I had a bit of a varied response to yesterday’s blog about the lack of women in the property industry. Yes, thank you (those of you with the cheap cod sarcasm); I do realise that saying that we need more women in property is a bit akin to saying that we could do with a few more private sector jobs in the north of England. It is so self evident as to be almost beyond comment (you’ve only got to look at MIPIM). I can only say in my own defence that I must have been a bit crosser than usual about those two conferences I was commenting on, as I am normally too exhausted and weary to remonstrate about any of it. Last week I addressed a very senior group from the top echelons of the property industry. And, of 40 in the room, there was only one woman there, apart from me (although there was one apology). Frankly, I thought nothing of it at the time.
But the rest of you do not seem too exhausted and weary (I am delighted to report). Far from it. Some of you got quite agitated. Ross Sturley brings to my attention last month’s announcement of the new members of the Construction Industrial Strategy Advisory Council of which 17 out of 18 members are men: “I realise this is construction, rather than property, but it’s the ‘strategy board’ announced by Peter Hansford, the Chief Construction Adviser to the government appointing a board of people designed to bring about modernisation, efficiency, improvement, etc, in the great British construction industry. Don’t know Denise Bower [professor in engineering project management at Leeds University and clearly a brave soul], but suggest it’s lucky her surname begins with B so she could be first on the list alphabetically. Other women (and there were some available – even in construction) seem to be absent.”
More flippantly, somebody else reminded me of the old joke when the odd “Top 100 Women in Property” polls are being announced, the stock response being “Blimey! Are there really that many?”
So so cynical.
But the real and systemic response, the response for the generation behind mine, the response suffused with positivity and free from cynicism, has been put in place by the wondrous Liane Hartley of Mend who has set up “Urbanistas“, a support group that meets regularly. She says: “I decided to set it up because I was struck by the fact that women are so good at collaborating and sharing yet we have such a weak voice in the built environment industry. I think it’s not enough to be un-male, we need to have a voice, ideas, paradigms and approaches of our own. Women need to step up, have the confidence to have a different view and set the course for more women to succeed on their own terms.”
This is such a welcome reaction to us in the exhausted brigade. She goes on to say “This is my antidote to that. It is also about holding a mirror up to the way the built environment is seen, delivered, who it is for and what it could be if we appreciated multiple views of the city. It’s valuable and important because as more and more women enter the field they will have a greater and greater influence. There is currently a limited shape and face to that influence. Women need to grow their own voice, paradigms and movements; share views and experiences; build confidence and capacity; and build on a natural affinity for collaboration and sharing.”
Urbanistas is open to anyone interested in collaborative approaches to innovative urban social change. Members range from social finance experts, actresses, master planners, strategists, social entrepreneurs, youth workers, psychologists, singers, urban designers, planners, policy wonks, sustainability specialists, energy and efficiency experts, artists, CSR gurus, engagement specialists, academics, trainers, economists, architects, writers, programme managers and project managers. And Liane reports: “The meetings have been overwhelming in that I couldn’t believe how many women came, loved it and felt that nothing else really met their needs. There are lots of professional networks and organisations out there but nothing overtly about women and what we care about. I think this taps into a real demand for women to be more than just pandered to tokenistically but to have a proper and unique voice.”
The key to this is youth. This is a young passionate group of professionals who intend to make a difference. They must be supported and applauded.
I leave the last and definitive comment to Ms Hartley: “It doesn’t have to be mega serious all of the time and we are certainly not preachy about women’s rights or anything. It’s about offering a different perspective and being a bit cheeky and bold.” Bravo.