A monthly exploration into the world of sustainability in the built environment with commentary and input from UCEM’s Vice Chancellor and academics.
Pursuing a career in a male-dominated industry – a Q&A with UCEM Programme Leader Priti Lodhia
Posted on: 16 January, 2024
As part of our Be Part of the Change campaign, we sat down with Priti Lodhia, Tutor at UCEM, to discuss her experiences as a woman in the built environment and academia.
Earlier this year, UCEM launched Be Part of the Change – our campaign to challenge the lack of representation in the built environment and share the success stories of students, staff, alumni and professionals in the industry. This month, we are profiling women in the built environment.
Despite making up roughly 50% of the population in the UK, just 13% of built environment professionals are female. What’s more, the average length of a woman’s membership with the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) is 16 years, which is less than the 28 years of their male counterparts. Women are also leaving their memberships and potentially their careers far earlier than men – the average age for women is 47, compared to 61 for men.
To learn more about the experiences and challenges women face in the built environment, our first piece this month is a Q&A with UCEM Tutor Priti Lodhia, the Programme Leader for our BSc in Quantity Surveying.
This interview was conducted by Charlotte Thackeray, Outreach and Inclusion Lead, and Daniel Ashton, Content Marketing Manager.
Priti graduated from Staffordshire University in 2002, having achieved a first-class honours degree in Quantity Surveying. She qualified as a member of RICS in 2005. Priti has a Professional Quantity Surveyor (PQS) background, having worked with a number of the larger PQS firms in both London and Reading, prior to joining UCEM.
Q: What made you consider a career in quantity surveying?
A: My friend’s dad was a building surveyor, and when I spoke to him, I remember being very interested in what he was doing. That’s what made me first consider a career in surveying.
When I went to university, my first choice was initially valuation surveying, as I was interested in houses and properties. Like UCEM, my university had a common first year for all built environment students, which allowed flexibility and the option to change pathways at the end of the first year. My tutors advised me that quantity surveying would be a good fit for me, as it involved economics– something I was good at. That’s when I changed paths and went down the quantity surveying route.
Q: Tell us about your experiences joining the sector in the beginning.
“It wasn’t very representative in that regard, and quite strange for me, being an Asian woman, to go into that field. When I told people I was studying construction, they were surprised I had even considered it.”
A: It was very male dominated on the course – there were only four female students, and one of them dropped out. It wasn’t very representative. Also, it wasn’t considered a typical career choice for an ethnic minority woman. When I told people I was studying construction, they were surprised I had even considered it.
When people think of construction, they tend to think of builders and people working onsite with hardhats… they don’t often recognise the ‘professional’ aspect of the built environment, like quantity surveying.
Being from an Asian community, there’s a particular challenge where this professional aspect isn’t recognised. Once I became a Chartered Surveyor and had the word ‘chartered’ in my title, they saw it differently, but initially, the perception was that I was joining a male-dominated industry.
Q: What were some of the highlights from your career as a Quantity Surveyor?
A: I was involved with some large projects in London as a quantity surveyor in a consultancy role, which was really interesting. When I go to London with my family, I’ll go past one of the projects that I worked on and feel that I was a part of building something that will be standing here for a long time. I feel pride when I take my kids there and tell them I played an important part in the construction of this building.
“When I go to London with my family, I’ll go past one of the projects that I worked on, and I can feel that I was a part of something… I feel pride when I take my kids there and tell them I played an important part.”
There was one project in particular that I really liked when I first started, which was an unusual project in North London. The manager at my company was also from an Indian background and this project was part of his community. It was interesting because it was a traditional Indian temple building – and all the materials such as marble and carved stones etc. had to be imported from India. The architect was Indian, and he couldn’t speak English, therefore as I also speak his language Gujarati, I would be the translator, trying to relay technical terms to him and explain it to other people in the room. It’s not something I ever expected to be doing in my role, so it was challenging and very interesting and it allowed me to bring my wider skills to my role.
Q: What made you switch to a career in academia?
A: I always wanted to go into teaching as I am passionate about passing on skills. I knew the University of Reading had a quantity surveying course and, as I lived there, I’d long considered a career there. Then the financial crisis came about in 2008, and I was made redundant.
I spoke to a career advisor and the job with UCEM came up, and I thought it was perfect – this was what I wanted to go into longer term anyway, so why not now?
Q: Why is it important that we try and bring more women into the built environment?
A: Women can bring a lot of key skills to the industry. At the moment, as we’ve said, it’s still seen as a very male-oriented career because people visualise it as being on site, but they don’t recognise the professional aspect of the built environment as well. There are so many diverse career options in the sector that could appeal to anyone.
There’s also a big skills shortage in our industry. There aren’t enough people in the construction industry that have the right skills and expertise. If you’re not encouraging women to enter the sector, you’re missing out on half of the population.
Q: What do you think needs to change to encourage more people from underrepresented backgrounds to pursue a career in the sector?
“Outreach is so important – younger people don’t even realise any of this is even an option. When I was choosing my degree, I didn’t know about surveying.”
There are so many different pathways, not just in surveying but across the built environment, that students and children need to be made more aware of. People at that age often don’t know what career they want to go into, and while there is guidance out there, there’s not a lot of awareness about our sector specifically.
That’s why it’s important that more people are made aware of the professional side to our sector. When I was choosing my degree, I didn’t know about surveying – it wasn’t in any brochures at school, and careers advisors would tend to talk to you about traditional fields like law and IT. That’s why outreach is so important – younger people don’t even realise any of this is an option for them. I have recently been involved with our outreach activities at local schools as this is something I am passionate about. At the start of the session when we ask students which careers, they are aware of in the built environment they mainly say ‘builder’ or ‘architect’. By the end of the session, it was inspiring to see that they are more aware of other roles and may consider them in future.
In the following months we will bring you more perspectives, opinions and stories from students, alumni, academics and industry professionals across the built environment.