Log in | Register

IWD: The role model


Sandra Manson tells Simon Wicks how she worked her way up from filing clerk at Newcastle City Council to director of planning at WYG, and explains how she's inspiring young women to aspire to similar journeys today.

"I got into planning by accident. I left school but didn’t do my A-levels. and I got a job as a temporary filing clerk in planning in Newcastle City Council when I was 16.

I woke up to the delights of planning! There was a senior principal planner called Sue Bridge who mentored and encouraged me. I worked my way up for eight years and eventually got my planning degree.

Mentoring and inspiring people is important for people to realise their full potential. I’m actually involved in the RTPI Ambassador programme. I’m working with a school in north Tyneside in one of the most deprived areas helping them develop a whole term project linked to planning and development. We're looking to bring in all sorts of different people working in the built environment and trying to empower people to be interested in planning and what we do.

"Role models and mentoring are a very important part of the profession, but also in terms of making women feel 'Yes, they can'"

Lots of their female students are bright but in terms of role models most of their family are in low paid service jobs. The school wants to try to develop and encourage them and that's why they're interested in my background. [Having a role model] is important in terms of confidence. I’ve got a 19-year-old daughter and I’ve seen those insecurities in terms of how they develop and what to do. [We need to] help them realise that we can do whatever we want to do. You have to overcome those obstacles and that fear of putting your head above the parapet.

The business where I worked was acquired by WYG [in 2016]. I'm one of two female planning directors who head up planning teams at WYG. I’ve never come across feeling discriminated against in terms of promoition because I’m a woman. I think I’ve been very fortunate in having some very good mentors, both men and women., who have helped me develop and grow. Role models and mentoring are a very important part of the profession, but also in terms of making women feel 'Yes they can'.

It’s absolutely right that we celebrate women and what we do. But equally what I always say is that it mustn't be seen in terms of men being any less brilliant."

Supporting women in the workplace

WYG kindly shared with us their policies and programmes for supporting women in the workplace, to help us build a picture of how planning consultancies are promoting equality and redressing the gender in a profession that historically has been very male-orientated. Here's a quick breakdown of what WYG told us they're doing. We know other consultancies are following similar initiatives and, collectively, growing attention to such efforts illustrates how important an acknowledgement of equality in the workplace is becoming in the modern working world.

National Equality Standard (NES): WYG is currently undergoing the NES assessment. This is an industry-recognised national standard for equality, diversity and inclusion in the UK.

Gender Pay Reporting: The Government’s final regulations for Gender Pay Gap Reporting come into force on 6th April 2017. WYG conducted a trial audit last year and tasked heads of department with putting plans in place to address any issues.

Unconscious bias training: People who are like each other, like each other, as the saying goes. the firm has introduced unconscious bias training across a variety of its corporate training programmes, including its graduate training.

STEM for girls; Schools Partnership programmes: Much of what we've been hearing at The Planner is that encouragement to women to come into built environment professions needs to begin at school. We also know that nationally there is reticence among girls to follow the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) that underpin many of the built environment disciplines. WYG is working with Ahead Partnership on its Make the Grade Programme in schools in Leeds, London and Birmingham, with a focus on developing the skills needed for the sector.

Flexible working and maternity pay: For many, this is the cux of a female-friendly working environment and, anecdotally, we know at The Planner that some women have left the private secotr because of a lack of flexible working and low maternity pay. WYG has trialled a flexible working scheme and is reviewing the pilot; and they also shared their parental leave policies with us:

"For expectant mothers that have been employed by the company for at least 1 year by the 15th week prior to their Expected Week of Confinement, they are entitled to Enhanced Company Maternity Pay as follows:

First 13 weeks: Full pay (If on a voluntary working arrangement maternity pay will be calculated on the salary prior to the arrangement)

Remaining 26 weeks: The lower rate of SMP as determined by the Government

For all other employees, SMP is paid at the standard rate:

First 6 weeks: 90% of average weekly earnings over the 8 weeks immediately before the 15th week before her EWC*

Remaining 33 weeks: The lower rate of SMP as determined by the Government

In both cases, the last 13 weeks of maternity leave is unpaid.

We benchmark our maternity package regularly with our peers in the industry. The last exercise from 2016 shows that we are competitive in what we offer (a number of competitors offer six weeks at full pay and six weeks at half pay)."

Keeping in Touch days: 'Keeping in Touch' days give mothers the choice to keep in touch with the workplace during maternity leave without losing their right to SMP or MA.

External networks: WYG has invested in five annual memberships for the Women Leaders Association (WLA) and the memberships are rotated annually across women within WYG.

International Women’s Day: The firm is supporting a campaign for both male and female employees to share via social media messages in support of the IWD theme 'Be bold for change'


Email Newsletter Sign Up