If Ebenezer Scrooge had been a surveyor rather than a banker, things would have been very different. First of all, it goes without saying that he would have been a much nicer person! But secondly, when the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future came to see him, he might have noticed something striking about the changing face of his profession, and the property business more generally.
When the Ghost of Christmas Past showed Scrooge the Surveyor a vision of years gone by, that vision would have been very male. Until the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, women were not even allowed to become surveyors (or much else!), but even after that, progress was slow. The 1970s were a bit of a turning point, symbolised by the long-overdue refurbishment of the ladies’ toilets at RICS HQ! But until quite recently, the profession remained male-dominated aside from a few brave pioneers, and perhaps not especially female friendly. The prevailing prejudice was that surveying, like the building and property industry in general, was a man’s business, and ‘not for girls’.
The Ghost of Christmas Present would paint a very different picture, however. In recent decades, female membership of the RICS has largely increased from only 3% at the end of the 1980s to 13% at the end of 2014. The Raising the Ratio initiative, launched in 2001, saw the profession begin to build on this trend by making a concerted effort to redress the balance. Last year the RICS had its first ever female president in Louise Brooke-Smith, and with Amanda Clack due to take on the same role next year, it seems women in senior positions are here to stay – and not because of their gender, but because of their unquestionable ability.
Perhaps even more encouragingly, though, is that the trend is increasing as women now make up more than a quarter of surveying students and trainees. A third of my own team at Earl Kendrick are women, mostly young and at the beginning of promising careers in surveying. And that brings us to the Ghost of Christmas Future. It would not surprise me at all if in another generation or two, women make up half or even more of surveying profession. The old stereotypes have been well and truly debunked, and it is clear that women are every bit as capable as their male counterparts of taking on all aspects of the job.
More than that, I believe we have passed a tipping point. Women might once have worried they would be made to feel unwelcome in a profession traditionally dominated by men. But the sheer numbers of women now working as surveyors makes any sexist culture more and more untenable. Women surveyors won’t put up with it, and as a result they increasingly don’t have to.
As a managing director, I value diversity in my team: different people bring a different perspective, different skills and styles of working. For that reason, excluding half the population from any business would be daft. And anyway, I certainly can’t imagine being surrounded by just men all day! I have no doubt that the influx of women into the property business is a good thing for all concerned, not least clients, a large proportion of whom are also women.
So Merry Christmas, one and all. And let’s look forward to Christmas Future and an even more equal and representative surveying profession. If Ebenezer Scrooge can be a surveyor, so can Christmas Carol!
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