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Connecting women and opportunity

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Connecting women and opportunity

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Celebrating the pioneer spirit of trail blazing women making history in surveying – Annette Howard, Information Officer at RICS

Women through history at RICS

Annette Howard is information officer at RICS, where she deals with enquiries relating to property issues covering residential and commercial property, facilities management and valuation and sourcing publications for inclusion on the online library catalogue. She has worked at RICS for 27 years in different roles in the RICS Library service, which forms part of RICS Reference Services together with the London Bookshop. 

Annette Howard - RICS
Annette Howard

“…Increasing the number of women in surveying remains a priority for RICS as more and more women around the world choose to follow in the footsteps of our female pioneers…”

Remembering the early pioneers of the surveying profession

The first female Chartered Surveyor was a woman called Irene Barclay. She was closely followed by a woman called Evelyn Perry. They can be described as early pioneers of their profession.

Irene qualified as a Professional Associate in 1922 and Evelyn Perry qualified as a Professional Associate in in 1923. Irene became a Fellow in 1931, and Evelyn a Fellow in 1937. Irene and Evelyn formed their own partnership, called Barclay and Perry. We know that partnership continued until at least 1940. From 1940 onwards we only have a private address listed for Evelyn, so we don’t know whether or not she carried on in practice during WWII and beyond, or whether she retired.

Women in housing improving lives and reforming society

Irene was in practice for 50 years and she was very much involved in social housing in inter-war Britain. Her practice managed the St Pancras Housing Association’s properties from 1924 until her retirement in 1972 , and she wrote an autobiography called People Need Roots, which covers her life and work. Irene is regarded as one of the key social reformers of the 20th century for her work improving housing conditions in the slums of St. Pancras, and as a result she received an OBE in 1966 in recognition of her work.

In a quote for her book about her course Irene said:

“…We were the only girls in a crowd of young men and I remember that the lecturer who dealt with drainage and sanitation was acutely embarrassed, poor man…”

A woman of great ability

Evelyn passed away in 1976 and she is referred to in her obituary as “a woman of great ability”. Irene passed away in 1989 and in her obituary, she’s referred to as a “patron of the poor”. They were true pioneers, who were the exception rather than the norm.

Role as housing managers

In 1931, a special certificate for women housing managers was established. It is interesting to note that they were not counted as full members and their names did not appear in the membership directories.

There is very little written evidence in the professional press relating to the presence and influence of women in the 1940s and 1950s.

Signs of change

RICS Women Presidents Lunch
A President’s luncheon for women in the profession in 1978. Guests included Irene Barclay

In the 1960s there were signs that attitudes were starting to change. In 1960, the Wells Committee report on the education policy of RICS was set up to look at attracting more students into the profession. There’s a quote in there which says:

“The occasion will demand more men and women, who are not only able, practical surveyors, but also capable of original, imaginative thinking.”

That’s one of the earliest quotes that mentions both genders.

An enlightened body

There were a series of letters published in the RICS Journal in the 196os about the role of women in the profession. One reader wrote:

“I note, with pleasure, from your last issue that the RICS might be taking steps to counteract the widespread ignorance of what women can or cannot do in the surveying profession, after all, the RICS, being an enlightened body, opened its venerable doors to a woman as long ago as 1922.”

In 1978 we had our first female Chair of what was then called the Junior Organisation (now known as Matrics). Her name is Jennifer Ellis.

Between 1980 and 1989, the number of female Chartered Surveyors increased from 1% to 3% of the membership (excluding students), so that was quite a change. In 1980 an organisation called the RICS Lioness Club was founded, which later became the Women Surveyors Association. It was still a separate group, but it was recognised that female surveyors wanted to be able to benefit from developing their networks.

In 1987 another organisation called the Association of Women in Property (which is separate from the RICS, and still going strong today) was founded by a surveyor called Michelle Foster alongside architect, Elspeth Clements.

Surveying the Glass Ceiling

By the 1990s women were represented on the RICS general Council (with at least six female members by 1993). Between 1993 and 1994, a woman called Mary Dent was the first female president of the Planning and Development Division, before they became known as ‘professional groups’. There were a number of reports and initiatives to encourage women into the profession in the 1990s. A report was published in 1999 called Surveying the Glass Ceiling. By this time 8,000 members out of a total membership of 100,000 were women.

First female president

Louise Brook-Smith - RICS
Louise Brook-Smith, the first female RICS President (2014/15)

The first female president of RICS was Louise Brooke-Smith, who held office from 2014-2015. She was a popular president, championing diversity and inclusion. One of her key achievements was the launch of the Inclusive Employer Quality Mark.

She came from a planning and development background. This is interesting because Mary Dent, our first female president for the Planning and Development Division who I mentioned earlier, also came from a similar background, suggesting that women were active in this part of the profession. And of course Amanda Clack, our second female president, took office last year.

The rise and rise of women in surveying

Increasing the number of women in surveying remains a priority for RICS as more and more women around the world choose to follow in the footsteps of our female pioneers. As at February 2017 out of a total of 106, 248 Associates, Members and Fellows worldwide, 15% are female. In contrast, in the Asia Pacific 21% in these membership categories are female.

Amanda Clack - RICS
Amanda Clack, current RICS President

Our diversity section on the website has best practice and case studies from the industry and beyond to improve diversity and inclusion in the profession by offering practical tips and advice.

Role models are also of great importance in the profession, and our Chief Executive, Dr. Sean Tompkins, has made a pledge to champion diversity. 

We have visible women lunches taking place in the UK with president, Amanda Clack, and UK and Ireland Chair, Fiona Grant, to create opportunities for women to network with like-minded women in the industry. We also have Driving for Diversity lunches in the UK regions, and finally, our diversity conference taking place on 29th June in London. We’d love to see you there.


Further reading

Building a name: The history of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors – Jennifer North. Arima Publishing, 2010

Chartered surveyors: the growth of a profession. F.M.L Thompson. Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968

People need roots – Irene Barclay. Bedford Square Press, 1976

Surveying sisters: Women in a tradition male profession – Clara Greed. Routledge, 1991

Surveying the Glass Ceiling: an investigation of the progress made by women in the surveying profession – Louise Ellison. RICS, 1999

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