Breaking barriers: what I learnt as Chair of Women in Property SW

Breaking barriers: what I learnt as Chair of Women in Property SW

My year as Chair of Women in Property (WiP) South West was something of a personal learning journey about the wide-ranging inequality that still exists in our industry—and society generally—and the steps we need to take to remove those barriers.

Initially, I was perhaps a reluctant leader in some ways. I’ve never been entirely sure that it’s right to identify myself as a woman architect, rather than just an architect. But this year has opened my eyes in many ways as to why Women in Property still has an important purpose.

Promoting intersectionality

While gender is the common factor that defines WiP, we’re all different, with diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, ages, socio-economic backgrounds, identities, interests, and life experiences. Yet the more “differences” you have, the more barriers you face. Property Week figures show women still only make up 15% of our industry’s workforce, while the UN reports that without investment, global gender equality will take nearly 300 years.

If we want to create places that truly represent the people who use them, we need truthful representation and engagement—and we need to make that happen today.

It takes a village

With the appointment of Cleo Allen as our Diversity and Inclusion champion, and through our outreach programme, led by Jade Wellesley-Miller (RLB), a key theme of the year has been to promote inclusion to help the industry better reflect those diversities. This all builds on the tireless work of my predecessor, Alice Brook (Buro Happold), who led us out of the pandemic and gave us a foundation to focus on the quality and breadth of our events and initiatives.

Helen James (Gleeds), for example, is leading a survey on Building Balance, which sheds light on childcare costs and the impact of poor work life balance in our industry, while our Student Awards, now in their 18th year, continue to recognise and empower female future built environment leaders.

Photography © Guy Traynor

Growing our impact through partnerships

Collaborating with other organisations has been critical to both our own learning, and to promote the discussions of these issues more broadly.

On International Women’s Day in 2023, for example, we hosted an event on intersectionality (in partnership with FBE, RIBA, CIBSE, BPAA, Building Equality, and BCO), with discussions on transgender experiences in construction and the inclusion of Black professionals in surveying.

Partnering with Migrateful, we supported refugees and migrants through cooking classes, and raised funds for their integration efforts. We also became part of the Bristol Property Inclusion Charter, which amplifies voices often marginalised in our industry. To culminate the year, we celebrated inspiring women across industries, reaffirming our commitment to collaboration and inclusivity.

Working with these partners throughout the year allowed us to talk openly and share experiences, rather than everyone operating in silos, helping to reach different audiences and invite broader perspectives.

Looking to the future

People might question the validity of an organisation that’s solely open to women, but this year has shown me that wide ranging inequalities still exist. Some of these I might not experience first hand, but I hope to have made a small impact by opening up the dialogue with industry partners, and vice versa.

With the baton now passed to Rachel Holmes (Harris Evolution) to take over as Chair, that work will continue, fueled by our passion and dedication to making a difference.

Photography © Tom Bright

Women in Property creates opportunities, expands knowledge and inspires change for women working in the property and construction industry. WiP South West is one of 14 branches and satellites across the UK, with nearly 270 members dedicated to creating a balanced, diverse and inclusive property industry.


Related posts