Friday 3rd April 2020
By Anna Keyes, calfordseaden
As a fully signed up member of Women in Social Housing (WISH), STEM Ambassador and previously a chair for RICS Matrics, calfordseaden Associate Anna Keys is a keen advocate for gender equality in the construction industry, encouraging women to consider a career in construction and supporting them throughout their journey.
“I have recently been fortunate enough to contribute on a panel discussion for the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) National Conference at the RICS Headquarters in London. The session I was invited to join, ‘The Value of Diversity Driven Networks’ highlighted the many great benefits of professional networking within diverse groups.
Having worked in the industry for over 20 years, and participated in a number of talks, I was confident that I would know exactly what to discuss. After all, I know how I feel – I am a supporter of women’s networking groups and believe in actively encouraging more women to the industry - that would be more than enough to get me through the panel talk, right?
I turned up to the event, clouded in a blissful confidence. When I eventually took my seat at the panel, this was soon brought to a halt when the spotlight fell on me and I was asked to share my thoughts on ‘Blind Spots.’ I was completely unprepared, unscripted and mostly uncomfortable! My mind scrambled, trying to think of the right answer. It was then that I realised, I didn’t have nor was I expected to provide an ‘answer.’ As the name suggests, we are often blind to these personal traits that make up our blind spots and unfortunately may affect the way we act and react.
So, instead of trying to come up with an answer, I chose to discuss my own personal experience. While I hope that I have never been subject to unconscious bias, I can admit that, at the start of my career, I was certainly ignorant of different backgrounds. It wasn’t until I started working as a surveyor, interacting with residents, clients and contractors from all backgrounds that I truly discovered we do not all see life through the same eyes. When I revealed this to the audience, I was convinced that I had said the wrong thing and offended everyone, but it actually allowed a refreshing opportunity for the audience to share their own stories. A common experience among the audience was situations where blind spots manifest as unconscious gender bias in the workplace. However, it is important to recognise that ‘blind spots’ can take many forms including, but not limited to, gender, race, age, sexuality, class, disability, religion and culture.
My biggest takeaway from this experience was that, to move forward into a more equal industry that supports and celebrates achievements from all backgrounds, we are not expected to provide answers or solutions but rather be open to our own blind spots. By recognising and accepting the existence of blind spots, we can encourage others to open up and find theirs.”