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News & opinion

21 JUN 2021

Inspiring the next generation with LGBTQ+ representation and mentoring

Jo Towers, Lead Agricultural Valuer in the National Taxation Team at the Valuation Office Agency (VOA), understands the power of mentorship and self-belief more than most. This Pride month, she tells her story of her journey into surveying and the importance of representation.

Jo’s first experience of surveying came from a week’s work experience with a Chartered Surveyor while she was still in school. After learning about the profession and the technical skills required, she knew that this was what she wanted to do as a career. However, after being told by school that she wouldn’t get the grades needed, Jo’s dreams were put on hold.

“I worked full-time as an admin assistant, after I had left school at 17, and it was in that job that I truly experienced the value of somebody believing in me.

“My manager and a couple of other colleagues took me under their wing, and helped me to appreciate that I had the skills employers were looking for, and the determination to pursue the career I wanted. I had assumed that being a Chartered Surveyor wasn’t a viable option for me as I didn’t have O level Maths or A levels.

“However, I studied at night school to get those qualifications and a colleague showed me how to apply for a BTEC Higher National Diploma (HND). I then studied for first the HND then a degree full-time whilst I worked part-time.”

After graduation and taking a position at the VOA, a UK executive agency which gives the government and public sector bodies valuation, surveying and property advice needed to support taxation and benefits, Jo continued to work tirelessly to become a surveyor, achieving chartered status after six years.

“If I could give one piece of advice to the next generation of Chartered Surveyors, it would be to start with RICS and research what area of the profession interests you the most, or fits in with your particular skill-set.

“There are so many ways into the profession and opportunities available, whether that’s as a valuer, in the rural sector, in the minerals and waste sector, or calculating costs in big infrastructure projects. If it’s in the built environment, it’s likely a surveyor was involved, and that’s exciting to me.”

Jo’s journey has inspired her to give back to the profession as an APC Assessor, supporting aspiring surveyors to become chartered.

“Being an Assessor is such a rewarding part of my role, my experience has demonstrated to me the value of mentorship. I use that assessing experience at work to help in APC workshops for our candidates and to assist in mentoring. I want to help people to create a vision of their own development and to feel empowered to have a career that will be as varied and fulfilling as mine has been so far.

“For Pride month, I want to highlight the importance of representation. Before I accepted myself and came out as trans, it took a lot of energy to hide this part of myself and try to fit into what I believed were society’s expectations of what a surveyor is.

This Pride month, the RICS is coming out for trans equality and signing up to the pledge to support our global trans community. John Doyle, Associate Director at Dooley Associates and RICS North West Regional Board Member said: “It’s a huge step forward for the RICS. We see many institutions waiting to see how industry reacts before considering such support for diversity issues. I firmly believe that institutions such as the RICS, should be leading and setting the standards for its members to follow.”

Before I accepted myself and came out as trans, it took a lot of energy to hide this part of myself and try to fit into what I believed were society’s expectations of what a surveyor is

“I want surveying to be a profession where you can bring your whole self to work and I am pleased that RICS is making strides in increasing representation. I am fortunate to have always had unwavering support from my managers and colleagues, and that was key to enabling me to retain the job that I love whilst I transition.

“The progress is slow, but by collaborating and giving a voice to the professionals championing diversity and inclusion I believe the profession is on the right path.”

Jo has been recognised for her contribution to advancing inclusion, winning the Government Property Profession Inclusivity Ambassador award for the individual who has made a significant contribution to the diversity and inclusivity agenda in the UK Government property sector.

  • If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, support is available from LionHeart. LionHeart, the charity for RICS members, can also offer free and confidential support and advice to any LGBTQ+ professional, including counselling and coaching. Support is also available for your life partner.