My father, the biggest influence on my career, always said: “If fate deals you a bad hand, it isn’t the end of the world but simply means that you need to look out for a better hand when it comes your way”.
I endured several setbacks when making my early career decisions but I didn’t take it to heart. Instead, I have found myself in a profession that has taken me around the world and I have enjoyed every minute.
As a kid, I loved collecting stones. Becoming a geologist could have fulfilled my dreams but I set my heart on a career as a mining engineer. Today this isn’t such an unusual choice but, in the late 1970s, notwithstanding the new equality legislation that had come into place, I might have well set my sights on flying to Mars. Luckily I had some brilliant support from my headmaster at Congleton Grammar School for Girls. My parents also instilled in me a very stubborn character, as well as the understanding that you can do anything you want to, as long as you put your mind to it.
Consequently, I studied maths, physics, geography and the catch all general studies. I was pleasantly surprised to have been welcomed by various mining schools around the country. Clearly the staff at all those red brick universities thought it quite novel to offer a place on their very male mining courses to their first woman.
Exams came and went, and over that summer I applied for a National Coal Board Scholarship. I thought to take the equality legislation at face value and made two applications: the first for Ms Brooke-Smith and the second for Mr Brooke-Smith. I suppose I was testing the system even then and you can guess the result.
Ms Brooke Smith was dismissed out of hand with a rather patronising letter suggesting that mining wasn’t a suitable job for a woman, while Mr Brooke-Smith was invited to an interview! My immediate reaction to the unfairness pushed me to report the NCB to the Equal Opportunities Commission. An apology was subsequently issued by the NCB.
By then the A level results were out and the results were not great, barring General Studies! That together with my rather mediocre Geography result got me to Sheffield Poly on a joint first year course, which was the closest I could find to ‘human geography’. Anything was more attractive than re-sitting my Physics A level.
I found myself on the Urban Land Economics undergraduate course. Little did I know that it was accredited by the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). On my Dad’s suggestion, I joined as a student member and eventually, after sitting on various committees I found myself on the governing council and, in 2014 I became the RICS’s first ever female global president.
So, after a few knock-backs, some discrimination, a couple of failed A levels, but then taking the opportunity at Sheffield and walking through every subsequent door that opened, I arrived at a different destination than I had originally envisaged. What more, I wouldn’t change a moment from the trodden path.
Today I am proud to have established and grown a national consultancy and to have worked all over the world. I champion women in the land, property and construction sector wherever and whenever I can. There will be tricky times, but providing you grasp every opportunity life throws at you, aim high and get up when things knock you over, you won’t go far wrong.
About the author
Louise Brooke-Smith is a chartered surveyor and chartered Town Planner with experience drawn, over 30 yrs, from the public and private sectors in the UK and overseas. She is CEO of Brooke Smith Planning, the Birmingham based planning and development Consultancy, established in 1994, serving clients globally.