Supporting and helping others to be the best they can be has always been close to my heart. It’s been something I’ve naturally done in every job I’ve had, and I never really gave it a second thought until I came to step out of my comfort zone and re-trained as a Quantity Surveyor into the Construction industry.
My journey into my current role in the Infrastructure sector wasn’t your typical construction career path – in fact, it was quite far from it. I often talk about my journey – and have done so in my blog posts Career change for the better and my #celebr8surveyor post. But the diversity of my career path has taught me many more important things than simply different job skills. We’re always learning and evolving as individuals. And we are also learning and evolving in how we can help celebrate our industry. This is why we decided to rebrand the Surveying Sisterhood. Our ethos hasn’t changed, but our experience of outreach, and how to effect a lasting change has.
In my career, I’ve worked in call centres, as Personal and Executive Assistant and Office Manager roles, where using my organisational and people management skills to their best effect was simply part of the job. Administration and call centre roles never really had the challenge of lack of diversity, if anything, my experience was that they tended to be more female and minority oriented than male. But the construction profession roles I’ve encountered have looked very different in terms of diversity.
Much has been done to attract minority groups into the industry, and the job has been a very difficult one. Cries of ‘positive discrimination’ and ‘what about me’ still echo daily on LinkedIn and Twitter and in our trade journals. There’s still a fear that the status quo changing is something unfamiliar and terrible. Fear of change and the unknown is something that will never go away – but those who make the most noise are generally only the ones who are heard. The ones who are most fearful of change, the negativity, this gets the most press. Sometimes, you simply can’t see the wood for the trees, and you could be forgiven for thinking that it’s just impossible to turn the tide on so much negativity.
But that’s where you would be wrong. If you scratch the surface, you can see the silent majority. Those who work hard and love what they do, and enjoy the different, the diverse, those who quietly embrace what it means to tap into that slightly unusual knowledge that they found out someone had whilst having a coffee that one time at lunch. Those who love to hear what their colleague did at the weekend because it was always something that you didn’t expect, travelling, competing in a sports competition, performing in a concert, dancing until dawn. We’re all here with a myriad of skills, we just perhaps consider that we’re not strong enough on our own to stand up to the very vocal stalwart who makes their opinions on diversity known frequently and loudly.
Together, however, we’re stronger. And that’s why Surveyorhood exists. It started off as a community for women to support and raise and celebrate each other, but we quickly found that men also needed this community too. All different women and men, of different sexualities and races, faiths and abilities, and we realised that the ethos of what we wanted to do couldn’t be restricted to simply women. We want to raise and celebrate everyone – regardless of any physical attributes which separate us. It’s really irrelevant. The truth of it is, that in all honesty we still need to showcase minority groups more than majority groups, and that is what you will see more of on this site. We will raise and celebrate our allies in all their vibrant diversity, but we would ask you to forgive us for celebrating more women, more people of colour, more diverse sexualities, those of us who are considered disabled – because at present, these groups are all sadly, more underrepresented than would be ideal.
Our hope is, that eventually this won’t be the case. Our hope is that this site will eventually just be a joyful place to visit to see what surveyors are doing, and to start conversations to keep improving the construction industry, and our profession. Our hope is, that eventually, “normal” will simply be a diverse range of brilliant minds working together to make this an industry that people aspire to work within.
We’re not quite there yet. So in the mean time, we will be the Surveyorhood, and keep shining a light on those you might not quite expect to fit in with the usual stereotypes.
For those worried that yet another female oriented group has disappeared into the ether, the original ethos of Sisterhood still exists, but we’re now simply part of something bigger.
I get frequently asked about what advice I’d give to minority groups looking to come into the profession, and the response I give is to believe in yourself. There are so many opportunities in construction, and none of them are constrained by our gender, race, beliefs, disability or sexuality. You only have to look at the growing number of role models to know that every single one of us has something unique to offer. Our Surveyorhood blog is encouraging just that, with #Celebr8surveyor running every week to showcase the fantastic work that each and every one of us does on a daily basis. Growing diversity is key to the future survival of the industry, and our experience and different viewpoints are skills which are needed right now. You might meet some who are resistant to change – but that’s not just a construction thing, that’s something we have to change in society. My experience has been really positive in construction, and I’ve found that communities are much more supportive than you might think. Old tropes are being overturned every day. Not to say we don’t still have a long way to go, but the more of us that enter into the profession, it erodes away at the old way of things, and changes ‘normal’ into something which resembles a much more diverse and inspiring place to be.
We’re all aware of the lasting skills shortages in the industry, and it’s this skills shortage which enabled me to enter the industry well over ten years ago in the first instance. If it wasn’t for the skills shortage, non-cognate conversion degrees wouldn’t have needed to be provided, and perhaps I’d be on a different career path to what I am now. This aside, a criticism of construction is that we’re often a very reactive industry, rather than pro-active. We’ve known that an even greater skills shortage is on it’s way in the next ten years, but very few ground-breaking ideas are coming to the fore in order to address this. What myself and other surveyors are urgently discussing, is how do we push this agenda? How do we fast track what needs to be done right now? And part of the answer is to increase diversity.
Where women only make up 14% of surveyors, and yet 50% of all available working age employees, attracting more women to construction would quickly address much of the shortfall we are seeing. This isn’t women taking over, or pushing men out of jobs etc, this is enabling everyone to work only the hours they are contracted to, rather than all hours of the day and night to fulfil a client’s requirements. This is a better work/life balance; this is more harmonious workplaces, everyone working to their strengths rather than struggling under an ever increasing and impossible workload. This is fathers and mothers spending more time with their families and young children, this is single colleagues finding time for their hobbies and interests – and above all, everyone bringing their best to their work, and loving every part of their job and working environment.
It might seem like an impossible dream, but it isn’t. Why don’t we give it a go and see what happens. Fear of change is unproductive in any industry – but refusing to change, is potentially devastating in ours.
As you can probably tell, I am passionate about my industry, but I’m also passionate about diversity and inclusion. It’s something that all of us must embrace if we’re to move forward as an industry that attracts the best minds, provides the best solutions to our increasingly aging infrastructure. We can’t continue to go around in the same well-worn tracks that we have been doing. If we keep asking the same questions to the same people, we’ll get the same answers. We need to ask these questions to different people, and then formulate new questions from there. We need to progress at a quicker rate than we are now. And it’s a challenge that is scary and exciting all at once.
But the momentum has started. The possible is mooted. We need to see more diversity in all of its myriad forms. We need to support and raise the profiles of women and men of colour and diverse ethnicities, sexuality, disability, ages – we have such a wide palette of minds to choose from, why wouldn’t we want to encourage and hear what they have to say?