BUILT ENVIRONMENT JOURNAL

Encouraging women into the profession

RICS has played a key role in attracting more women as well as influencing diversity and inclusion more broadly

Author: Sophie Perkins

01 February 2017

The author on site wearing the 'Sophie Shoe' © Atkins

Rigger boots and hard hats are not just for men. As we move forward with the diversity and inclusion agenda, it is an exciting time for anyone to be working in the built environment, and I hope to see similar numbers of both men and women entering our profession.

At the end of 2015, I wrote an article outlining my part in the campaign to attract more women into surveying. Looking back on my personal experiences and the wider profession since then, it is clear that there has been definite progress in the construction industry.

RICS has played a key role in attracting more women as well as influencing diversity and inclusion more broadly. This article looks at some of the key changes, innovation and initiatives that are encouraging diversity, as well as my own work in helping move these forward. Remember that we can all contribute to change in the surveying profession; it is everyone's responsibility.

Conference speech

Following my last article, I have continued to work hard for change and to encourage others to join me. For instance, in January 2016 I was invited to speak at Gloucestershire College's Diversity and Inclusion Conference in front of 400 staff members.

The college offers technical education that can provide a basis for a career in surveying. Its range of construction, building services and engineering courses reflects the wide range of surveying careers available and prepares students for RICS-accredited degree courses.

As much as the experience of speaking was nerve-wracking, it was also an excellent opportunity to educate and to broaden debate about the challenges faced by women in construction. Lecturing staff who were in attendance at the presentation will all now know about RICS' provision of advice to students making career choices.

We can make a significant impact when we speak directly to those who influence young people's decisions, and I encouraged the audience to consider their approach to teaching and to encourage the next generation to think widely in terms of career choices, as well as to promote diversity in their own workplaces.

Role models

As professionals, we are well equipped to make presentations and exercise our influence. I have always made myself available to attend careers conferences and give presentations in schools whenever my workload allows.

The role model approach is an effective way to engage young people in thinking about their choice of career, as well as older people looking to retrain. Current RICS President Amanda Clack is another keen advocate for role models to play a part in surveying for the future.

In terms of outreach, it is crucial to be out and about building strong networks with influential professionals. For example, I have developed a good relationship with organisations such as Women in Property (WIP), being asked to be guest speaker at WIP South West's Christmas Lunch in 2015 and for its International Women's Day celebrations.

On both occasions it felt empowering to be among such talented and inspiring women while telling them my story. I spoke to many individuals, sharing ideas and examples of how we are together fostering the next generation.

We also spent time encouraging each other to work on our own professional development, in the hope that this will eventually lead to more women in the boardroom. WIP's principles and frameworks should be applauded because they show that by working together we can make a difference.

"As professionals, we are well equipped to make presentations and exercise our influence"
Awards

In the last year, I have been a finalist in three different award schemes, largely as a result of my contribution to attracting more women into our industry.

The awards include:

  • Construction Youth Trust: Duke of Gloucester's Young Achievers Scheme, Surveying category
  • Inspiration Awards for women
  • Gloucestershire Women of the Year Awards: Diversity Champion, and Woman to Watch (Under 30).

Being shortlisted for these awards put my career in the spotlight as an inspiration to others.

It had been finding someone who inspired me that had helped me to aim high in the first place. Early in my career when I was taking an apprenticeship in building control, I was the only woman in a class of 30 on the Higher National Certificate in Construction course.

But my lecturer put me in touch with a chartered surveyor called Debbie Copeland, who was instrumental in encouraging me in my career. Debbie is now the chair of the Gloucestershire RICS Matrics group, and I sit on the committee with her.

My current employer, Atkins, also has a refreshingly supportive way of working. It focuses on having a diverse workforce and actively promotes the benefits of this in terms of innovation, profit and being better able to meet its clients' needs. For example, it has an internal Women's Professional Network and a buddy and support system, as well as diversity and inclusion committees across the world.

The RICS Inclusive Employer Quality Mark has had a positive impact on employers too, and is a great way for them to lead the way, as well as enabling employees to choose companies that they know support diversity.

Protective gear

However, it is not just personal support and professional initiatives that influence who enters and stays in our profession. Have you ever considered the importance of innovation in personal protective equipment (PPE) in relation to changing the future of our workforce, and how this has led to a lack of diversity in the past?

I have had considerable involvement in PPE innovation for women since my last article, designing the 'Sophie Shoe' with women in mind. Because women tend to have smaller, narrower feet, we have been poorly served by the safety shoes available for use on most construction sites and for surveying work; so it has been great to devise comfortable and stylish footwear, manufactured by Amblers Safety and available across Europe, that also provides the required safety features.

Author wearing the 'Sophie Shoe' onsite

As a result of designing the shoe, I was chosen to be on the judging panel of the national Professional Clothing Awards. I considered the entries along with designers, manufacturers and industry experts. I learnt so much from the experience, which should contribute to the overall objectives of attracting more women into the profession and highlighting the challenges we face.

President precedent

It was a moment to celebrate in 2014 when Louise Brooke-Smith became the first female president of the RICS in its 144-year history. Neither has she been a one-off, as Amanda Clack began her term as President in 2016.

Amanda is a fantastic role model, and her enthusiasm and hard work in diversity and inclusion in the profession is infectious. She has been inspiring to many and has continued to bring RICS' drive for change to the fore.

I have discussed the range of ways in which you can help support change, from giving talks to designing PPE, and even becoming RICS President. But there are also simple and effective initiatives to which every member can contribute.

Social media is a powerful tool helping us to get our message across. The hashtag #SurveyingtheFuture has been instrumental, for instance, and since it was launched in 2014 there have been more than 3,000 tweets with it, totalling 12.6m potential impressions; that is, the total number of times it could have appeared in users' Twitter feeds in this time.

More recently, RICS has launched the #LoveSurveying campaign. This is designed to encourage professionals to post about why they love surveying on social media such as Twitter and Instagram, using the hashtag to spread the word about what we do and in turn influencing people’s career choices.

It is clear that we have achieved a lot over the past year, but looking at the bigger picture – being aware that only 13% of RICS members are women – there is clearly still much further we need to go. We all have a part to play, and we must continue to help women fulfil their potential. Let us work together to make this happen. The bottom line is that greater diversity makes good business sense.

sophie.perkins@atkinsglobal.com

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

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