Standing up for women in property: Rachel Bell’s inspiring year

Rachel Bell (Architect and Head of Business Development) handed over her Chairmanship of the South West branch of Women in Property (WiP) today, 1 March 2018.

Alongside involvement in WiP events, she has been a much sought-after commentator on the gender pay gap, sexism in the workplace, and encouraging more women into the construction industry. While her focus has been on issues affecting women in the industry, her position aligns seamlessly with our commitment to employment diversity and equal opportunity.

Here she reports on her key achievements at the helm of the South West branch of WiP.

Rachel Bell

My tenure as Chair happened to coincide with a huge focus on gender equality issues. During a year of headlines around the topic – Harvey Weinstein, the Presidents Club and the BBC gender pay gap – I am pleased to have had a platform to tackle some of the negatives in our sector.

When I became Chair in 2017, I’d already been an active member of Women in Property for over 10 years. I knew that it would take an incredible amount of energy and determination to begin the change to positives.

My mantra of ‘stand tall’ is all about taking a deep breath and just going for it, especially if the ‘it’ is outside your comfort zone. It certainly has been for me on many occasions.

It has also been a very rewarding time. Under my leadership, the South West branch has gone from strength to strength: membership has grown by almost 30% and the regional committees organised over 100 educational, professional or social events during the year.

Two events of those stand out. First, my speech at the South West Constructing Excellence Summit in June last year, the message of which was close to my heart. I spoke about the image of construction and value of gender diversity in the workplace, rallying my audience to commit to trying ‘just one thing’ to inspire younger women and schoolgirls to consider a career in construction.

Even small encouragements – having a chat with daughters, nieces and their friends – can make a difference. This is, of course, just as relevant to boys. Recruiting high-quality people across the board is vital if we’re to tackle the many challenges the UK faces, from building new homes to upgrading our national infrastructure.

The other important moment during this year was the publication of ‘Building: A Better Workforce’, a report that WiP worked on in collaboration with Gapsquare and the Rosemount Partnership.

Based on a survey of over 100 people working in the industry in the South West, it found that while employers are starting to embrace more flexible recruitment policies, there are still a lot of barriers to women entering and progressing.

If we want true, fair, representative diversity in our industry, which the evidence shows is absolutely desirable, then we must act. We need to supply the pipeline and support women flexibly to prevent them falling off their career path or, indeed, leaving the industry altogether. I’m proud to say that we support this at Stride Treglown, and across the industry more generally there are signs of change starting to make a difference.

The report has proved influential. It has been downloaded countless times and provoked many positive reactions. I and the South West Committee are determined to build on this success and intend to pursue all the interest generated with further research. If you are interested, please get in touch.

There have been so many other highlights. As a group we’ve had a lot of fun, from driving a digger to doing yoga, but much more than that, we’ve been engaged in matters of serious professional concern. We’ve visited many schools and sites, mentored young professionals, held seminars, and supported national WiP campaigns. We’ve had a sub-theme of health and wellbeing, acknowledging our need for a good work/life balance.

Although my time is over, I’m not abandoning the cause. Far from it: I’ll remain on the committee and will continue as an energetic member of WiP in the South West, mentoring and helping to judge the WiP Student Awards. I’ve recently undertaken CITB Ambassadorship training, and will strive to represent women in all walks of life no matter what I do next.

Time after time I’ve been thrown in at the deep end as Chair. Most recently I was at a very well attended Trailblazing Women event organized by Women Mean Biz celebrating 100 years since women first got the vote. I was asked to deliver a short speech without any notice about my role with WIP. A year ago, this would have thrown me, but not today. Today I stand tall.