit on panels at the UK Construction Week and the Women in Construction and Engineering Summit. I am also a mentor, and it is incredibly rewarding when you see your mentee achieve their goals.

Finally, a very simple but effective way of attracting people to our profession is social media. I use platforms such as Twitter and Instagram to put surveying in the spotlight and share what a fantastic career path it is. You can join me in this by posting about what you do using hashtags such as #LoveSurveying, #SurveyingtheFuture and #SeeMeJoinMe.

APC pathways provide support

In August 2018 RICS introduced new APC pathways, which included the competencies Diversity, inclusion and teamworking and Inclusive environments. This represents another positive step in encouraging diversity and inclusion in our profession.

Danny Medcalf FRICS, an APC chair, assessor, auditor and appeal panellist with more than 35 years' industry experience, told me: 'Recognising diversity and embedding inclusion in everything we do as property professionals is critical, and goes hand in hand with the principle of showing respect to others.'

As RICS members, we must all follow and share the organisation's values. I ask you to consider what you can do to help us strive for a more diverse and gender-balanced profession. Visible role models play a key role in accelerating change, so why not share what you do and why you believe surveying is a fantastic career path.

To see the results of the hard work being done presently we may have to wait many years. However, let's celebrate the small successes we have achieved in recent years, and remember that we all have a part to play.

RICS' view

RICS' diversity analyst Barry Cullen comments: 'The progress being seen in improving gender diversity across the surveying profession is very encouraging, and it is great that Sophie has identified the importance of visible role models to advance this further. Her own experience and testimony clearly demonstrates this.

'More still needs to be done, however. Increasing diversity must be matched by demonstrating inclusive principles in leadership, recruitment, culture and development. These should be the basis of a diverse and inclusive profession for all.'

sophie.perkins@atkinsglobal.com

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Related competencies include: Diversity, inclusion and teamworking, Ethics, Rules of Conduct and professionalism

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