A pioneer in the construction industry: Kathryn Ladley

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Inspirational APM member, Kathryn Ladley BSc, FRICS, MAPM, FQSI, was recently awarded a Lifetime Achievement in Construction award presented by the European Women in Construction and Engineering organisation. She has been a Chartered Quantity Surveyor since 1975 and a qualified project manager since 2003. She began her career as a quantity surveyor in 1970 and is proud of her achievements in the construction industry which began at a time when 'women just didn't work in a man's world'. 

"Looking back, I admit that I came into Quantity Surveying almost by accident. My original plan had been to study Architecture and I was made offers by Schools of Architecture in Oxford and Leeds. During the application process, and at the last minute, I had added the Quantity Surveying degree at Leeds to the UKAS application. In the event my A Level results were such that I could have opted for any of the offers. To this day I am not really sure why I decided to accept the QS offer, but I remain very glad that I did. It turned out that not only was I the only girl in that year’s BSc Quantity Surveying intake, I was the only girl in that year’s intake across the whole building department and I think the first girl to enrol for any of their range of full time courses. 

I suppose “slow and steady wins the race” has always been my philosophy, coupled with a determination not to give up.  I was never interested in being a trail-blazer, I just had a determination to chip away at the status quo to achieve what I wanted to.  That day my resolve was to prove that I could do the job as well as any boy and ended up proving I could do it better than most.

Although, at the time, it didn’t feel like this, with hindsight I think the people I came up against just didn’t know what to do with me; they were so used to living in an all-male environment. Even the RICS struggled; I frequently received correspondence addressed to Mrs K E Ladley Esq.

I remember how proud I was the day I receive the letter telling me I had achieved my Chartered status, at the first attempt. It was such a boost to my confidence.

At that time, I was working for Leeds City Council (LCC) and I will always be grateful for the help and support the Council provided whilst I was training and in the early years after qualifying.

Over the next few years I progressed, gaining experience and knowledge, moving on from LCC up to the point where my husband and I decided we wanted to start a family. Once again the RICS didn’t know what to do with me.  I wrote asking if my membership could be continued on a reduced subscription whilst I wasn’t working. I can only imagine this had not happened before because the response was totally unhelpful; the only option I had was to resign and re-apply for membership when I was ready to start work again. This I had to do but in so doing it denied me the one small chance of keeping in touch with the industry. Thankfully, soon after, their approach changed and is more understanding now.

While pregnant and after the birth of my child I continued to work, on a part time basis, as a Quantity Surveyor in private practice, contracting and local authority consultancy – mainly to “keep my hand in”. When, however, push came to shove, my love of working in the construction industry came to the fore and when an opportunity to work once again with LCC arose, I made the decision to return to my employment roots.

It was gratifying to find that once back full time my love and enthusiasm for the work was every bit as strong, if not stronger, than before. I remained at LCC for almost 17 years during which time I applied for, and was elected to, Fellowship of the RICS and qualified for Associate Membership of the APM. At that time LCC spent a considerable sum of money on commissioning construction related external consultants. With my knowledge of the construction industry and my project and programme management skills I was asked to develop and manage this process."

In 2003, the findings of a Best Value Review of Professional Design Services resulted in LCC establishing a strategic partnership with Jacobs. With her skills and integrity, care and diligence, Kathryn was the perfect choice to lead the team that organised the procurement and managed the relationship with Jacobs.

In 2012, Kathryn was asked to join the LCC group negotiating the terms for a new joint venture – NPS Leeds. She was also approached to manage the in-house Architectural Design Services, again reflecting the confidence in both her expertise and knowledge.

Since joining NPS, Kathryn has maximised her experience in contracting, consultancy and local government to assist in setting up new joint ventures across the country, and is currently based in the Leeds office for their five year review looking at processes to strengthen and facilitate the NPS relationship with Leeds City Council.

Kathryn explains her motivation: "Early in my career I was asked whether I had made the right choice in becoming a Quantity Surveyor. At the time I said I could never imagine doing anything else. Now, some 45 years later, the feeling is still the same.

As I said earlier, slow and steady, achieving both personal and professional goals and hopefully answering some of the criticisms and issues posed through the course of my career: –

  • it’s too demanding for a girl,
  • you won’t be able to deal with the mud,
  • you’re not worth training, you’ll leave and have a family and the money spent training you will be wasted.
  • it’s construction – it’s technical - you won’t be able to understand it
  • it’s not fair you are taking a man’s job and are being paid a man’s wage

I feel, in my own quiet way, I have left my stamp on the industry. I’m 65 and realistically my time as a Quantity Surveyor is coming to an end – but I’m not ready to go yet, I still feel I have something to give. My only regret is that because of family circumstances and events I was not able to give more back to the industry in its quest to achieve greater diversity. Perhaps it’s still not too late."

Posted by Kirsten on 17th Aug 2017
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