The story behind the Surveying Sisterhood Summit – By Marion Ellis

For nearly 15 years I have been a chartered surveyor. For 9 years I have been a mother. And for my whole life I’ve been a woman. Guess which one of these three things people were the most interested in?

It’s All About Work

When I was a jobbing surveyor in south London, doing mortgage valuations and homebuyer surveys, I learnt not to tell people what I did for a living. Why? Well mainly because the conversation always took a predictable route after that ‘admission’. Firstly, people would be confused and assume that I was a quantity surveyor. Secondly, once I’d explained the difference between a quantity surveyor and a chartered surveyor, we’d move on to the inevitable house prices questions: are they going to go up or down? Why are they going up or down? When will they stop going up or down? And it didn’t matter how diplomatic my answer was, people would always argue with me. Then, having established that they disagreed with my professional opinion on the housing market, people would always move on to requesting my professional opinion about the cracks in their walls, the trees near their foundations or their extension plans. Don’t get me wrong, I loved talking about my work but at parties, at dinners, at football matches and even – on one memorable occasion – in the dentist’s waiting room, it was all anyone was interested in. It became all about work.

Mums are less interesting it seems…

Things changed when I had my son. I recall my first night out at a friend’s Halloween party six weeks after giving birth. I was dressed as a witch – in full witch’s regalia: pointy hat, green wig and stripy tights. A management consultant I got chatting to asked me what I did. As soon as I mentioned being a new mum he moved on. I’d gone from being someone whose career was an instant cue for in-depth conversation to someone that people moved away from at parties. I raced back to work – partly because I needed the income and partly out of a deep-rooted fear of losing my old life. But my priorities and my story had changed and would continue to do so over the coming years. And I found that the experience of people (mainly men but also some women) walking away from me at parties when I talked about my life as a mother, was reflected within my profession: nobody seemed to be interested in my story as a woman in surveying.

Looking for ways to share stories and experiences 

I was determined to find a way for women in surveying to be heard. I wanted to create a safe space for these women to connect with one another so that they wouldn’t feel so isolated. I knew it was important for us to share our experiences and stories so that we might have an impact on the perceptions and experiences of women within the profession.

I took part in a women’s leadership programme and was prompted to develop a project as a means of utilising all of the new skills and behaviours I had acquired. My first idea was to create a forum for women in surveying but as my project was meant to be ‘non-work’ related, I had to shelve the idea. I started a few different things but they never quite worked out and I kept coming back to my original idea. Sometimes, you just have to surrender and do what you are called to do.

But how to take it forward? I thought about a book or ebook, maybe just a website with a constantly changing collection of stories. None of it felt right. I started to look at how social enterprises work – businesses that make a profit by doing good and that’s when the idea of a virtual summit came to me and the Women in Surveying Sisterhood Summit was born. I believe that when women feel a combination of connection, inspiration, motivation and reassurance – they will create change.

The diversity of our industry won’t change by setting targets, it will change when we feel we belong. Sharing our stories, becoming visible, is a huge part of that.

The Lorraine Kelly of Surveying

Picture the scene: I’m perched on my sofa with my laptop balancing precariously on top of my youngest’s kiddie kitchen preparing to conduct my first interview over the internet with a doyenne of the surveying industry (victorian house, dark and poor wifi – sometimes you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do)

Intimidated? Absolutely! Nervous? Petrified! Trust me, I am no Lorraine Kelly and I am sure that my nerves probably show on one or two of my interviews but I like to think I got better at it – that I learnt a few tricks of the trade and became more engaging as a result.

At first, I panicked. I was so busy overthinking everything that I completely freaked myself out. I learnt that I got the best from people when I relaxed; when I was just myself.

When this all began, I would lie awake at night wondering what on earth I had taken on? My inner perfectionist would be screaming at me to ‘get it right’ and I was exhausted and even more nervous as a result. I learnt that when I let my inexperience and vulnerability show, it gave my ‘guests’ permission to relax too and they opened up even more as a result.

I had thought only a handful of women would be willing to share. I expected no’s but I learnt that the women I spoke to want the same things I do: everyone said yes and wanted to be a part of it! As a result the Summit now comprises 18 beautiful conversations about things that women have experienced in their careers as women in surveying.

I am in awe of the women who have shared their experiences with me and I hope you will feel the same. I hope that as a result of this work, you will feel inspired to share your story; reassured that you are not alone and encouraged that change is possible.

I really hope you will join us.

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