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News & opinion

11 MAY 2022

Member advice and insights for women in the built environment

RICS Scotland was delighted to host a member-led event to coincide with International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month on 28 March 2022, looking at entry into the profession, career progression, and making flexible working work. Acting as Chair, Junior Vice Chair of the RICS Scotland Board, Sandra Cummings MRICS, raised stark statistics, highlighting that just 18% of RICS members globally are women, and just 4% of Fellows. There was agreement that more needs to be done by professional bodies – including RICS – as well as the industry as a whole.

In their opening statements, the panellists covered a broad range of topics. Head of Property and Construction for the Scottish Government, Morag Angus FRICS, emphasised the need for organisations and individuals to focus on the ‘four Cs’: Collaboration; Culture, Communications, and Contribution. Graduate Surveyor for Savills, Eilidh Levein, highlighted the role of organisations in creating the space and environment to have productive conversations, combined with the need for a personal awareness of your own goals and challenges to overcome. Developments Manager for the Stornoway Ports Authority, Brenda Jones FRICS, encouraged women to aim high, focus on your strengths, be yourself, and see the big picture, in order to progress in the profession. The important role of mentoring and access to inspirational role models was also highlighted throughout. 

A number of important questions were raised in the panel discussion and Q&A with the audience, and a summary of those key insights can be found in the interview below. RICS members and those who registered to attend can listen back to the event via the Online Learning Academy. Otherwise, please request access here.

RICS Scotland greatly looks forward to building on this event and driving forward work to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in the profession.

Panellists

Sandra Cummings MRICS

Director, Faithful+Gould, and Junior Vice Chair, RICS Scotland Board

Eilidh Levein

Graduate Surveyor, Savills

Morag Angus MA Hons, Dip LS, FRICS

Deputy Director, Head of Property and Construction, Scottish Government

Brenda Jones FRICS MAPM

Developments Manager, Stornoway Port Authority, and Scotland Board Member, Association of Women in Property

Key insights

  • Sandra: Take the initiative & seize the opportunity even if you are not asked - it is exciting where it may lead you.  

    Morag: Play to your strengths and build a supportive network; listen to others and be willing to adapt.

    Eilidh: Be yourself!

    Brenda: Being good at your job is not enough to get you promoted!

  • Sandra: There is such a diversity of fantastic career pathways for women in surveying but not necessarily clear routes or a strong understanding of what each job entails. Unless women speculatively approach employers and then create their own opportunities once in an organisation, entrance to the industry is restricted to traditional advertised roles only.  

    Eilidh: There is a lack of awareness of the surveying profession in general. In order to overcome this, the profile of the industry needs to be raised amongst the general public, schools and higher education. It is also important to highlight the enjoyable parts of working in the profession such as meeting and working with new people from a variety of professions and backgrounds.

    Brenda: Lack of knowledge about what surveying involves among teachers, parents, university staff and young people.  To overcome this problem, we need to re-think how we promote the profession, so that it is as well known as architecture and engineering.  We also need to make sure that there are a wide range of effective entry points into the profession, including apprenticeships and routes for graduates with non-surveying-related degrees.

  • Sandra: I am so proud of the opportunities I have had - working on the most amazing programmes of work with Clients. The only barriers I have faced is slow movement when I do not push for opportunities - no one will give it to you on a plate.  

    Morag: Taking career breaks meant I had to play catch-up. Planning and preparation is key - keep in touch whilst off, get a mentor and develop yourself and your skills with a plan for the next few years using that overview from your mentor. Then of course, be prepared to flex the plan to suit circumstances.

    Eilidh: As I am early on in my career the biggest barriers I have faced have been with regard to entering the profession. My advice would be to gain as much work experience as possible to understand what you enjoy and what you are good at. 

    Brenda: When I had a young child, my career development stalled as a result of not being able to travel outside normal working hours. This led me to change to a job where this was not required, but there were fewer opportunities to progress.  Women should seek support and encouragement from a wide range of sources to help them reach their full potential.  If you have a specific goal in mind, it’s a really good idea to get a mentor to help you achieve this. And don’t let fear of failure hold you back.

