26 March 2019
In celebration of International Women’s Day, two of our planners - Annabel Le Lohé and Eleanor Gingell - sat down with us to discuss their involvement in, and the benefits of, Women in Planning, an independent and female-led UK network for promoting a diverse, equitable, and inclusive planning industry.
Q: How does the group benefit women in the planning sector?
Annabel Le Lohé, Senior Town Planner at WYG and regular attendee of Women in Planning events in the South Midlands:
The group provides a friendly atmosphere for both male and female attendees to discuss how women can be supported throughout their planning careers. One of the group’s main strengths is getting strong female role models in senior planning positions to host Continuing Professional Development events and provide guidance to those just starting out in their career. When many event panels are male-dominated, it’s refreshing to attend events where you can relate to the speakers and career journey stories more closely.
Outside the planning sector, the Women in Planning group is well respected and other networking/representative groups have been eager to collaborate and deliver events with a diversity focus, including ACE.
Eleanor Gingell, Principal Planner and Chair of the South Midlands Branch of Women in Planning:
The South Midlands branch appears to have filled a gap in networking opportunities for the sector, but has also provided an environment that is supportive of women in general. A number of women attending our recent breakfast seminar in Bedford commented that they had felt intimidated at larger networking events, not really enjoying the experience, whilst others had avoided previous events entirely, feeling that networking was only really aimed at the private sector. This is something we’re trying to deconstruct.
The National group has run a number of different initiatives and has successfully influenced the RTPI’s agenda to include diversity. In the South Midlands we have tried to keep the focus of our branch activities very simple: a platform and safe space to share ideas.
Q: Who else is part of the group?
Eleanor: Our committee includes planners, but also those that work alongside the profession, such as engineers and legal representatives. This has widened our reach drastically. Many of the issues that female planners raised include, for example, not feeling confident or represented at events, and these apply equally to related professionals.
Q: Why does the construction sector struggle with the retention of women?
Eleanor: I don’t think the issue is unique to planning or construction. We still live in a society where women take on the share of caring responsibilities. be it children or relatives. Priorities change and it can be difficult to catch up. Flexibility in working practices is key, whether it involves working at home or allowing average hours over a longer period of time rather than daily fixed hours. This naturally has to be balanced against client demands in private practice. The same flexible working practices can also benefit men, enabling them to take on a more involved role and allow their partner the space and time to give to their career.
Similarly, schemes that bring individuals back to the business after a period of absence can encourage experienced professionals to return to work after a career break by providing support networks and appropriate mentoring (see for example: http://corp.womenreturners.com/uk-returnships/ with CBRE currently offering a programme for women in Real Estate/ Planning.
Annabel: I would echo Ellie’s point that pressure upon staff to stick to a regimented time schedule conflicts with the desire of many to start a family. Those individuals would benefit from the flexibility to work longer hours on some days rather than others.
Career mentor schemes with female role models in senior leadership positions would inspire more women to not fear being held back because of their gender as their career progresses.
The Planner lists the Women of Influence in our sector each year, providing a great starting point for empowering those earlier in their career to strive for greater influence. However, I would like to see this taken further, with more in-depth profiles on these women and opportunities to meet with them through networking or career day events.
Q: How does diversity and inclusion benefit clients?
Eleanor: Diversity and inclusion brings new ideas and perspectives to a problem. Women, in particular, assess services and the built environment in a different way. In terms of travel for instance, women will make a greater number of ‘connected’ journeys than men, e.g. school drop off, work, grocery shopping, picking up the kids.
Annabel: Women also assess safety and security in planning and urban design differently from men because their perception of those concepts is typically very different. In terms of the social characteristics of a place, I have noticed that women place more focus upon creating more areas where social interactions may naturally unfold, even in small residential areas.
Q: How can others get involved?
Eleanor: You can sign up to the relevant Women in Planning Mailing lists via https://www.womeninplanning.org/ to hear about events. There are now over 18 branches across the UK so there is bound to be one close to you.
Annabel: You can follow the Women in Planning social media accounts which share information on their events across the UK, as well as relevant articles and initiatives:
Internally, WYG is also working to support women through their planning careers, starting with a day of open forums highlighting the core topics, and continuing by instigating initiatives in relation to ensuring a suitable work-life balance, for both male and female colleagues to benefit from.