31 MAR 2022
“To free a trans person of stigma, worry and self-denial who has carried this burden often for far too long is to find an employee with confidence, mental agility, and loyalty.”
What made you decide to become a surveyor?
Crikey, that was a long time ago - 1972/73! I was naturally good at geography and was searching for something where I might earn a living in an area that appealed to my natural interests. I was given some work experience in a small firm where I got the opportunity to explore the valuation issues and consequences on the slum clearance programme in the Harehills area of Leeds. I was seeing back-to-back housing with toilet blocks down the road, these conditions blew my sheltered mind apart.
I realised that surveying may be a route to follow. We were the first cohort (1974) to have the full three years’ study (a verb used with some caution) at Reading University. There were just 5 females out of a 100+ under graduates on the course.
How did you get into dispute resolution?
I was fortunate enough to be exposed to the concept of rent review almost immediately upon joining my first firm in central London in 1977. This was a time when rent review was not the specialist topic it is today but rather a part of everyday life as a general practice surveyor. My first involvement with rent review was on a well-known high-end restaurant in London. I was told to look up relevant case law but of course there was no Handbook of Rent Review then, nor any computers, so it required reading and research.
I found my way to a young barrister, one Kirk Reynolds of Falcon Chambers, and instantly became fascinated by the law in this sector. My interest led naturally to learning about the law of arbitration and became the youngest arbitrator ever appointed by the RICS.
I was lucky to have landed in the sector at a time that would prove to be the most legally active in history. It was exciting and never short of controversy. Realistically, we exhausted most of the arguments by the millennium. Nevertheless, we all still find something to argue about!
What are the challenges and/or opportunities you have encountered being a surveyor working in dispute resolution?
I have a unique insight here, as I am not only an RICS member and DRS panellist but also a transgender female — the first transgender arbitrator/ independent expert to be appointed by DRS. [You can read more about my journey here https://lnkd.in/dxTrMn7W ]
When I transitioned during late 2020/21 I was prepared to say goodbye to the profession. Much to my surprise, my core support came from women in the Lease Consultancy world. Contrary to my fears, I was warmly welcomed as a transgender female. I am the first to be on the RICS panel – a clear sign of hope that real estate values the skills people have, not what they look like, who they are and whether or not they wear a dress. (Samantha McClary Editor EG).
The biggest challenge… keeping control – fair but firm.
Why is Trans Day of Visibility important?
My rhetorical question is “important to whom?”
For the industry collectively, whose warm welcome belies the reputation it has for too often failing to embrace diversity and foster inclusion. Those observations extend to the RICS for, albeit massively belatedly, addressing the diversity and inclusion issues properly and fully.
To an employer, however irrelevant they see it as being of commercial or business import, Trans Day of Visibility should be seen as a positive insight into understanding how hard it is for a trans individual to live a life which belongs to somebody else. To gain some idea of some of our mental challenges that have been deeply hidden from view but are such a heavy weight to carry. And to emphasise the importance of truly supportive and proactive allyship for those who are too often marginalised and discriminated against.
To free a trans person of stigma, worry and self-denial who has carried this burden often for far too long is to find an employee with confidence, mental agility, and loyalty.
Despite these warm, encouraging sentiments, be under no illusion that the industry, in particular a certain genre of white, middle aged, biased and uncompromising men, geographically challenged by distance from the more accepting London centric communities, remains in a very bad space where these values are trumped by outdated, bigoted upbringings and dogma. Believe me it exists, papered over by big and small firms alike. Discrimination (including trans discrimination) is an unfortunate fact of life.
I am lucky that those foreboding clouds of mental anguish that accompanied my decision to transition blew away. I am lucky and privileged to be given a very public realm to communicate the value of allyship and the positive impact of genuine gender diversity policy. But others are not so privileged or confident. Suicide, self-harm and depression are common issues in a community that is often failed by healthcare systems, employers and misguided misogynistic communities.
I can look through the telescope the other way around and see positive change in the industry. But to take an analogy with the rent review world, on my transition I entered a new world not into the madcap world of Alice Through the Looking Glass where reality can be changed at will. Instead, it is a world where I have a unique insight into the obstacles and hurdles that many women, let alone trans women face in the profession in order to achieve change and acceptance at all levels. And it’s not a nice place.
Reality cannot be changed at will, but the appeal to reality is promoted by days such as this. We should see this day as a small step change, identifying how fear and unacceptance has held so many people back from speaking out and speaking up. We should not be fearful. The fear should entirely be with those unwilling to accept difference or change.
I hope that my decision and my ability to communicate on this awareness day will in some small way encourage the profession to embrace that change, not in geographical pockets, but worldwide.
Trans Day of Visibility gives a platform to promote change. It must start at the grass roots of local communities, but RICS is pretty close to those roots and must be seen to embrace and promote change, if we are to promote that transition into a beneficial business environment.