Reflections on International Women’s Day

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A mixed workforce is a stronger workforce

So it’s International Women’s Day, and here at MPC Towers we were wondering about a subject for a topical tweet.  But we struggled to find a pithy and interesting way to link women and the planning/political spheres, other than simply to say this: they’re badly underrepresented in both.

Women make up just 191 of Parliament’s 650 members, and while we couldn’t find figures for the planning industry as a whole, the number of women in architecture firms fell from 28% to 21% between 2009 and 2011, while in construction women are a mere 11% of the workforce (and 1% of those on site).  We are always being told things are improving, and maybe they are – here at Meeting Place Communications we certainly have far more female clients than we did when we first launched 10 years ago, and our annual Women’s Lunch is better attended every year.  But as a female PR/public affairs consultant, I can still too often find myself in a large team meeting of 10 or so colleagues across the different development disciplines, all of whom will be male. 

So what can the worlds of politics and planning do to increase gender balance in their workforces?  At MPC we have a very family friendly way of working, enabling staff who care for children (who more often than not will be women) to work flexibly where possible to fit around childcare issues.  We actively encourage an even split in hiring between male and female recruits, and are proud at the moment our staffing levels reflect this.  And I’m putting menstrual leave as an agenda item on our next management meeting.  But from my viewpoint as a female business leader, the work has to start earlier. 

I interview so many men for roles, who are pushier, more confident, and more demanding about salaries than their female counterparts.  We need to encourage girls from a young age that they can be an architect, a town planner or a local councillor, and it would be great to see more schemes where people already in those roles have the chance to visit schoolchildren and start to inspire them at a young age.  I’d be keen to see some more leadership from the development industry itself as well – Liz Peace and latterly Melanie Leech have been brilliant and inspirational heads of the BPF, but flick through some HBF material and you’ll struggle to find a female face.

There are no easy solutions, but while the rise and fall of women in Parliament is well documented, I don’t think enough of a discussion has been had about the roles and representation of women in our industry.  It shouldn’t fall to groups like Women in Planning to bang the drum – the whole industry should be concerned because study after study shows a mixed workforce is a stronger workforce and by any standard we’re not mixed enough yet.