Women in surveying

Annette Howard

Information Officer (RICS)

A look at the progress of women in the surveying profession from the 1920s through to the present day.

Lady surveyors attending RICS Presidential lunch Chartered Surveyor Aug - Sept 1978

Early pioneers

How different it is now in 2017 for women in the property profession compared to the early 1920s, when women first entered the profession after the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 permitted them to qualify as surveyors.

The first women chartered surveyors Irene Martin (nee Barclay) and Evelyn Perry can be described as early pioneers of their profession. Irene qualified as a Professional Associate in 1922, followed by Evelyn Perry in 1923; Irene became a Fellow in 1931 and Evelyn in 1937. Irene and Evelyn formed a partnership Barclay and Perry which continued at least until 1940. The entry for Evelyn in the list of members after 1940 only lists her private address and is therefore unable to show whether she continued in practice after 1940 as the 1947 list of members refers to her private address in Surrey.

Irene continued in practice until 1972 completing 50 years of service to the profession. Irene is regarded as one of key social reformers of the 20th Century for her work in improving housing conditions in the slums of St Pancreas between the First and Second World Wars. She received the Order of the British Empire for her voluntary work in housing societies

Irene died in 1989 and is referred to as ‘Irene, patron of the poor’ in the announcement of her death in 1989.  Evelyn Perry died in 1976 and she is noted as a woman of great charm and ability in her obituary published in RICS’s journal of the time, the Chartered Surveyor .

Changing times

Few women entered the profession up to around the 1970s although there were signs of changing attitudes in the 1960s. As late as the 1950s women surveyors were the exception rather than the norm.

The Wells Committee Report on the Educational Policy of the RICS 1960 set up to look at attracting more students into the surveying professional notes that 'the occasion will demand men and women who are not only able practical surveyors but also capable of original imaginative thinking'.

There was a series of letters in the RICS Journal in the 1960s looking at role of women in profession under headings such as '...and even brighter fits'  '...and even brighter girls'.

The 1970s were the turning point for attracting women into the surveying profession. One lady member describes the refurbishment of the ladies toilets at RICS HQ (Plumbing the Depths in the Chartered Surveyor in 1973).

P Franklin in his 1976 Presidential Address asked "Why, in these days of sex equality, this profession attracts few female graduates and female examination candidates".  

Jennifer Ellis was elected as the first female chairman of the Junior Organization in 1978.

New era for the female surveyor

Between 1980 and 1989 the number of female chartered surveyors had increased from 1% to 3% of the membership (excluding students).

The RICS Lioness Club later the (Women Surveyors Association) founded in 1980 offered opportunities for professional networking through social and professional events.

A number of articles and letters on issues of interest to women in the profession appeared in the professional press through the 1980s ncluding safety issues in the light of the disappearance of estate agent Suzy Lampugh.

In 1987 architect Elspeth Clements and chartered surveyor Michelle Foster founded the Association of Women in Property, providing a networking opportunity for women professionals working the property industry.  he Association which celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2012 has over 1,000 members across 12 branches across the UK

Clara Greed’s Surveying Sisters: Women in a Traditional Male Profession Rutledge (1991) examining the position and perceptions of women within the surveying profession reveas that out of 81,602 members in 1989, only 4,703 were members.

1990s

By 1990s women were represented on the RICS General Council for example in 1993 there were at least 6 women members. Mary Dent served as President, Planning and Development Division 1993–1994. 

There were a number of initiatives to encourage women into surveying such as a seminar organised by the School of Urban and Regional Studies at Sheffield City Polytechnic called Women in Surveying in October 1991 with a number of women speakers representing different branches of surveying including minerals, planning and development and general practise.

In 1999, RICS Education Trust funded a study by Louise Ellison Surveying the class ceiling looking the career progress of women within the surveying profession.

By 1999 8,000 out of a total membership of 100,000 members were women.

2000 onwards

There were a number of initiatives aimed at encouraging women to enter and progress within the surveying profession

In 2001, RICS President Jonathan Harris with Shirley Conrad Chair on Work-Life Balance Trust launched the Raising the ratio initiative

There were a number of articles in the professional press highlighting women’s role within the profession, for example Narrowing the Gender Gap by Alan Dobie and Sarah Herbert in 2006 and Women in Property – Where Next? by Ann Allen (RICS Commercial Property Journal September-October 2012) celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Women in Property group looks at the changing face of the profession between 1987 and 2012.

RICS continues to promote and support  diversity and inclusion within the profession.

Further reading

Books

  • Building a name: The history of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors Jennifer North. Arima  Publishing, 2010
  • Chartered surveyors: the growth of a profession. Thompson, F.M.L. Routledge &Kegan Paul, 1968
  • Surveying sisters: Women in a tradition male profession Clara Greed Routledge, 1991
  • Surveying the Glass Ceiling: an investigation of the progress made by women in the surveying profession Louise Ellison RICS, 1999

Journal articles

  • Perspective by Quoin …and even brighter girls Chartered Surveyor November 1967 p227 and response Letter Mary Smith, Chartered Surveyor December 1967 p282
  • Plumbing the depths  (Letter Jennifer Ellis) Chartered Surveyor December 1973 p 142
  • Miss E E H Perry FRICS (Obituary) Chartered Surveyor January 1977 p 90
  • Notes from Jennifer’s diary Chartered Surveyor Ocobert 1978 p78
  • Irene, Patron of the poor (Obituary Irene Barclay nee Martin) Chartered Surveyor Weekly 20 April 1989 p145
  • Being sexist isn’t always bad say Women in property Anne McGregor CSM April 1999, 46-47(2)
  • Women surveyors fight for recognition Faraz Baber CSM September 1999 p33
  • Raising the ratio CSM 6.2001 p 4
  • Narrowing the gap RICS Business Feb 2006, 30-31(2)
  • Women in property – where next Ann Allen RICS Commercial Property Journal September-October 2012, 6-7(2)
  • Celebrating the pioneering spirit of trail blazing women making history in surveying. Annette Howard Womanthology 8 March 2017
  • First among equals. Carrie de Silva Land Journal August/September 2017

The books are available for viewing at RICS' Library and extracts of the journal articles can be provided through the document delivery service  

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