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IWD: The networker

Rebecca Humble, associate planner at WYG in Southampton, tells Simon Wicks about the importance of female role models in the workplace and why she and a colleague set up an informal networking group for women within her company.

"[Historically] the built environment is quite male dominated. Particularly for younger women starting out and looking at career options, they don’t necessarily look at this industry as something that's right for them. But that’s changing. The number of women [working in the built environment] is changing and growing. It’s important that we celebrate that and increase the level of diversity in the profession.

The built environment is experienced by everybody, if you think abut ..everybody at some point in their life will come into contact with the built environemt  depending on your age ethnic backgrounf sex, how you experience that built environment will differ, it’s important we are creating and regenerating that environment everyone needs to have input into that.

I’m aware of the national statistics [showing a gender pay gap in planning] but personally speaking it’s not experienced within WYG. I’m aware that the company has policies on flexible working and maternaity leave and I know they've been benchmarked and we’ve done well. And we have keeping in touch days - which give us maternity leave without losing maternity rights.

"Role models are really important because they inspire women to have the confidence and self belief that they can progress - you can successfully have the skills to lead a large team and large projects"

Female directors show me that the company really values women across the business.Things like these [family-friendly policies and appointment of women to senior roles] make a concrete difference because they encourage women to progeress with their career without feeling they're going to be marginalised at some point. I don’t feel that I’m not given equal and fair opportunity.

My colleague and I set up a 'Women in Planning' group, an informal, unaffiliated group for colleagues [and clients] to network and share ideas about our working practices. In our planning team there were more men than women and we felt that most of the networking events that we went to were fairly male dominated. Our feedback had been that there were not very many firms in which women can [separately] put their ideas forward and discuss them.

We feel supported by our colleagues, including men at director level. It’s built my relationships with our female clients and I think it’s inspired women across different disciplines to think about how they can engage with their female clients.

We were very lucky to have Trudi Elliott [RTPI chief executive] speak to us. I’ve listened to Trudi a couple of times and I find her hugely inspiring. Role models are really important because they inspire women to have the confidence and self belief that they can progress - you can successfully have the skills to lead a large team and large projects."

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'


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