While preparing for the annual conference of the National Association of Women in Construction last month, we were saddened to hear of the passing of Beryl Foote.
The Guardian obituary informed us that she was likely to have been one of the first female quantity surveyors in the UK construction industry and had worked for fifty years against what she had termed “a bastion of male supremacy”.
Beryl had worked all over the south of England on commercial and domestic sites for John Laing and latterly George Wimpey and had apparently raised concerns about the lack of women in the industry. She was not alone in her quest.
She had followed the great example set by Irene Martin and Evelyn Perry who were chartered surveyors that qualified in the 1920s and had worked tirelessly to improve housing conditions in London after the First and Second World Wars.
Growth in female surveyors
In terms of women working in surveying, RICS has monitored its female membership over the decades and it has grown from less than 2 per cent in the 1980s to almost 30 per cent today.
As you would expect from RICS, areas of concern have been identified and highlighted, and female participation and careers have been studied and discussed in academic papers and articles.
“We believe that part of the problem is a lack of information as to what is possible when it comes to working in construction and who is actually out there and getting on with it”
These concerns are hardly surprising given the general perception that construction is a largely male environment that is not ‘sold’ to female school leavers or graduates.
Adding to this is the pressing issue that young people of both genders are being driven away from construction into what are perceived as more lucrative and interesting careers in the City of London and overseas.
From our own experiences working with trainees, we believe that part of the problem is a lack of information as to what is possible when it comes to working in construction and who is actually out there and getting on with it.
Something for everyone
The variety of careers in construction is vast and growing and suggests there is something for everyone, particularly young people with an aptitude for technology.
For example, many of our London events have been attended by women from all disciplines and their view is that women are very much present across the industry and in senior positions – it is just we have not put that information out into the wider public domain. More visible role models in the sector – like Beryl Foote – could make a big difference.
“Women are on a far stronger footing than we are led to believe”
We work with RICS Matrics as part of the continuing professional development programme and see young women attending the lectures all the time. It’s clear that young women are qualifying as surveyors.
Female membership levels in professional bodies are up, and there are high numbers of female attendees at industry networking events and special interest groups across the sector.
What this means for women’s careers over the long term is yet to be seen, but this visibility is a step in the right direction and demonstrates that the bastion is crumbling.
Women are on a far stronger footing than we are led to believe.
Theresa Mohammed is a contentious construction senior associate at Trowers & Hamlins and deputy chair of the London and South East committee for the National Association of Women in Construction.
Cristina Lanz-Azcarate is London and the South East chair of the National Association of Women in Construction and a principal at Atelier EURA