Featured in Town Planning Review 93.6: The substantive and descriptive representation of women in planning

The editors of Town Planning Review (TPR) have selected the following paper as the Featured Article in TPR 93.6, it is available to read Open Access for 2022 as part of LUP Open Planning

The substantive and descriptive representation of women in planning: analysis from practice and academia by Karen Horwood, Aude Bicquelet Lock, Sue Manns, Charlotte Morphet, and Natalya Palit

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When asked to describe the paper and highlight its importance, the authors stated the following:

The ways we experience our built environment are gendered. The needs of women and girls are not always considered within the planning process. For example, the recent popularity of the 15-minute city, where people are able to access services they need within 15 minutes of active travel of their home, does not always ask questions of whose 15 minutes they are. The 15 minutes of an able-bodied lone man would be very different to those of a mother walking with a toddler who wants to investigate every puddle, or a man who uses mobility aids, or a woman who is avoiding places that feel unsafe during a dark winter’s night.

Questions of the representation of women as agents within the planning process, alongside the extent to which their needs are represented within planning activity, have been raised repeatedly by women throughout planning’s history, notably by Professor Clara Greed (1994) in her key text Women and Planning: Creating Gendered Realities.

These questions were brought to wider audience more recently by Caroline Criado Perez (2019) in her popular book Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, in which the first chapter is dedicated to planning issues.  This was a catalyst for many within, and outside, the profession to reflect on planning practice.

It was within this context that the Women and Planning conference was held at Leeds Beckett University in May 2019. This conference brought together academics and practitioners to develop the conversation. It was at this conference that the authors of this paper came together to share their research.

The pieces of research all spoke to questions of the representation of women, both as planners working in the profession, and of their needs in the actions carried out within planning.

Descriptive representation, women having access to roles across the planning profession, matters for reasons of equity. Alongside this substantive representation, that their needs are included and advocated for, matters to ensure that our built environment reflects the needs of all its citizens.

The paper presents the findings of research to examine the extent to which women are represented in the profession and, once there, their experiences as female planners.  Findings from Charlotte Morphet highlight an under-representation of women especially at leadership level in the private sector, and Aude Bicquelet and Sue Manns found experiences of a masculine and sexist workplace culture. Karen Horwood’s research investigates the extent to which women’s needs are represented in Local Plans, concluding there is minimal evidence. Natalya Palit’s research into Vienna, where gender was mainstreamed in the planning process, presents a contrast.

The article concludes that more research is needed to better understand both the representation of women in planning, and the ways their needs can be better represented in planning practice. The authors will be undertaking future research to fill this important gap in our knowledge and influence much needed change.


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