Sarah Smith, planning partner at Rapleys, on how she got started in property, the challenges she has overcome and what she wants to change about the industry. She also shares her cultural recommendations.
What do you like most about yourself?
My inherent kindness, honesty and caring nature, although these can be negative traits on occasion.
What do you value in people?
Honesty, kindness and a sense of humour.
What does your job entail?
A mix of management in all its forms (at departmental and company levels); networking; business promotion; prosecuting instructions for projects, particularly drafting; and reviewing and co-ordinating environmental impact assessments.
How did you join the property industry?
Rather by default, having had no career ideas beyond going to university, where my first degree was geography – chosen simply because I liked the wide dimension of the subject and was good at it. A career in ‘town and country’ planning is very often a path geographers follow and I guess I am no exception. This also probably explains why, besides being a planner, my particular specialism is advising and co-ordinating environmental impact assessments. My first job was for a firm in London on the property management and surveying side. I hated that and left after nine months to join North West Leicestershire District Council as a planner.
What do you like most about the property industry?
Its variety of work and projects, and the fact that you do get a sense of achievement when a building or a development takes shape out of the ground; it is something tangible that will hopefully last a lifetime.
And what do you dislike most about it?
Notwithstanding the progress made by women in the industry, it remains, particularly at the senior management levels, predominantly a white, middle-class, straight, male preserve – a bit of a boys’ club. Generally, it is not very inclusive and can be intimidating.
What barriers or challenges have you overcome?
Working for three years while studying on a day-release basis for a post-graduate RTPI-recognised qualification, followed by advancing my career while being a mother. Achieving partnership is my career success, if that is measured in position and title terms. It came to me relatively late – aged 49 – when compared with most of my male colleagues. I believe that is a product of being a woman and specifically a mother – such bias would not occur if I were a man.
What are you most proud of in your career?
The challenges I have overcome but also my resilience. We all make mistakes, both professional and personal, but it is how we learn from adversity to become an improved version of ourselves.
What do you want to change about the property industry?
I was reading an article about how urban environments are still principally designed by men for men and it struck me that specifically planning, but the property industry in general, needs to reflect the varied society it serves if it is to really create beautiful places and be truly accessible to everyone.