Rural surveying is a great career – and one that women leaving agricultural college and university should consider. By Mary-Vere Parr.
Sitting at her desk at commercial property agents Bruton Knowles in Guildford, senior surveyor Naomi Quick is on a mission to recruit more women.
“Chartered surveying is a hugely enjoyable job with great career prospects,” she says. “I get a great kick out of working in the industry and would like more women like me to get the opportunity.”
Currently, chartered surveying remains a largely male-dominated business. Naomi’s position, as one of just two women working in a team of seven surveyors covering the South East, is typical of the 13% of female members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), the 100,000-strong professional body.
Things have improved since the dark days of the 1980s when just 3% of chartered surveyors were female. Courses such as the MSc in Rural Estate Management at the Royal Agricultural University (RAU) attract male and female graduates in equal numbers.
Today, 28% of trainees are women. But progress lags behind professions such as law and accountancy, where women account for nearer to 50% of the workforce. And, until this year, the RICS had never had a female president in its 146-year history.
But all that changed on 30 June 2014, when Louise Brooke-Smith, director of Birmingham-based planning and development consultancy Brooke Smith Planning, was elected to the role. Louise promptly kicked off a campaign, Surveying the Future, to attract surveyors from more diverse backgrounds, including more women. “Chartered surveying is a globally recognised profession, and we must ensure it is open to all, whatever their background, or gender,” she says.
Louise is also keen to address the issue of women leaving the profession to raise a family, calling for “a more realistic approach” to parental leave after the birth of any child and flexible working options, as opposed to “token changes” to maternal and paternal leave.
“These would make a big difference to the way employers view women when they start their careers or change jobs,” she says. “Refresher courses for women returning to the profession after career breaks to have children and local networking events to keep in touch also have a role to play.
“But more important than all of these are aspiration and a refusal to accept barriers – real or perceived.”
That attitude accounts for Louise’s 30-year career and inspires a new generation of ambitious young women surveyors, including Naomi Quick, now being canvassed for their views on women in chartered surveying. “I would like to see far more women coming through, especially in light of Louise’s election,” Naomi says.
In her opinion, work must start with improving careers advice in schools. “I would like to see more schools flagging chartered surveying up as an option. In my experience, outside of the independent education sector, chartered surveying doesn’t appear to be on the map for many careers officers, and especially not when it comes to women.”
Naomi is also keen to stress the range of careers open to women in chartered surveying. “Traditionally there are more women in rural surveying, where they are well accepted,” she says. “But it is a hugely diverse profession that covers 19 different specialisations in three sectors – land, property and construction – and the chance to work on projects all over the world.”
Naomi herself came into the profession via a traditional route, but has diversified as her career developed. A self-confessed country girl from Hampshire, and a keen horse-rider, she studied first for a BSc in agricultural business management at Reading University followed by an MSc in rural estate management at the RAU.
She completed her two-year professional training in rural practices before moving to a more mixed practice at the Guildford office of Bruton Knowles in 2013. Her expertise covers professional valuations of both farm land and country houses, agricultural business management with clients in the banking sector, as well as offering estate residential property management on behalf of owners and investors.
She loves meeting different people and says being a woman is neither an advantage nor a disadvantage. “As a woman the only difference is that we are perhaps more conscious of the risks of lone work, for instance out on a valuation, but I always make sure I am in touch with the office.
“The job is immensely rewarding,” she says. I spend half my time in the office and half out and about, which is great for me as I wouldn’t enjoy being stuck behind a desk all day.”
Farmers Weekly research
Farmers Weekly and Barclays recently carried out a groundbreaking survey into the role of women on farms.
With more than 2,000 respondents, making it the largest-ever such research done, it gave a unique insight into the working lives, aspirations and outlook of women on British farms.
Some of the many findings were:
- Women are incredibly optimistic about the role they will play in shaping UK agriculture over the next decade.
- Only 4% of women consider it harder for females entering the industry now compared with when they joined.
- About two-thirds of women suggest that in terms of pay, benefits and daily work routines, they’re treated “mostly” or “always” equally to men.
- Many women feel they shouldered the burden of paperwork, admin and domestic duties.
- Many women clearly still see themselves playing a “supportive” role – a lot suggested they were “influencers” rather than the “final decision maker” in businesses.
- Women are more likely than men to recommend farming as a career and be passionate advocates for the sector.
- Sixty-one percent of women consider themselves “rarely” or “never” treated equally when it comes to succession.
Banking on women
Barclays Agriculture has more than 250 years of experience supporting UK farming, with a dedicated team of more than 100 experienced agricultural managers supporting customers and their ambitions both today and for future generations. The contribution women make to the success of farming enterprises has always been appreciated but often unheard, therefore Barclays Agriculture was delighted to sponsor this research and, for the first time, highlight the value and impact women contribute to the industry.
Barclays, national agriculture specialist