How do we get more women into surveying?

Recruitment in the property sector is tough. Many property practices find their growth ambitions constrained because they can’t recruit enough of the right calibre candidates – at junior and senior levels. In some cases, this results in unseemly salary battles and a constant churn of junior, middle ranking and senior surveyors – and the resultant disruption to the firms and their clients. The recruiters are possibly the only winners. There are 75,300 surveyors in the UK and 17,330 in London. Just 15% are female. That’s shocking considering that in other professions – such as law and accountancy – they are closing the gender gap. So how do we get more women into surveying?

Women in law

The Law Society reports “The most prominent statistic in this year’s report (2016) is that men currently make up 72 per cent of all partners, with a rise in female partners of just over 4 per cent in 10 years. With more women occupying the roles of associate and assistant solicitor than men”.

But it will get better in the future. In the legal profession, of the 23,000 or so students entering the profession each year 67.3 per cent are female and 32.7 per cent are male.

Women in accountancy

“In the UK, nearly half of those joining accountancy are women, compared with less than 5% in the 1970s. But at accountancy firms, women make up 23% of all partners, according to Catalyst, although 49% of all accounting employees”. 

A 2014 survey showed that the accountancy market was perceived as being most supportive of women. “Accountancy is the best sector for working women, according to research from the career coaching company Talking Talent. The research, which surveyed more than 1,000 professional women and working mothers, asking about their experiences of discrimination and prejudice, then asked them to rate their employer on how well they support and retain female talent. Accountancy came out on top, with 94% of female accountants saying that their company is supportive of women. The education sector performed particularly well when it came to attitudes to working mothers and acceptance of the need for work/life balance. Mothers in this sector also see the lowest level of prejudice and discrimination (25% compared with 34% overall). Interestingly, women working in law also rated their profession higher than average when it comes to supporting working mothers. In contrast, women working in engineering and manufacturing feel the least supported at work and only 11% feel positive about their employer’s ability to retain talent. Women in this male-dominated sector are also the most likely to say that their gender has hindered their career.”

Women in construction and property

Some argue that the construction (quantity surveyors) and property sectors are traditionally more male-dominated. Despite the lack of available data, from boardroom to building site it is estimated that women account for around 12.8 per cent of the construction industry’s workforce, according to the ONS.

There’s an interesting article on the RICS web site charting the history of women in surveying. But while it talks about clubs, diversity policies and more female representation at the top of the profession the numbers are still disappointing. Why?

A 2016 article stated that 41% of young women (aged between 13 and 22) surveyed by RICS expected to experience discrimination.  The same article states that ”Only 13% of qualified surveyors in the UK are women compared with a 15% global total of RICS members. Two in 10 trainees are women, globally compared with just 17% in the UK”. So entry into the profession hasn’t yet changed as it has in law and accountancy – and the UK lags behind other nations.

Identifying the issues

Perhaps there should be structured research into why young women are not opting to enter the property profession as well as why women choose not to stay in the profession once they have qualified?

My colleagues in surveying suggest a lack of awareness of careers in the built environment and the need for early specialisation. Surveyors have to choose what they want to study at under-graduate level if they want to be a building surveyor or quantity surveyor. Whereas in the legal profession, you can take a non-law degree and convert with a year course and when you start your training contract you experience different areas of law during the “seats” of your training contract.

They also suggest that many surveyors start working in the building trades before studying to be surveyors. This goes back to the perceived male dominance of the construction industry. My father is a quantity surveyor so I often spent time on building sites and in technical services departments in the public sector and surveying offices in the private sector. Yet I didn’t once consider qualifying as a surveyor so I’m not sure about the lack of awareness.

They also suspect that a career spent mostly out of the office, on the road and on site doesn’t have the same appeal for those who have responsibilities for young children. This might be an issue for those with children but might not explain the lack of female entrants into the profession.

Flexible and family friendly employment practices must surely be possible in this technologically-enabled “always on” and remote-working environment. In the legal sector there are examples of new firms being established that are female-friendly and therefore dominated by female professionals (e.g. Obelisk – founded by a lawyer who organised parties for mums who wanted to return to work  and DIDLaw (interestingly a law firm that specialises in discrimination ). It would be good to see similar initiatives in the surveying profession.

There should be more analysis of whether and where hard structural pay and soft promotion inequalities exist. And perhaps some consultation on what would make it more attractive to enter and remain in the property profession for women.

The problem is likely to be exasperated as the rather different needs and expectations of the Millennials most of whom, whether male or female, are likely to require a better work-life balance start to dominate the agenda.

Culture and attitudes need to change as well – Amongst both the owners of property partnerships as well as their institutional and private sector clients. This is a major undertaking by any standards and something that must be driven by the most senior and influential people in the profession. I wrote a provocative article for The Lawyer magazine back in 2010 about how unhelpful attitudes towards those with young children still persist.

Raising the profile of women in property

There are various initiatives to help raise the profile of women in property. For example, there’s the Association of Women in Property –  (Twitter – @WiPUK).

Another organisation aims to get more women onto conference platforms and in the media – Women Talk Real Estate.  More positive role models have to be a good thing.

There is also the Female Property Alliance, the Women in Property and Business Network and female property groups in some of the leading property oriented universities and business schools.

Your views?

So what are your views on how to encourage more women to enter, remain in, return to and succeed in the surveying profession? I’d be interested to hear your views on this complex issue.