On the surface, the headline statistics fail to paint a very uplifting picture of women in the workplace. For instance, it is widely stated that it’ll currently take 170 years to close the gender pay gap, with women only making up 33% of senior and managerial positions in the UK[i]. However, it is undeniable that in the last 10 years alone, women have come tremendously far in their representation and influence within the labour market. This is where International Women’s Day (INWD) comes into play; a globally recognised day which “celebrates the social, economic and political achievements of women”.
The campaign theme for INWD 2019 is ‘Balance for Better’, focusing on gender imbalance being a collective business issue, rather than solely a women’s issue. It is now widely recognised that alongside the social and environmental benefits, it makes clear economic sense for women to have a prominent role within the labour market. So, in addition to celebrating how far we’ve come, we need to be focusing on improvements to workplace initiatives that’ll not only encourage women into the labour market but more importantly, help them reach those senior positions.
Now, the construction industry has historically been associated with being dominated by men. For instance, 25 years ago just 16% of the RTPI members were women. However, the story is changing. An increasing number of women are entering real estate, construction and planning university courses which is now being reflected within these respective professions. In 2018 the RTPI reported that 38% of members are now women, and perhaps most encouraging is the equal 50-50 split of males and females entering the planning profession. Membership to valuable organisations such as Women in Planning, an independent network who look to ensure inclusion and equality across the industry, are also continuing to grow. As a graduate in the first year of my career, it is reassuring to see that significant positive change has not only already occurred but continues to.
Here at Lichfields, the headline statistics are looking positive; with 224 employees, 52% of employees are women, 48% are men. Interestingly, 65% of graduate planners are women and 35% are men. While we look for an equal representation, it is encouraging to see a high number of young female planners beginning their career with the hope that this demographic will follow up through the firm and women taking on some of those senior positions. In fact, this trend is already beginning to show; over the past year alone, 7 women have been promoted from ‘Planner’ to ‘Senior Planner’, the first major step in advancing up through the business. An excellent example is the recent promotion of Kirstie Hopcroft in January 2019, who began as a Planner in 2014 and has now advanced from Senior Planner to reach Associate Director. Alongside this, she has successfully won the North West Young Planner of the Year Award and has now been nominated for the National Young Planner of the Year Award.
Breaking those barriers
It is well established that women have faced and, in many instances, continue to face barriers in reaching those senior positions within the planning profession. However, alongside these barriers, there is a notable cultural shift within the profession. It is widely recognised across the industry that companies who support flexible working enable their employees to achieve a much better work-life balance. And as a result, the female representation in planning is indeed increasing.
Here at Lichfields, we have progressed from the initial initiative of ‘Evolution’ to one focused on ‘Lifestyle Management’, encompassing issues such as gender inequality, but also issues such a mental health and well-being. The idea behind both these schemes is the sense of shared responsibility, the recognition that an employee’s relationship with the workplace changes over time and therefore their needs also evolve and change. For example, Lichfields offer flexible working to staff; in the structure of hours worked, cross-office working and the ability to work from home. This has not only ensured that women in the company are not deterred from senior positions but allows all members of staff greater opportunity to have a balanced home-life alongside their work.
Looking to the Future
Whilst it is important to remember the struggles of women in the past, it is crucial to both celebrate the achievements of the present and ask the questions of the future; what will female representation in planning look like in 20 years; how many senior positions will be in the hands of women; and what initiatives will be in place to break down those barriers women seem to face are just a few. From the progress within the profession to date, the future is looking positive.
Lichfields are at the forefront of making this change, with established initiatives in place that help facilitate all members of staff to reach their potential.
[i] World Economic Forum, Available from - http://www3.weforum.org/docs/GGGR16/WEF_Global_Gender_Gap_Report_2016.pdfONS - Women in the Labour Market: 2013, Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/employmentandemployeetypes/articles/womeninthelabourmarket/2013-09-25