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Celebrating #IWD2021_ #ChooseToChallenge...!!

For many years and as a longstanding industry professional; ever since I graduated in 1994, I have developed lots of personal goals over the years. One of those goals, apart from wanting to head up and lead an all-Black team and Supply-Chain, as a building contractor [which was successfully achieved for the first time back in 2006] was to work alongside an all-Black professional design team, as a PQS, delivering a significant Client instruction, in the UK.

What I hadn't realised was that I really wanted to aspire and push the boundaries even further. Working in my professional capacity as a PQS, with an all Black-female design team, was for the most part a dream, and as I have said on many occasions, patience is indeed a virtue.

The untapped value of the female voice / perspective / capability......

“Women of the world want and deserve an equal future free from stigma, stereotypes and violence; a future that’s sustainable, peaceful, with equal rights and opportunities for all. To get us there, the world needs women at every table where decisions are being made. UN Women is working to provide support to all women on the front lines of the fight against this pandemic; promoting flexible working arrangements; and prioritizing services to prevent gender-based domestic violence.

This year, the theme for International Women’s Day (8 March), “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world,” celebrates the tremendous efforts by women and girls around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and highlights the gaps that remain.

Women’s full and effective participation and leadership in of all areas of life drives progress for everyone. Yet, women are still underrepresented in public life and decision-making, as revealed in the UN Secretary-General’s recent report. Women are Heads of State or Government in 22 countries, and only 24.9 per cent of national parliamentarians are women. At the current rate of progress, gender equality among Heads of Government will take another 130 years.

Women are also at the forefront of the battle against COVID-19, as front-line and health sector workers, as scientists, doctors and caregivers, yet they get paid 11 per cent less globally than their male counterparts. An analysis of COVID-19 task teams from 87 countries found only 3.5 per cent of them had gender parity.

When women lead, we see positive results. Some of the most efficient and exemplary responses to the COVID-19 pandemic were led by women. And women, especially young women, are at the forefront of diverse and inclusive movements online and on the streets for social justice, climate change and equality in all parts of the world. Yet, women under 30 are less than 1 per cent of parliamentarians worldwide.

This is why, this year’s International Women’s Day is a rallying cry for Generation Equality, to act for an equal future for all. The Generation Equality Forum, the most important convening for gender equality investment and actions, kicks off in Mexico City from 29 – 31 March, and culminates in Paris in June 2021. It will draw leaders, visionaries, and activists from around the world, safely on a virtual platform, to push for transformative and lasting change for generations to come….”

Credit: UN Women

Personal ambitions, coming to fruition....... 27years later

Having been exposed to the fruits of such a dynamic and culturally competent reality through my work in Atlanta, Georgia (USA), I have always relished the idea and consistently done all that was humanly possible to effect this goal in the UK; despite my effort, I remained the optimist, moreso in a post-George Floyd environ. Fortuitously for me and during the latter part of 2020, I was approached by Tara Gbolade of Gbolade Design Studio who was looking to recruit a PQS, as part of a 'design team' that her firm was assembling for a tender submission. Extremely humbled by the warm approach, I also recognised that my goal was finally about to become became a firm reality.

Credit: Lead Consultant, Tara Gbolade

Our first Zoom DTM 'design team meeting' yielded an amazing perspective and vision for the project, with innovative ideas emerging and manifesting from an all female-design team. It was an incredible experience and one that, even after 27years, was well worth the wait. Of course, no team could be complete without the presence of 'my Brothers', in the form of Lanre Gbolade, my mentee and fellow PQS, Nii Klotey-Quaye, a rising star, who I continue to admire and support and of course 'the Engineer' extraordinaire, Bola Ogunmefun.

Notwithstanding, the list of Black female-designers driving the look and feel of this unique opportunity; read like a Who’s Who in (UK) Architecture:

Credit: The Dream Team

The eloquence and collective value, espoused by a female design team, simply cannot be underestimated; and even after the 'traditional discussion' of cost versus design value [with the PQS!], have been put to one aside, it is and was totally refreshing to observe the presence that the female perspective commanded in this early conversation. As to be expected, it is even more critical, on any construction project; particularly in a predominantly male dominated industry / profession, that women are give the opportunity to thrive and lead.

More industry insights to follow.........

Chartered Surveyor spotlight [Female Excellence; Public Sector]: International Women’s Day 2021

And as if to further demonstrate the above point, I am now taking the long-overdue opportunity to shine a HUGE light on another industry professional; a fellow FRICS, who I have been talking too since I began to prepare for our Black History Month special last year.

A true trailblazer in her own right given her role at Transport for London and the work that she has undertaken in supported of and for the BAME community, recently profiled by the RICS; please take a moment to observe the challenging but fruitful journey with Saba Nayab FRICS.

Credit: Saba Nayab FRICS

“I love being a surveyor and have never wanted to be anything else. During my A ‘Levels, I noticed new buildings going up near my school, and enjoyed watching them under construction. I was curious as to who decided to place them there and was immediately and sufficiently inspired enough by the built environment to choose it as a career.

