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Women In Construction: RICS Former President Ann Gray Outlines Three Year Plan

Ann Gray, FRICS is the 2023 President of RICS. In 2023, as the leader of the profession, she has overseen the reorganisation of the institution and the implementation of reforms that have instilled its mandate as a member-led organisation working to the benefit of society. 

She is founder and principal of California-based GRAY Real Estate Advisors which provides consulting services to optimise outcomes for complex properties. Prior to forming her business, Ann was Executive Director of Development at Paramount Pictures where she oversaw hundreds of millions of dollars in acquisition, master planning, entitlements and design of corporate and production facilities, technical upgrades and utility infrastructure.

Tell us about your recent trip to Northern Ireland

I attended the RICS Northern Ireland conference in Belfast to discuss ways that we can amplify our impact as a profession on issues that matter to society. It was a great opportunity to meet members on their home turf and to hear their perspectives both on their own work and on what RICS means to them, as well as to gather insights on the important roles that surveyors play in their local communities.

What was discussed at the conference?

The main theme of the conference was sustainability, a topic that is a key component of RICS’s 3-year strategic plan. The ways we build and run homes, offices and industry can have a huge effect on our planet’s future, placing the surveying profession, whether in planning, construction or building management, right at the heart of efforts to meet emissions targets such as Northern Ireland’s 2022 Climate Change Act. 

We heard from leading local experts on how to navigate the path towards Net Zero with a focus on renewable energy, retrofitting existing buildings and the use of the latest technologies. We also explored challenges such as the skills shortage and ways we can address this ongoing issue.

Have you any specific thoughts on the built environment in Northern Ireland?

As of 2022, Northern Ireland had the UK’s highest concentration of jobs in the financial technology sector and Belfast has had the fastest growing economy of the 30 largest cities in the UK. Nevertheless, Northern Ireland, as with most advanced economies, faces an infrastructure deficit, a housing shortage, and is encumbered by a car-dependent urban environment. 

To reach its potential, Northern Ireland’s economic dynamism must be supported by the best skilled and most talented young surveyors at top of their game in technical standards and sustainable methodologies. We will continue to advocate for government support of apprenticeships and work with industry to deliver training that will help close the skills gap.

What is the RICS doing to address climate change?

Environmental sustainability is a key pillar of RICS’ strategy, with the principle aim of increasing the profession’s and the Institution’s influence, as we develop and promulgate technical standards, guidance, training, and expert thought leadership. We are encouraging professionals to embed Net Zero carbon targets as industry standard in both decision making and procurement. After two years of intensive research and modelling by a team of top experts, in September we launched our global Whole Life Carbon Assessment standard that we believe will be effective in bringing consistency to the way that carbon is measured worldwide.

What are your main aims during your presidency of RICS?

The skills of chartered surveyors are central to many critical aspects of lives in Northern Ireland and elsewhere and studies show that there is a skills shortage within our industry. In order to solve this, we must be looking at talent wherever we can find it and that means an assertive approach to diverse inclusion. Partnerships across the property professions are key. I am at the fore in supporting RICS’ collaboration with other organisations to benchmark our progress on diversity and implement programs that improve what is clearly an imbalance in our demographics. 

We have Chairs of Sustainability and DEI that RICS has never had before. They will carry the torch beyond what staff can accomplish alone. I have requested that they have a standing item on every RICS Governing Council agenda, so that these issues can inform our day-to-day decision making. 

You’ve mentioned diversity is high up on RICS’ agenda, what sort of DEI strategies are in place?

There is still a long way to go in transforming some of the unintended consequences of how we administer our credential. For example, women are left behind on the career ladder during childbearing years leading to an imbalance in the profession overall at the senior levels. I have pushed for professional education that can upskill members who take family leave, so that we do not lose their important contributions and they feel welcome coming back. Women are reticent to apply for Fellowship and comprise only 4% of all RICS Fellows. RICS can encourage more women to apply and serve as role models to younger members within the profession.

With our robust data gathering, clear benchmarks, performance KPIs that are monitored, partnerships with other organisations, and DEI-focused professional development for employers, we can continue to make progress.

What can be done to address the skills deficit in Northern Ireland?

RICS can have a key role in supporting our Northern Ireland membership as it encourages the government to support apprenticeships and non-degree tracks into the profession. 

What does the future of the built environment look like?

We recognise that the next ten years will be unprecedented for the built environment. Property is by far the world’s largest asset class. RICS will continue to call for government leaders to acknowledge the importance of the built environment as a key economic driver and the role it can play in promoting a better quality of life in a sustainable regional economy.

NI consistently punches above its weight in technology and manufacturing. This is a huge advantage in a growing economy. Property will play a major part in delivering future-proofed digital and physical infrastructure that will drive up living standards. AI and digital twins will increasingly improve the efficiency of existing buildings, simplify Net-Zero performance for new ones and optimise the design of the infrastructure underpinning it all. 

RICS sees that reliable, industry-respected standards of measurement and the robust practical frameworks to apply them are fundamental to managing the environmental risk of decisions, or failures to decide, on positive sustainability solutions.

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