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Having it all: a woman's view from the top

Pam Over explains why she turns down invitations to speak about women in the workplace.

Since becoming CEO of Galbraith in 2016 I have received numerous requests to speak at various events. While it could be perceived as flattering that my professional views as a chartered surveyor or a business owner are of interest, the reality of the appeal is that I am a woman.

Organisations such as Aspire and the Glass Ceiling Company have admirable ambitions of supporting and encouraging woman in the workplace, but I feel unsuited to attend their events. Having never been a man in a man's world', I have no idea how different my life would have been. I count myself lucky to have had such an interesting and varied career, which has largely allowed me to be in control of my own destiny. I see ability to do the role as the key element not gender.

There is currently much discussion in the press on equality for women in the workplace. Galbraith is an equal opportunities employer and all our graduates start on the same salary, regardless of gender. As their careers progress, having the ability to undertake the role we ask of them is the only differentiating factor in their financial packages. Of the surveyors we currently employ, 47% are female.

My peer group from university continues to meet up some 38 years after we graduated. Generally, they are an impressive bunch: head of property at UK's largest pension fund; managing one of the big four; head of property for a major bank; owners of property development companies. At the 25th anniversary reunion dinner, the speaker regaled us all with tales of our various accomplishments and gave out prizes to mark the relevant event. There was a prize for the first one of us to become a millionaire, the one with the same job from university, the one with the most ex-wives and so on.

When the speaker came to me I was taken aback to be presented with a baby doll, in recognition of being the only person in the room to have given birth. Much hilarity ensued which I quickly joined in, adding that there would be a significant population crisis if men were ever exposed to the pain of child birth.

Although the doll went astray that evening, the message that I was special' as a mother stayed with me. My three children are my absolute pride and joy and while there have been many other influences in their lives, my role in their development is the one I am most proud of. Recollection of that helps me when, as an employer, we try to ensure anyone who wishes to become a parent can work their career around their personal circumstances.

Pinned to the notice board in our kitchen for some 20 years is one of the Dot' cartoons, created by Daphne David, which perfectly sums up the conundrum of any parent trying to manage everything. Below a drawing of Dot fast asleep on the sofa with a book face down on her stomach, it reads: "After Dot got home from work, picked up the kids from school, gave them tea, tidied the house, vacuumed the garden and polished the hamster, she could relax with her book. How The modern Woman Has Become Free'.

Like many organisations, we recognise the problem of staff trying to juggle their career with childcare, and do what we can to help. My view is that someone with ability and talent will always be employable.

Pressing pause in a career path for whatever reason, be it to go travelling, have a family, follow another interest, is not necessarily terminal to the career. I did not work at all between 1990 and 1996.

The part-time solution or request can be trickier, especially since we are a service industry with clients relying on our professional advice to enhance and protect their property assets. Working from different offices and on different days in a shortened week isn't always easy, for colleagues or clients and how many of us have been frustrated by a deal going on hold from a Thursday evening through to a Tuesday morning due to part-time advisors?

As an employer, we try valiantly to be flexible and helpful in each and every case, but we have to balance this with our duty to our clients and our other staff to ensure a first-class service can be delivered 100% of the time.

So, my words of wisdom to the younger surveyor of any gender are:

  • You get one chance in life of being a parent to small children. They need the physical presence of a caring human being.
  • A career built on enthusiasm, interest in the role and ability will be a successful career regardless of any gaps.
  • Superwoman (or man) are urban myths of the '90s and do not exist. It's simply not possible to be the perfect' parent all of the time while being the perfect' surveyor.

I would be delighted to be asked to hold forth on how to specify a glass ceiling in its physical context, its structural capabilities, the range of options, constraints on design etc. As for the metaphorical glass ceiling, I am still looking for mine and conclude it quite rightly does not exist in our style of organisation.