24 MAR 2022
Celebrating the success of our women chartered surveyors goes so far beyond the festivities of Women’s History Month. We’re taking a deep dive into the women who work within different strands of surveying, speaking with two chartered surveyors – Fiona Yarrow, Founder and Director of Swinhay Yarrow, and Jessica Jones, Development Surveyor and Heritage Specialist at Network Rail and 2020 Young Surveyor of the Year: Land winner. Read Fiona and Jessica’s thoughts on the diversity of the rural/land pathway, how surveyors can help the fight against climate change, and why they think it’s an area of the profession where more women are making a difference.
Fiona: I grew up in the countryside and I loved being outdoors. At school, I was fortunate to have inspiring geography teachers who nurtured my enjoyment of the subject.
When I was older, I attended a ‘Careers in the Countryside’ event at the Royal Agricultural University, during which a number of different rural career paths were showcased, one of which was a Rural Chartered Surveyor. I was told it was a diverse and rewarding career, and so far I haven’t been disappointed!
Fiona: I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by many great women growing up and it was never on my radar that being female would limit the career opportunities available to me. On my degree course, I was one of only a handful of women in a lecture room dominated by men. I am delighted that the climate has changed somewhat and the increased number of women in today’s workplace is obvious to me.
There are no barriers, physical or otherwise, to women pursuing the rural pathway. The profession’s attitude towards women and particularly women returning to work after a career break to raise children, for example, is generally more accepting than it was when I first qualified; women have proven themselves to bring different and complimentary skills to the workplace. These women can act as role models for the younger generation so inspiring others to enter and remain within the profession.
Fiona: We are the coal face of the effects of climate change. Our work is going through a dramatic period of change with the drive to promote the increasing significance of environmental protection, air quality, high environmental standards and biodiversity to reach environmental targets. We need to lead the charge to combine innovation and traditional methods to advise our clients on how we can all work together for a more sustainable future.
Fiona: It is vital to continue to make the profession accessible and attractive to women and girls. Employers can lead the charge in this, by rewarding those who give most to the industry through financial incentives, promotion and flexible working. Of course, this should not be limited to just women and girls!
Jessica: The award quickly boosted my personal profile, giving me greater visibility both within and outside my organisation. I had been in my current role for less than 18 months when I received the award - most of which had been spent working in a virtual environment due to the pandemic. It can be harder to build profile whilst sitting behind a screen! However, within a short period the recognition helped to unlock the opportunity to work on some fantastic projects here at Network Rail.
I am now involved with some of our most exciting major station development schemes – including Bristol Temple Meads, Reading and Oxford – projects I could have only dreamt of at the beginning of my career journey. More widely, I think the award has also raised the profile of what we do at Network Rail – and how major station investment can support passengers and drive regeneration.
Jessica: A sustainable future will only be achieved if there is an ideological shift in how we think, behave and build. The diversity of roles surveyors perform means that we are perfectly placed as a profession to provide thought leadership and support the transition towards a greener future.
My particular interest is in heritage-led regeneration. Historic stations offer huge place-making opportunities - generating significant social value to communities, as well as being engines for sustainable economic growth. Rail is the greenest form of public transport: we need to encourage people to make more sustainable transport choices.
Jessica: For me, great leadership is about integrity, innovation and supporting others to reach their goals. My current manager is a fantastic role model. Her collaborative approach has created an inclusive and dynamic team culture.
On a personal level, my grandmother has always been a strong role model for me. She recognised the value of education and training, and helped to support me through my masters course so my career ambitions could become a reality. She didn’t have the same educational opportunities herself, but worked hard and became a successful publican – all whilst single-handedly raising a family of four. She taught me that you can succeed at almost anything if you are determined and really put your mind to it. I wouldn’t be where I am now without her.
Jessica: Engage more with schools and local careers networks to spread the message around the diversity of the work surveyors do. In my experience, if you ask a young person to describe a surveyor, they will still usually think of a man in a hard hat with a theodolite! The career opportunities are so much more wide-ranging and the profession itself is (slowly but surely) becoming more diverse. RICS could do more to articulate the variety of opportunities available – opportunities that are available to all - so that we don’t lose out on the very best future talent.
I’d also like to see RICS doing more to partner with other professional bodies on wider STEM initiatives. For instance, many surveyors work closely alongside engineers and architects – professions which often seem to have a higher profile amongst young people considering their career options. Greater collaboration between the key professional bodies could help give young people a more holistic view of the built environment, enabling a better understanding of how STEM professionals’ roles complement each other in practice.
RICS should also continue to review and monitor routes to entry to encourage more diverse talent. With tuition fees at record highs, the prospect of spending three or four years at university without the certainty of a job offer at the end of it can be a daunting prospect for many. Apprenticeships offer a great alternative to the traditional routes to entry.
Jessica: You won’t find a more diverse career. It’s a cliché, but it’s really true that no two days are the same. I am biased, of course, but none of my peers have such interesting careers! Surveying offers the chance to shape the world around you – a chance to have real impact.
Try it. Most surveyors will gladly give their time to talk about their roles. Lots of firms offer work experience which can be a great way to find out more.
Don’t worry if you feel that you don’t fit the mould – create your own! The industry is becoming more diverse and there are opportunities for everyone, regardless of background.
Jessica: I’ve always been fascinated by buildings, places and spaces. Growing up, I loved being outdoors. Surveying should have been an obvious career choice – but at school, it was never on my radar. No-one in my family was a surveyor and I had no meaningful industry contacts.
I ended up studying History at university, mainly because I was good at it at school. The course culminated in a part year abroad in Venice, Florence, and Rome - surrounded by some of the world’s most inspiring historic buildings. While friends eagerly applied for law training contracts and accountancy programmes, I realised I needed a career where I wasn’t sitting behind a desk every day. I wanted to have a tangible impact – an opportunity to shape the world around us and give these sorts of places a sustainable future.
After approaching RICS for more information on routes to membership, I also reached out to several firms to try to gain work experience. Most surveyors I spoke with offered lots of encouragement; it was refreshing to learn that so many of them obviously genuinely enjoyed their work. I quickly found that the industry thrives on building professional relationships, which also appealed to me.
I’m glad I took the time to research a career which is such a great fit for my skills and interests. The job is very fulfilling – I can already point to so many fantastic development projects and regeneration schemes that I have helped to influence. I hope there will be many more to come!