I’m often asked why, in the current arena of inclusion and diversity, we still need organisations like Women in Property.
I don’t class myself as a feminist, yet I find myself as national chairman of a women’s group because it’s still needed and has a role to play.
I class myself as an equalist, and an employer. I want the best person for the role and with the right attitude to succeed to their fullest potential and personal fulfilment. That means being honest about the people we’re employing, regardless of gender, ethnicity or orientation.
So, are we getting it right? Is the culture of the industry allowing us to diversify and attract the right people to the job?
Novelty or insecurity
I started in construction in the late 80s. When I walked onto site I got one of two reactions from the guys: either novelty, or insecurity. I preferred the novelty response because at least people talked to me, whereas the insecurity meant I was ignored or treated with distrust.
When I worked as a technician for a concrete manufacturer, I soon realised that I was being sent to the ‘difficult site agent’ sites. This wasn’t discrimination. The management team realised my people skills meant I could handle the situation better than many of my colleagues. This was about putting the right person in the right job.
Does anyone remember John Noakes climbing Nelson’s Column in 1977 for Blue Peter? No safety rope, no PPE, and then climbing an under-slung ladder to get to the top?
That was little over 40 years ago – still within living memory, but it would not be acceptable now.
In a similar way, the culture towards inclusion and diversity of our industry has developed. That initial reaction I used to receive changed to, ‘This one’s ok – she knows her stuff’. The culture of the industry was starting to change as society in general was changing. Certain behaviours have become unacceptable.
The outing of the Presidents Club last year is a good example – 1980s attitudes held onto by dinosaurs who made younger attendees uncomfortable, until the whole debacle crumbled.
Nowadays, I find myself being treated as equal to my peers, without question. On the odd occasion when I do find outdated attitudes, it’s more a reflection of that individual than the industry as a whole. In fact, I believe most senior men just want to put the right person in the right post without judgement.
So, with this cultural change in progress, where is the future likely to take us?
Millennials are a different breed to my generation. They have an expectation of universal equality and won’t stand for the treatment others have had to put up with over the years. They expect flexible working and opportunity to succeed.
“This is not just about gender; many of the issues that affect women are also keenly felt by men”
As the old guard are retiring, millennials are increasing in seniority and having a positive effect on the rest of us. But with so much competition from other industries, we need to maintain open dialogue and ensure opportunities are accessible to them – only then can our industry – grow and thrive.
So yes, organisations like Women in Property are still very much needed. We work alongside employers, influencers and other professional groups to help attract girls and young women into the industry and support their ongoing development.
But this is not just about gender; many of the issues that affect women are also keenly felt by men – not least flexibility, work-life balance and career progression. Cultural change is based on collective willpower, and this industry is building steady momentum.
I look forward to the day when Women in Property is no longer needed.
Jo Williams is national chairman of Women in Property, a chartered building surveyor, and a partner at Sanderson Weatherall