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Gender inequality is still harming planning

Gender inequality

We talk a lot about diversity and inclusivity in the workplace, but new RTPI research shows that gender inequality is alive and well in planning, says Aude Bicquelet-Lock

The case for gender equality in planning has been made by two generations of women who in the 1960s and 1970s battled hard to have their ideas heard, their work respected and – at the basic level – to pursue a career in a profession notoriously dominated by men.

These women paved the way for equal pay, equal recognition and equal opportunities for women and other minorities to progress ain the planning profession. Today, we know that a diverse workforce is competitive. We know that a diverse workforce delivers outcomes that have greater impact. We know that gender equality is crucial to planning because planning is about caring for communities of men and women.  

Yet despite 60 years of feminism, evidence and discourses about equality, inclusion and diversity, sexism (with racism and other forms of discrimination) persists. A recent study conducted by the Women in Planning network shows that men in private planning consultancies fill 80 per cent of leadership positions.

A series of qualitative interviews recently undertaken by the RTPI with female planners working across private, public and academic sectors suggest that women must still deal with sexist comments and behaviour – from being shushed and patted on the head to being withheld from responsibilities upon return from maternity leave.

“There is a need to acknowledge that gender inequality and sexism are still alive and well in planning” 

Women are less likely to be put forward for senior promotions. In taking the lion’s share of caring responsibilities at home, they are more likely to suffer from lack of their employer’s family-friendly policies. In these interviews, women said that rampant sexism sometimes had disastrous effects not only on their career progression but also on their family life, mental health and well-being.

This is simply unacceptable.

While the 1990s and 2000s had seen progress and more women joining the profession, austerity means that recent years have seen a rollback from progress. Thereis a need to acknowledge that gender inequality and sexism are still alive and well in planning.

There is a real need, then, to move beyond normative discourses and recommendations to action plans and policy implementation. This could include:

  • carefully monitoring office cultures
  • setting up safe, confidential, and professional systems for reporting sexist behaviour
  • defining key performance indicators and publishing progress towards gender equality across organisations.

Actions taken will need to be underpinned by transparency, leadership and a genuine commitment to address gender and other discriminatory practices.

Aude Bicquelet-Lock is the RTPI’s deputy head of policy and research and visiting professor in the WHO Collaborating Centre for Healthy Urban Environments at UWE Bristol. She presented the survey ‘Women in Planning: Past, Present and Future’ at Leeds Planning School in May. 

Photo | Shutterstock


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