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07/03/2017

IWD: Young planner interview - Charlotte Mohn

What do young planners think about International Women's Day and equality in the workplace? The RTPI's policy and networks adviser Katherine Pollard asked Charlotte Mohn a graduate planner with WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff

Name: Charlotte Mohn

Job title: Graduate planner

Employer: WSP | Parsons Brinkerhoff

Years working in planning: Less than 1 year

"I think this year’s International Women's Day theme to 'be bold for change' reinforces the message that gender parity is something we are all responsible for, irrespective of our gender and role in society.

Considerable progress has been made to reduce the gender gap across the [engineering] industry thanks to companies that have pledged to use the WISE 10 steps* to help shape our diversity action plan for current and future employees.

I can see this progress every day at work as more women join our offices. My line manager recently told me that when she started she was one of two female technical members of staff in an office of sixty. When I started on the other hand, I found myself surrounded by a significant number of aspiring women. I personally feel very well supported and have never felt like I was treated differently from men in any way.

"Where gender gaps are a sign of inequality, it should be in everybody’s interest to close them"

Where gender gaps exist, the reasons for them are usually multi-faceted. They can be more or less subtle, from how children are socialised and exposed to certain gender stereotypes, to laws or norms that prevent women from driving or getting an education. Inequalities can be structural but do not always have to be. Where gender gaps are a sign of inequality, it should be in everybody’s interest to close them.

There has been a very big push at WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff to increase the percentage of female members of staff, from junior to senior roles. It is particularly obvious when looking at the new starters that there is a much more even split between men and women.

Awareness within the industry is only one aspect, though. It is equally, if not more important, to fight inequality at a very early stage. WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff runs a lot of outreach programmes with schools, for example, where we try to make pupils aware of the different career opportunities they have.

Where inequalities exist, it is important to address them with a multifaceted approach. This requires cooperation between businesses, politics, the third sector and civil society more generally. We all need to work together.

"Planning affects each one of us every day... We have to plan not just for, but most importantly, with everyone"

Planning affects each one of us every day. Therefore it is crucial that planners consider the diverse needs of all groups in society. For this to be possible and for planning to become inclusive, we have to plan not just for, but most importantly, with everyone. We need women to occupy leadership roles in planning, and, more importantly, we need diverse leaders who are able to reflect on and engage with the ever-changing and diverse needs of our neighbourhoods, cities and society.

Targeting women is perhaps one of the more obvious steps to take in respect to making planning more inclusive, but it is just as important to consider other groups in society. In a lot of cases the benefits of a planning solution designed for women will positively affect the built environment more generally.

Classic examples are good street lighting that does not just increase the (sense of) safety of women but of all pedestrians; ramps that benefit mothers with pushchairs, as well as fathers and people with physical impairments; and mixed-use areas that ensure short distances between our homes, workplaces, schools, etc, which, again, benefit working mothers as much as everyone else. In my eyes, it is imperative that we do not just single out individual groups but look at overarching themes, challenges and opportunities in planning.

* WISE is a campaign for gender balance in science, technology, engineering and maths

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