Women on Expert Panels
Male Ally of the month, December 2016

Sean Tompkins is the CEO of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the body that accredits 125,000 people who work in land, property, infrastructure and construction. In October this year, Sean made a pledge to champion change in the representation of women on expert panels at conferences and events. For that reason, Genderbuzz® is thrilled to announce that Sean is our very first Male Ally of the month for December! Read his interview here:

Sean, What is your panel pledge? 

I believe small actions by CEOs can make a big difference. I took a pledge to drive gender equality in the Built & Natural Environment and to question speaking on panels at conferences & events that are not diverse or representative. Unfortunately, even though our profession has made some progress on becoming more diverse, I find that panels still tend to be very male dominated. I always ask conference & event organisers if there were going to be any female colleagues on panels, and if there aren’t I can suggest names of experts from a wide range of backgrounds. We need to hear more diverse thought in this industry and at the same time, grow more role models who will encourage the next generation.

The same thing can be said of working with recruiters and head-hunters. If I am recruiting for senior levels and there aren’t any women on shortlists I am being served up, I will always go back and query why. I encourage other senior men in the industry to think about how they could take small actions that create ripples of change.  Collectively, starting to challenge the “norms” is how we will bring about positive change.

Why did you make this pledge to have women on expert panels at this particular time?

Having been in the role of Chief Executive for the past six years I’ve been to a number of events and conferences – which tends to be the way in which profile is gained, image is built, networks are built and so on – and I’ve just seen a lack of females at these events. I think the time has come for Chief Execs to say, we really need to lend a hand to this, so that we do see more females representing this profession.

Championing diversity and inclusion is a very serious business for me. The work we’re doing on the Inclusive Employer Equality Mark, and on apprenticeships is about opening up the industry to a whole new talent pool of people who wouldn’t have considered a career in our profession before. All-male conference panels just perpetuate the stereotyping of this profession.

Being a male champion is about constantly looking at whether any barriers exist, consciously or unconsciously in an organisation. Also, in terms of gender diversity, sponsoring the most talented female colleagues at all levels and helping them build networks in order to access opportunities. Male champions are also responsible for challenging – and changing – the overall work environment, the culture and addressing any behaviour that is contrary to the organisation’s values in relation to building an inclusive workplace.  Everyone has a role to play in attracting, retaining and supporting the best talent, regardless of where they sit in the organisation. As a Chief Executive I have seen at first hand that there is a need to encourage female talent more and coaching and mentoring can play an important role. In this profession as well, there is a need to develop more female role models and I believe there is a leader role here in encouraging, supporting and helping to build the confidence to be visible and in the media limelight.

What practical changes do you think the panel pledge will make?

According to a YouGov survey that we commissioned, 43% of young women believe that having senior female leaders will encourage better gender diversity in the workplace.  Of those surveyed, 73% believe that the attitudes and behaviour of CEOs and senior leaders are important in encouraging diversity. Strong female roles models will help to attract greater diversity into the industry because the more we celebrate individual success, the more surmountable barriers become. With a female Prime Minister in the UK, Mrs Merkel in Germany, the current President of RICS, Amanda Clack, we are seeing a growth in female role models at the very highest levels.

This pledge aligns with and reinforces RICS’ long held commitment to help lead the way in diversity and inclusion within our profession including through our Inclusive Employer Quality Mark and our flagship annual diversity conference.

How will you measure the success of the Panel Pledge over the coming 6 months to a year?

Over the past ten years we have put in place various initiatives and we’re starting to see the results from those. Globally the number of RICS qualified female professionals is 15%, but if you add in our current trainees this figure is already heading towards 20%, so there is a gradual change taking place. Interestingly, the UK lags behind Asia.

In 6 months or a year, I would like to see considerably more female role models, speaking on industry panels, talking in the media, communicating to the next generation that this profession “is not just for boys”.

There is still a way to go in our profession, but the trend is a positive one. I believe if more CEOs could “lean in” and help drive small changes, the trend will only increase. Two things give me cause for optimism for the future. Firstly, the CEOs of the professional services firms have diversity & inclusion high up on the business agenda and secondly, the newest role models, those who have been part the RICS sponsored Built Environment Awards in Women of the Future, the Asian Women of Achievement Awards and our own Young Surveyor of the Year are all taking their role as role models to inspire the next generation very seriously.

Genderbuzz® says: If you’re  a woman working in the built environment and you want to appear on an expert panel, don’t be afraid to speak up and put yourself forward. You have your part to play in positive change for women in the industry!