The secrets of the consultancies with the strongest female presence, by Richard Garlick

Last year, women slightly increased their presence in the top tier of planning consultancy, according to our exclusive survey.

On 1 September 2019, in the biggest 25 firms that provided information to both the 2019 and 2018 Planning Consultancy Market Reports, women accounted for 23 per cent of the planning directors. That compares to 20 per cent the previous year.

The change is welcome but, given that 36 per cent of the chartered town planners who work for these firms are female, women are still under-represented at the highest level. Advocacy organisation Real Estate Balance is campaigning for 33 per cent of the senior leadership positions in real estate to be held by women by 2020. In our special report (see pp16-20), the Women in Planning campaign group urges the profession to invest in increasing the number of women in leadership roles.

Our survey identifies the large firms (defined as those with 16 chartered town planners or more) with the highest proportions of chartered town planners. The top five are, in descending order: Emery Planning, Firstplan, Atkins, Arup and LUC. What lessons can be learned from those firms?

The first seems to be that offering flexible working is critical. Most of these firms put great emphasis on these policies. LUC, for example, offers options to its employees that include part-time hours, flexible start and finish times, remote working and additional unpaid leave. The second is to ensure that this offer is conveyed clearly to potential recruits, with careful consideration being given to the text of job adverts. "You get a really good range of applicants if you offer that," says LUC head of planning Philip Smith.

The third is that the path to senior management positions must remain open to people who are not working full-time. That was a lesson that Atkins says has helped it to increase the number of women who are in associate or director roles.

The fourth is that companies who are serious about improving gender equality outside their own walls need to make sure that they are encouraging male as well as female employees to find a better work-life balance. This is so that they can take a greater role in childcare, which in turn may help their partners to spend more time on their careers.

Finally, gender is only one of the aspects of diversity that some of these firms are addressing. Arup has set up working groups and open forums on various aspects of diversity. Its technical director of town planning Claire Beedle points out that, given skills shortages, firms need to go the extra mile to ensure that job advertisements reach out to every part of society.

Richard Garlick, editor, Planning //  

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