It is an exciting time to be a woman in planning, there are so many different avenues the profession can take you.”
I’m Judith Onuh, I'm 31 years old and I'm a Associate Infrastructure Planner at WSP UK. I have been working within the industry as a Town Planner for 8 years.
"I have said it over and over again that planning chose me!"
Being a Town Planner is not something that I had initially thought of when deciding a career path. I wanted to become a Pharmacist, but after a summer school placement, I knew that it wasn’t for me. I did however know that I wanted to go to university, but I wasn’t sure what I wanted to study. After speaking to a careers advisor who took the time to get to know me, my hobbies and what made me tick as a person, we landed upon planning and I haven’t looked back since.
I studied a wide range of A-level subjects, the most relevant for studying planning at university was Geography. I then went on to study a four-year spatial planning course at the University of the West of England, Bristol, UK.
How does your work affect people’s lives and the world around us?
There is often a misconception that planning is all about housing developments or large infrastructure projects such as a new airport or road scheme. However, planning decisions have a direct impact on the lived experience of people across the world. Open space, as highlighted during the recent covid-19 pandemic for many provided much needed rest bite. From newspaper articles to blogs on mental health and wellbeing, many people for the first time paused to take in their surroundings. It was then that they realised how important access to open spaces is for their mental health and wellbeing. Well-designed spaces that are inviting not only encourage people to use them for health and wellbeing purposes, but they can also facilitate social interaction between groups who may not ordinary socialise. This is one of many examples of how decisions planners make impact people’s lives.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
A typical day would involve attending project meetings with other specialists to discuss various schemes. Reviewing planning documents and providing advice to clients, drafting planning documents including planning statements and project managing various aspects of development projects, including liaising with stakeholders, the client and wider project team.
As a Town Planner, you often work as part of a wider project team of specialists to develop a project and secure planning permission. Technical input from other professionals including Masterplanners, Engineers, Ecologists, Transport Planners, Noise and Air Quality specialists is critical in order to be able to develop a scheme that complies with local and national planning policy.
I like that the planning profession is a people centred profession. This was one of the main motivating factors for me, I wanted to play an active role in shaping the environment in which we live today and well into the future.
What are some challenges you personally face at work?
For me finding my voice has been a challenge in the workplace. It took me a while to understand who I am as a professional and where my passions lie. On many occasions, I have often been the person with the least amount of experience in the room, this meant that I often felt like I couldn't contribute in a meaningful way to discussions. It has taken me a while to understand that whilst I may not have over 20 years of experience in planning, I do have experiences that are different to others and there is merit in that.
"Having joined planning to make a positive impact on people’s lives, I have learnt that having the courage to voice these experiences helps to increase the diversity of thought within the planning profession and improve planning outcomes across the board."
What advice would you give a young woman thinking about a career in your role?
Research the profession and, where possible, speak to people who are currently working within the industry. The Royal Town Planning Institutes’ website is a fantastic place to start and provides you with a wide range of resources on what being a town planner involves and how to become one.
What do you aim to do next in your career?
Given the events of 2020 with the pandemic, it’s highlighted the inequalities faced by many communities across the country. I would like to highlight to decision makers that the planning regime, whilst there to facilitate development, can also be used to tackle social inequality. Planning is a people centric profession and I would like to see social justice feature more prominently in planning policy and planning reforms.
When I used to tell people that I am a town planner, they would often say they have never heard of it. When I explained what it is that I actually do, they would say that sounds so interesting, ‘what a fantastic career choice’. Nowadays, I find that awareness of the profession has increased - I think this is due to the UK government's recent focus on the planning regime, which is absolutely fantastic as I hope this will encourage more people to enter into the profession.
It is an exciting time to be a woman in planning. There are so many different avenues the profession can take you, if you're determined, proactive and show enthusiasm and interest. I have been incredibly fortunate to have colleagues and mentors willing to share their expertise with me as I progress in my career.
What is it like to be a woman working in your area or profession?
I am passionate about championing the planning profession, as I think it is such a rewarding career where you can make a tangible difference to people’s lives. I would particularly like to encourage more people into the profession from a wide range of backgrounds, as I feel the profession currently lacks diversity.
In order to widen diversity and inclusion within the Industry, myself and others - lead by Helen Fadipe MRTPI - founded the BAME Planners Network. The network aims to encourage those from a BAME background to enter into the profession and raise the profile and visibility of BAME Planners currently working in the profession. Further details about the network and how to become a member can be found on the BAME Planners LinkedIn page.