A View from the Top: Lucile Kamar, outgoing equalities manager at RICS, on the challenge of diversity in construction

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Lucile Kamar is about to leave one of the toughest jobs in construction. As equalities manager at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, she has spent 18 months trying to address a serious gender problem in the industry. 

Of the 2.3 million people working in the UK construction industry in December 2016, only 296,000 were women, according to official statistics. The sector is 87 per cent male. This is actually an improvement on two years earlier, when it was 99 per cent male.

“Construction is not as diverse as it could be,” Kamar, 29, says with characteristic diplomacy. She joined RICS in May 2016 from the Liberal Democrats, where she had a similar role as diversity and outreach manager.

At RICS, Kamar oversees diversity for over 125,000 professionals in 148 countries. After just nine months, she received the Diversity Rising Star award from women’s organisation WeAreTheCity, and she was featured on the 2017 Diversity Journal’s Global Diversity Leaders list and the Global Diversity list in 2016.

The work at RICS began before she arrived. Sensing the industry had a problem, RICS set up an initiative called Building Inclusivity in 2015. This awarded construction employers with a “quality mark” if they showed a commitment to increasing diversity, retaining staff and developing them through training and promotions. The group is planning a second report in 2018 to see how it has improved.

As part of the Building Inclusivity project, RICS held training sessions for surveyors and their teams to tackle unconscious bias during hiring and mitigating it in the workplace. Kamar says: “That can mean anything from looking at the language used in job descriptions, facilitating interview processes with candidates, asking for name-blank CVs and helping to assess candidates for promotion.”

Mark Walley, RICS regional managing director, credits Kamar for pushing the initiative among firms. “Lucile’s tireless work to encourage the profession to look carefully at their employment practices has been at the heart of this growth,” Walley says. “We now have 153 signatories, reaching more than 300,000 employees; something Lucile should be very proud of.”

Kamar became acutely aware of the injustices facing minorities during her childhood. Her family existed between French and Muslim cultures in the Champagne region of north-east France, where her mother was a primary school teacher and her father oversaw the management of the local sports facilities. “That’s something I took for granted,” she says of her upbringing, “having the richness of experience and having the opportunities to meet people who think differently.”

Initially she thought she wanted to be be a human rights lawyer, but her plans changed after she came to London to study for a degree in politics and international relations. She ended up working for the Liberal Democrats ahead of the 2015 general election. 

Kamar believes change occurs when organisations lead by example. Since she joined, RICS chief executive Sean Tomkins has pledged to question invitations to speak on panels that aren’t diverse. “Rather than saying he will not attend, he will ask if they have considered inviting people from different backgrounds,” she says. “That has worked very well at changing the dialogue.” 

The problem starts with intake: only 24 per cent of RICS students on 390 RICS accredited degree courses are female. RICS is taking steps to show young people from all backgrounds the benefits of a career in construction. This summer, RICS worked with a young vlogger called Eve Bennett to teach young people that construction isn’t all about hard hats and hi-vis. RICS has also developed a virtual reality app to show what it’s like on site for different projects.

The challenge isn’t just recruiting women, but keeping them. Male surveyors aged 18-22 earn an average of £22,937, while women of the same age are on £23,150. But the salaries of male surveyors aged 46-55 are more than £13,000 higher than their female peers. 

Many women never come back to work after starting a family. “Increasingly, companies are learning about returnships,” Kamar says. “They are like a high-level internship with a good salary that give the opportunity for men or women who have been out of the workplace to come back.”

Diversity comes down to the details. The world’s population is becoming increasingly urban, with half of all people living in towns and cities. Urban areas must cater to an increasingly diverse set of needs. 

“Cities are becoming more diverse and this presents new challenges relating to safety and sustainability,” Kamar…

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