  • Sandra: Covid has been such a major disrupter as to how and where we work - the world has changed. I see this as a huge opportunity for women (and all employees) to be able to work more flexibly. Employers should trust individuals and embrace the change - if you cannot always see the hard work it does not mean it is not happening - communication is key. 

    Morag: Set up good practice procedures, model using them at a senior level and by being visible and flexible, provide support for all stages of career development and employ people who will be both flexible and successful. Invest in a long-term workforce plan for building capability which includes flexibility.

    Eilidh: Employers can support flexible working by creating the environment where employees feel comfortable to discuss the options and work together to make it work for both parties. 

    Brenda: Employers should see flexible working as an opportunity to enhance wellbeing and effectiveness rather than a problem to be overcome.  It should be available to everyone, with open discussions about how to make it work for the employee, employer, colleagues and clients.

  • Sandra: I did not have a plan.  Probably not the best approach particularly with the impact of other life commitments. In my experience if you are taking a career break (I had two 9-month breaks) you should not worry about what you are missing during the break - keep good links with your employer and you can make more of an impact when you get back.  Have confidence in the skills and abilities you offer. 

    Morag: If you can identify where you want to be in future and what skills you can build on over time to take advantage of future opportunities, you are one step ahead when you return to work; there may be voluntary roles you can build skills from whilst on a break and a plan helps you stay focussed on your goals even if the steps are small sometimes.

    Brenda: It can be tempting to only look to your next milestone but it’s important to look ahead and think about your options.  If you are planning a career break, think about how you can stay engaged in the industry while you aren’t working (this could be with your employer, by being involved in a networking group such as Women in Property or by doing a distance learning qualification).

  • Sandra: Like the benefits of diversity generally - do not underestimate the importance of a different view - particularly if it deviates from the approach you or the men around you would take.

    Morag: We should all treat and support others as we would wish to be treated and supported so men and women can encourage and support others who are developing their careers; offer shadowing and complex case experience, model giving promotion in return for skills and success and make a noise if you see anyone being penalised for needing flexibility.

    Eilidh: Be an ally, support and encourage females around them and vice versa. 

    Brenda: Encourage female colleagues to stretch themselves, encourage them to recognise and celebrate their achievements.

  • Sandra: Have confidence - your contribution matters.  A louder voice is not necessarily saying the right things. Pick an appropriate point in the meeting and make your points clearly and succinctly. If you still do not get the opportunity or your ideas are dismissed, have a chat with the individuals after the meeting. 

    Morag: Remember you were invited or designated to be there and you have a remit to speak up when you have a contribution. Start by supporting someone else in the room and build an ally to support your points. Make sure you then follow up before the next meeting and have an active support in the room; speak to the Chair and ask them to call on you next time. Make a key point concisely and if someone else takes your point and gets the traction, say “thanks for highlighting again the point I made earlier, couldn’t agree more we need to….”

    Brenda: There are a range of ways to approach this, depending on the other people involved. You could ask for a one-to-one meeting with the senior person involved in the meeting, then explain the problem and how it is affecting you and discuss how to solve it.  Prepare for the meeting by having examples of when you’ve tried to contribute but been ignored. Think about the person you’re meeting with and how best to communicate with them. Ask open questions and treat the discussion as an opportunity to learn. If you don’t think that will work, or you’ve tried it without success, approach a senior colleague who you think will be sympathetic and set up a one-to-one meeting with them to explain the problem and explore solutions. Senior staff want their employees to be happy and engaged at work, so are likely to want to work with you to overcome this problem.

Contact

A short Twitter thread on the event can be found here, and further information on RICS’ work in the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion space can be found here.

If you have any other questions on the event or would like to be more involved in the work of RICS Scotland, please feel free to get in touch:

Claire Hall, Member Engagement Lead

chall@rics.org 

Euan Ryan, Senior Public Affairs Officer for Scotland

eryan@rics.org 

Sign up to the RICS Scotland Plan Ahead Newsletter here.