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Making it happen - Roisin Willmott reflects on International Women's Day

19 March 2015

International Women's Day has been observed since in the early 1900's, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialized world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies. At the RTPI we took a good look at ourselves in the run-up to International Women’s Day this year. In terms of employees, we are doing well - with women comprising 67% of the Executive team and 50% of the Heads of Service / National Directors. Looking across all staff, our workforce is 65% women. In terms of membership of the RTPI at first sight it is not quite as rosy: with women making up 36% of our Chartered Members and 35% of all members. However, things are improving, with nearly half of all new members last year being women.  


Does gender balance matter? We think so, and we’re supported by others too. We are all familiar with the arguments which brought us the equal employment status that we now benefit from in the UK. Moving this forward, it is also important to acknowledge the value that women can bring to public service, a value that is not just restricted to paid employment, but also serving on public, charitable and private sector Boards. Women can add a different perspectives or viewpoint and adaptability to the workplace and this should be seized to complement the mix.

 Women 1

 Women 2

RTPI Cymru, in partnership with the Design Commission for Wales, held an event this month to celebrate the International Women’s Day theme ‘Making it Happen’ and invited a number of women successfully leading in the built environment to share their experiences.

It was also excellent to have support from a male Welsh Government Minister, Carl Sargeant AM, who spoke passionately about the important contribution women can make and the quality in policy making skills they can bring to the table. He is keen to find ways of introducing equality into public policy making and recognises that it is important that Government does what it can. He announced the introduction of an amendment to the Planning (Wales) Bill (currently going through the National Assembly for Wales) to have a minimum of 40% women on the proposed new Strategic Development Panels. He also highlighted new ways of breaking down the image of Boards – removing the secrecy around them - and encouraging women to take up positions. Recently invitations were invited for Board membership of Natural Resources Wales – three men applied but no women. This needs to change.

Our line-up of women came from a variety of backgrounds and had a range of experiences, including different professions (planning, architecture, and building control) and sectors and even international. They included Rosemary Thomas, former Chief Planner of the Welsh Government (pictured).


They shared with the Cardiff Bay audience - of men as well as women - a collection of interesting stories and experiences and emanating from that shared advice and support for the future. What became apparent from this advice was that, yes, it applied to women, but equally to men furrowing their career and for managers and mentors providing support and nurturing teams.

One of the main challenges that traditionally women face is family caring responsibilities (for the young and old). The importance of support structures to help with this was highlighted as paramount, particularly to avoid expensive child care costs.

The 14 key tips provided from our panel of successful leaders are:Fourteen

  • Keep a work-life balance
  • Be flexible – this is two-way
  • Embrace change
  • Strive for excellence
  • Be brave, creative and be clear what you want
  • Keep your CV continually up to date and refreshed (not just pulled together at the last minute – you’ll be surprised how much you forget)
  • Genuinely accept your role – don’t feel that you are an imposter
  • Don’t rule yourself out of applying for positions – others will sift you out if you don’t have the right attributes
  • All experience is useful – even the disastrous times
  • Find a mentor to support you, this doesn’t have to be a formal arrangement
  • Take personal responsibility
  • Be resilient, and don’t be too hard on yourself
  • Seek learning all the time
  • Mature, don’t just get old

Remember – you have the power to influence your own career, so invest in yourself and be happy!

Dr Roisin Willmott is RTPI Director of Wales and Northern Ireland.

Follow her  @RTPICymru

Since 2007, IWD has gained considerable momentum due to greater media attention, events, and social networking. IWD is now celebrated via wide scale activity in almost every country and many world leaders support the day with official statements.