Women in Surveying

We look at some of the trailblazers for women in surveying.

Article By: Francesca Burke
Last Update: February 2019

2019 sees the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, which came into force on on 23 December. The act stated:

“A person shall not be disqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function, or from being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial office or post, or from entering or assuming or carrying on any civil profession or vocation, or for admission to any incorporated society (whether incorporated by Royal Charter or otherwise).”

The change in law meant that women could apply for jobs in industries that had hitherto been unattainable, such as science, technology, engineering and maths. Currently, around 14% of construction professionals are women, but this is on the increase. In this blog, we look at some of the pioneering women in surveying.

Irene Martin Barclay

Irene Barclay was the first woman in Britain to qualify as a chartered surveyor. Barclay qualified as a RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) Professional Associate in 1922. Although she had a general surveying practice, Barclay is best remembered for her work on improving housing conditions. She focused on the St Pancras slums in the years between World War I and World War II, thus drawing attention to the plight of slum dwellers across London and beyond.

Barclay received an OBE for her voluntary work and retired to Canada, where she died in 1989.

Irene Barclay

Evelyn Perry

Hot on Irene Barclay’s heels, Evelyn Perry qualified as a chartered surveyor in 1923, only the second woman to do so. In fact, Perry and Barclay went into partnership together, until at least 1940. Unfortunately, little is known about Perry’s life so it’s unclear if she continued working as a surveyor. She died in 1976.

Louise Brooke-Smith

In 2014, chartered surveyor Louise Brooke-Smith made history by becoming the first female president of RICS. For context, RICS has existed since 1868. Brooks-Smith now works as a town planner for Brooke-Smith Planning, part of the Arcadis Group.

Louise Brooke-Smith

Dr. Vanessa Lawrence

In 2000, Dr. Vanessa Lawrence was appointed the first female Director General and Chief Executive of Ordnance Survey. Under her leadership, Ordnance Survey launched OS MasterMap, a database offering referencing to 460 million man-made and natural landscape features in Britain, and OS Open Data, making data more readily available than ever before.

Dr. Vanessa Lawrence

Women in Surveying Today

Although progress has been slow, important changes are happening within the surveying industries and STEM subjects generally. For example, the Geomatics Professional Group, part of of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, recently had 3 female chairs: Niamh O’Reilly, Audrey Martin and Helen Murray. The inaugural Woman in IT Awards in Ireland in 2019 shortlisted Lorraine McNerney, CIO of Ordnance Survey Ireland, as CIO of the year.

Want to learn more about women in surveying? We recommend reading Clara Greed’s 1990 book Surveying Sisters: Women in a Traditional Male ProfessionFor an in-depth look at female geographers in the UK, try Avril Maddrell, Nicola Thomas and Stephanie Wyse’s 2018 academic paper Glass ceilings and stone floors: an intersectional approach to challenges UK geographers face across the career lifecycle.

Our thanks to Professor Avril Maddrell for her help with this blog!

You might have noticed that we haven’t included any women directly involved with the day-to-day work in our own branch of surveying, land and architectural surveying. That’s because we couldn’t find any. None.

We’ve written about famous land surveyors before, but couldn’t find anything regarding women. If you have any stories, articles or information to share, get in touch with us via [email protected] and we’ll add them to this article!

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