Avoiding the 'snow globe' effect - gender balance in planning
At a recent event hosted by London First, a panel of planning professionals, including hgh Consultant, Steve Quartermain, discussed ways of achieving a greater balance of gender and leadership in the profession.
Although 40% of qualified planners are women, a 2019 report by Women in Planning stated that only 17% fill director-level positions.
So what does it take to nurture, retain and develop female leaders across the profession?
An attractive profession?
Within a wider professional environment, planning is arguably a misunderstood career — from its role within the development of land and property to the career progression on offer. The panel suggested a gap in how recruiters and industry bodies communicate career opportunities, with a need to increase the visibility of female leaders and to promote a forward-looking work culture as two key elements of this challenge.
From tackling unconscious bias and ‘pigeon holing’ to coaching and mentoring, putting into place the structural components should go beyond the yearly appraisal. A clearly defined — and visible — leadership strategy is essential. At housing association Network Homes, an established mentoring and coaching programme is widely available to employees, said Network’s Rosa Payne, whereas planner Martin Scholar of Barratt Homes described how Barratt devotes an active part of its management programme to developing female talent into senior roles.
Striking a balance
Steve Quartermain, the former Chief Planner at MHCLG, highlighted the importance of retaining female planners in local authorities and the need to strike a ‘life/life’ balance, where professional and personal responsibilities are aligned.
This often means considering both genders — such as pre-parental leave coaching for women and men, or recruiting mentors from other firms or organisations. From stress management and career crossroads, having an objective conversation can develop someone’s confidence — and their career prospects.
‘Snow Globe’ Culture
Ultimately, each organisation’s expectations and culture are critical — and sometimes this is simply a generational issue. If a leader is visibly ‘in the office’ five days a week, rather than putting emphasis on team and individual output, progress will be held back.
If COVID-19 work practices have shown us anything, it’s the value of working adaptively. As Steve Quartermain commented, it’s vital to keep up the momentum: more events; active support networks; and clear, visible career paths for senior female leaders. To promote a profession that has itself adapted to professionals’ real lives means there is no time for slacking. Otherwise, as Quartermain says, it’s like shaking a snow globe and creating an effect that doesn’t last.
To paraphrase one panellist:
“Equality isn’t about treating everyone the same, it’s about treating people according to their needs…” We would add to this: equality is also about creating the environment where people want to stay.