Kathryn Ladley

50 Years of Surveying

In April 1977 the trade magazine, Building Trades Journal, ran an article on Women Quantity Surveyors under the title “Women QS: “confident and highly professional”.  This was just over two years after I had achieved my RICS qualifications.  I was contacted by the magazine and was included in the article.   Although I realised there were not many female Quantity Surveyors about it wasn’t until the article was published that I realised just what a minority I was in.

At that time the article stated that the IQS (Institute of Quantity Surveyors) had 9 women associate members, of which I was one, and the RICS had 28 women QS members out of 24,000 corporate and non-corporate QS members.  It was also reported that I was one of only three women who were members of both the IQS and the RICS.

Looking back, I admit that I came into Quantity Surveying almost by accident.  My original plan had been to study Architecture and I was made offers by Schools of Architecture in Oxford and Leeds. During the application process, and at the last minute, I had added the Quantity Surveying degree at Leeds to the UKAS application.  In the event my A Level results were such that I could have opted for any of the offers.  To this day I am not really sure why, at that time, I decided to accept the QS offer, but I remain very glad that I did.

Again looking back, I find it hard to believe how naïve I was.  I had come from an all-girls convent school and although I had some knowledge of construction; my father was an excellent bricklayer, I had no experience of relationships with boys on a day-to-day social level (the convent kept us well segregated) and although the only bit of careers advice I was offered by my school was that there were very few women in Architecture I was staggered, on my first day at college, to find I was the only girl in a class of 24. 

To say that I found the transition from school to college difficult was a huge understatement.  I was very shy and totally lacking in self-confidence – totally unsuited to being thrust into this new situation.  It turned out that not only was I the only girl in that year’s BSc Quantity Surveying intake, I was the only girl in that year’s intake across the whole building department and I think the first girl to enrol for any of their range of full time courses.

At the three month stage I was on the point of giving up.  To make matters worse on one particular day there was a bus strike and I had no way of getting to college.  That was it, I was throwing in the towel, I couldn’t do it anymore.  Fate, however, intervened in the form of my dad who, not knowing about my dilemma, had arranged a lift to work and was going to drop me off at the train station.  I found myself sat on the train with tears streaming down my face, totally dejected.  But then something clicked and I found myself thinking “s** them, they won’t beat me” and really that was the start of the rest of my life.

I suppose “slow and steady wins the race” has always been my philosophy, coupled with a determination not to give up.  I was never interested in being a trail-blazer, I just had a determination to chip away at the status quo to achieve what I wanted to.  That day my resolve was to prove that I could do the job as well as any boy and ended up proving I could do it better than most.

During my first year at college, Leeds Polytechnic ran a publicity campaign featuring me, to try to recruit more girls onto their courses.  There was also some publicity when I graduated, by which time I was married.  It is a sad reflection of the time and the status of women that the strapline was “Wife’s BSc”.

Although, at the time, it didn’t feel like this, with hindsight I think the people I came up against just didn’t know what to do with me; they were so used to living in an all-male environment.  Even the RICS struggled; I frequently received correspondence addressed to Mrs K E Ladley Esq.

I remember how proud I was the day I receive the letter telling me I had achieved my Chartered status, at the first attempt.  I was just turned 24 and it was such a boost to my confidence. 

At that time, I was working for Leeds City Council (LCC) and I will always be grateful for the help and support the Council provided whilst I was training and in the early years after qualifying.  Many people consider working for a local authority to be dull, boring and humdrum, however, I have always found that the variety of work available and the level of responsibility I was allowed (especially in the early years of my career) was far in excess of that experienced by my peers.

In the 1980s my husband and I decided it was time to start a family and we were fortunate, eventually, to have a son (born in 1983) and a daughter (born in 1989).  Before my son was born I had suffered a miscarriage.  I was indignant at the way in which women were treated at such a difficult time in their lives.  I particularly resented being placed in a bed on an ante-natal ward next to a young girl who seemed to treat abortion as an acceptable form of birth control.

For virtually all of the time I was pregnant and through my children’s early years I continued to work, on a part time basis, as a Quantity Surveyor in private practice, contracting and local authority consultancy – to “keep my hand in”. At that time I also worked part time running a small national charity.  Following the birth of my son I had turned my attention to helping women who had suffered the loss of a child during pregnancy.  I ran the Miscarriage Association (a national charity) for almost 7 years and during those years I qualified as an antenatal teacher for the National Childbirth Trust.  I saw my role as that of helping to build women’s confidence to achieve the pregnancy, labour and birth they wanted.  When, however, ‘push came to shove’, my love of working in the construction industry came to the fore and when an opportunity to work once again with LCC arose, I made the decision to return to my employment roots.

It was gratifying to find that once back full time my love and enthusiasm for the work was every bit as strong, if not stronger, than before.  I remained at LCC for almost 17 years during which time I applied for, and was elected to, Fellowship of the RICS and qualified for Associate Membership of the APM. 

In the later years of my time with Leeds CC I was promoted to be LCC’s Construction Best Practice Officer.  I loved this role and over the years I was able to bring the benefits of Constructing Excellence, Lean Construction, Two-Stage Tendering and many other ways of collaborative working and supply chain management to LCC.

I have been with NPS for over 7 years now and have been involved in setting up new Joint Ventures, across the country, for the company.  I am currently based in the Leeds office.  I was asked to help there at the time of their 5- Year Review looking at and reviewing processes to strengthen and facilitate the NPS relationship with Leeds City Council.

Early in my career I was asked whether I had made the right choice in becoming a Quantity Surveyor.  At the time I said I could never imagine doing anything else.  Now, almost 50 years later, the feeling is still the same.

The culmination of all this was winning the European Women in Construction and Engineering – Lifetime Achievement in Construction Award in 2017

As I said earlier, slow and steady, achieving both personal and professional goals was always my way,  my intention being to answer some of the criticisms and issues posed through the course of my career: –

  • it’s too demanding for a girl,
  • you won’t be able to deal with the mud and site conditions
  • you’re not worth training, you’ll leave and have a family and the money spent training you will be wasted.
  • it’s construction – it’s technical – you won’t be able to understand it
  • it’s not fair you are taking a man’s job and are being paid a man’s wage

So here I am almost 50 years later and I feel, in my own quiet way, I have left my stamp on the industry.  I’m 67 and realistically my time as a Quantity Surveyor is coming to an end – but I’m not ready to go yet, I still feel I have something to give, I would still relish a new challenge.  My only regret is that because of family circumstances and events I was not able to give more back to the industry in its quest to achieve greater diversity. 

Perhaps it’s still not too late.

Kathryn Ladley BSc FRICS MAPM

Senior Management Consultant, NPS

12 June 2019