I found an Estate Management degree course purely by chance, but it’s fair to say, once enrolled, I struggled with concepts like landed estates and the Docklands, which were alien environments from my suburban world view. It was also a surprise for me to discover many of my (white male) fellow students had never come across a British Pakistani woman before, so “fitting in” held its own challenges!

I have since worked in the Docklands, and with landed estates, and continue to expand my world view. Now with many years of experience in developing capital projects, there are buildings and venues in London and the UK where I am proud to point out that I had played a part in bringing that to fruition.

I enjoy providing careers’ advice, extolling surveying as a fantastic career choice. I love the look of wonder and possibility in the eyes of Muslim girls when they see that I can fit a hard hat over my hijab! I hope that as a visible Muslim surveyor, I am a positive role model for women and men from the South Asian and Muslim communities.

I explain to school children that surveying shapes tangible outcomes such as building homes, facilitating retail tenants to take up space in high streets, and setting rent levels etc. Surveying is a wide mix of competencies, including the technical (valuations, appraisals) business skills, law, an understanding of construction, and increasingly an awareness of social impact; place-making, healthy workspaces and creating communities etc. No two days are the same, and there are frequent visits to sites or stakeholder meetings which add variety to the week.

Credit: Tfl / CrossRail

I'm the lead surveyor for the Crossrail 2 project which will be a new rail network crossing London. As it's at the early stages I've helped shape the proposed land take to be used for its construction. I am responsible for a c. £3bn acquisition portfolio, undertaking valuation estimates of all types of property across its route through London, and engaging with property owners and occupiers to explain their compensation rights and the compulsory purchase process.

Crossrail 2 is a great place to work. Partly due to the female leaders but also because of the matrixed nature of the team; we are formed of experts in our specialisms: tunnel engineers, transport planners, environmentalists, programme managers etc. Our days are genuinely collaborative, and this curation of a project team has proved to be an efficient model. We are currently willing the project to get approval from the Secretary of State for Transport very soon!

Credit: Saba Nayab FRICS

The RICS has been running an annual building awards’ competition for many years. With solid experience in appraising projects and business cases, I joined the London regional judging panel in 2009 to visit and evaluate submissions. At the time, and for a few years further, I was the only judge on the panel who was not white, male or over 60 years old, however these colleagues were warmly welcoming, and always made me feel valued for my opinions and professional contribution, and mutual respect was quickly established.

I became chair of the panel two years ago and I'm proud to be London’s first female chair, and the first regional chair from a South Asian background. Our panel benefits from being multi-disciplinary, so in addition to surveyors we have architects, an engineer, planner and historian. The panel has also evolved to become more gender balanced and ethnically diverse. These different perspectives really help us in reaching rounded agreement on who deserves to win the category awards. The RICS awards’ programme itself has recently had a major “refresh” to reflect what we consider represent excellence in the built environment, namely: embedded sustainability, collaboration, innovation and the social value impact that a building has on its occupants and immediate neighbourhood. It is always an exciting and genuine privilege to visit our shortlisted projects, to learn of innovative building methods or constraints that were overcome and hearing the project teams’ enthusiasm for their schemes is wonderful encouragement of the continuing evolvement of our profession’s vision and capability.

My career highlight has been achieving Fellowship, last year, in 2019. Numerous colleagues mentioned that I was the only surveyor they knew who had applied for it, and other colleagues have been inspired to work towards it too. Other notable work moments include standing at the top of one of Battersea Power Stations’ chimneys, visiting the Elizabeth Line stations under construction, and crawling under a real but disused tube train (shudder).

I love learning and annually clock up more than the necessary 20 hours of CPD pa. I am fairly disciplined about self-study and whilst on furlough a few months ago, attended webinars on an almost weekly basis.

TfL’s Commercial Directorate recently set up a Diversity and Inclusion task force. I am volunteering to help in developing leadership, vision and staff retention objectives. Some exciting and bold initiatives are underway, with the senior leadership team in full support.

A few decades on from being one of a handful of minority students on my degree course, the surveying profession still has much more to do to improve its diversity; only 14% of surveyors are female and the percentage for BAME surveyors is less than 5%. During my career I have experienced racism/ Islamophobia. Generally, the scenario has been that I am ignored in meetings, typically by a white male counterpart who will blank me and address answers to my questions to others in the room! Whenever this occurs, because it’s so subtle, you wonder whether it is really happening – even in 2020, but you know it is real, and it needs to be called out. The BLM momentum following George Floyd's tragic death has shown we cannot keep quiet on any level of racism and only by sharing our uncomfortable experiences, even in the genteel world of surveying, will we hope to engender the empathy to bring about positive change.

At conferences I am still the only attendee wearing a hijab. That can be a lonely position to be in, but I view it as a positive; that my distinctiveness will help build my reputation and demonstrate another example of Muslim women being able to achieve anything!”

Credit [and huge thank you] to Saba Nayab FRICS


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