How can we win the talent war? Look at the universities

24 Jun 2019


Charlotte Morphet MRTPI, a Principal Planner at the London Borough of Waltham Forest, National Co-Chair of Women in Planning, and winner of both the Diversity & Inclusion and Rising Star Awards at the BPF Futures Tomorrow's Leaders Awards, blogs on the research she has been undertaking on the gender make up of planning schools, and what this means for attracting diverse talent into the profession.

Getting top talent is high on the agenda of most leaders in the property industry. Whether that is securing a talent pipeline for a firm, or ensuring that local government departments are well resourced, we all want to find more people to work within our industry.

In the 2016 RICS Futures research ‘Our Changing World’, the number one issue for employers was attracting top talent. The argument is well rehearsed - that there is a need to attract from a wider and more diverse talent pool. Part of recruiting a more diverse group of people is having diversity at leadership level.

In this debate, most of the focus has been on attracting a more diverse leadership at board level in firms or public sector organisations and this is an area we should invest in. There has, however, been less talk around the impact of having a lack of diversity in universities that teach property, planning and other built environment disciplines.

When I started my course in Planning and Sustainability at Kingston University, my lecturers helped shape my view of what I could expect in planning practice. I am sure I am not alone. They set our programme, course work, study tours and guest lecturers. If seeing diversity reflected at the top tiers of the industry is important to winning the war on talent, then this starts on the university courses that future property professionals undertake. We need to consider the effect of diversity in academia.

As part of Women in Planning’s research, ‘Who’s Leading Planning?’, I have reviewed how many women are leading in planning academia. The study specifically considered the gender split of course leaders and professors in 24 UK accredited planning schools.

The research found that out of 51 course leaders identified on university websites, 41% of these positions are filled by women and 59% by men. When looking at professors, there were 106 professors identifiable on university websites and only 22% of these are women meaning 78% of these positions are held by men. The review included the following titles: Professor, Associate Professor, Emeritus Professor, Honorary Professor and Visiting Professor.

It is good to see that gender in course leadership roles is quite balanced, as these are the people who have most contact with many future planners. It would be good to know what this percentage is for other Built Environment professions together with ethnic diversity. However, Professor titles tend to hold higher status in academia than course leaders and it would be good to see more women in these high-profile research leadership roles.

Women in Planning is continuing this research and the next research project will be on how many women are working in leadership positions in UK local planning departments. Once Women in Planning have this data, from the private sector planning consultancy, academic and local government the challenges and opportunities facing planning in ensuring a diverse and inclusive profession will be clearer.

In winning the BPF Futures Tomorrow’s Leaders Award for Diversity and Inclusion, my aim is now to highlight that more research is needed on diversity, to have an informed conversation based on facts rather than anecdotes and assumptions and to ensure that the industry delivers meaningful actions to truly become inclusive and more diverse.

Women in Planning is the network that champions gender equality in the planning industry. They are women-led, but not exclusively for women.