Is landscape in the UK as inclusive as it could be? With International Women’s Day coming later this week, Robert Holden CMLI looks at the representation of women in UK practice

    Dame Sylvia Crowe was ILA President from 1957 to 1959. It would be 45 years until Kathryn Moore became the next female President in 2004. Image © Sheila Harvey for the Landscape Institute

    The landscape profession appears to be female friendly. University programmes recruit fair numbers of female students, and there appear to be equal opportunities for female practitioners.

    A concern, however, is that women are not in control of many landscape practices – particularly when considering their numbers in the profession.

    Women are a majority of the UK population. According to estimates for 2016, 50.8% of the UK’s 65.5 million residents are female.

    The international view

    Internationally, Scandinavians have the highest proportions of female representation in upper management. Norway leads, with women accounting for 35% of Norwegian company board directors. Compare this with the UK’s 22.8% female representation on the top 100 FTSE boards. (In the UK, the 30% Club aims to achieve a minimum of 30% female membership on FTSE-100 boards.)

    The Landscape Institute and landscape in the UK

    The Landscape Institute has a poor record for female Presidents. Four of its 42 Presidents – Brenda Colvin, Dame Sylvia Crowe, Kathryn Moore and Sue Illman – have been women.

    Its current leadership is more representative. On the 2017-18 Board of Trustees, five out of 11 Trustees are female (with one vacancy). Of the 30 members of the 2017-18 Advisory Council, including one vacancy, 10 (33%) are women.

    How many women run practices? Or more appropriately, how many women are in the profession, and of those, how many run practices? Given the challenge of ascertaining the principals of individual practices, this question is difficult to answer. (Some practices, remarkably, do not name their principals on their websites.)

    What follows, however, is a national analysis of the management of those practices registered with Companies House, including a count of their current officers. Officers in this case means either directors or secretaries, both of whom are ‘persons with significant control’. Institutional officers are not counted, and where an individual is both an officer and a secretary, they are counted once.

    There are 402 Landscape Institute registered practices. Of these, 334 are registered with Companies House. (The remainder, typically sole traders or partnerships, are not on the Companies House register.) Those practices on the Companies House register have a combined total of 1,194 officers; of these, 270 (just 23%) are women.

    The difference between small and large practices

    A large number of practices – 188 – are single-person companies. Of the 147 with two board members, 119 have at least one female officer. Most smaller practices, in fact, enjoy equal representation; many have one female and one male principal, and a handful have all-female boards.

    It is the companies with larger boards that are remarkable for their lack of female membership. For instance:

    • Peter Brett Associates has 43 board members, all men
    • PRP Architects LLP has 37 officers, five of them women
    • Building Design Partnership has 29 board members, three of them women
    • Pegasus Planning Group has 19 board members, one of whom is a woman
    • Atkins Limited has 12 board members, one of whom is a woman
    • LDA Design has 11 board members, all male
    • Terence O’Rourke has eight board members, all male
    • Hyland Edgar Driver has six board members, one of whom is a woman

    As the size of a company’s leadership increases, equal representation appears to worsen. In the case of the 136 practices with three or more officers, 150 of the combined 846 officers are female (18%) – far less than 50:50 representation. Of the 16 very largest practices (those with ten or more officers), 46 out of 307 principals are female (15%).

    What are other professions doing?

    Other professions have demonstrated a commitment to equality. For instance, the Architects Registration Board (ARB) determined in 2015 to gather data on equality, including ethnic origin, gender, sexual orientation, religion and disability. This follows the Public Sector Equality Duty, established by the Equality Act 2010, which requires public bodies to emphasise equality when forming policy, delivering services and in employing staff. (The Equalities Act also applies to the private sector.)

    The Architectural Review and the Architects’ Journal jointly sponsor the Women in Architecture Awards. RIBA celebrates the annual Ethel Day – named after their first female member, Ethel Mary Charles – on 5 July. RICS also supports such policies, and indeed has an Inclusive Employer Quality Mark.

    What is the LI doing?

    The figures analysed above indicate that some LI registered practices do not put equality are the heart of their management. The LI Diversity and Inclusion Working Group first met on 27 February 2017, and sent out a call for further expressions of interest on 25 April 2017. But check the LI Committee details and nothing appears? It would be good to have some news in 2018.

    Meanwhile, many smaller landscape practices could refer to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission Guidance for Small Businesses and Human Rights. Finally, of direct relevance to the question of female representation on company boards, there is the Commission’s advice on Appointments to Boards and Equality Law (2017) (PDF).

    To quote ACAS, ‘Companies with more than 250 employees will have to start calculating their pay gap from April 2017 so it can be published the following year.’ I shall look further at pay equality for such companies in the landscape profession when the information becomes available later this year.

    Robert Holden CMLI is a retired landscape practitioner, academic and author. He is the former director of the landscape architecture MA at the University of Greenwich. In 2017, he was one of three inaugural winners of the LI’s Outstanding Contribution Through Volunteering Award.


    1. Thank you Robert Holden for such a concise summary of women in senior positions in this profession. It makes for stark reading. It would be interesting to consider the gender balance from university on. From my understanding there is a strong parity in numbers taking up landscape architecture at undergraduate and post graduate level. This has been the case for some time. It would be very interesting to track the advancement of men vs women through their careers. Ask at what point do women stop progressing to senior level and why? These are the questions we need answers to, in order to put in place the considerable institutional changes that will facilitate greater parity in career progression. Top organisations are losing out on talent by not thinking their way around this. We are designing for our fellow humans of which women make up more than 50%.
      Interestingly the first comment on this thread is from a man. Let’s hope Tom Turner, that your version of “banter” was only written to raise heckles; to get a few “feisty” women like myself to comment? And your point is? Please expand because leaving that interview without commentary takes us no further forward on this discussion. Don’t let Jordan Peterson make your point for you.

    2. This is a very timely assessment of the position of women in the landscape profession though shocking – I had always assumed there was greater equality, and now it seems we are as bad as others. However it is an incomplete assessment of ‘female equality in UK landscape practice’ as it does not include those working in the public sector, some of whom will be in senior positions with levels of responsibility comparable with running private practices. Adding them into the assessment may not change the overall gender disparity but, as Robert Holden knows, the LI Public Sector Working Group has been trying for a couple of years to raise the profile of this section of LI membership so it is disappointing that it hasn’t even been taken into account. Perhaps there is a higher proportion of female members in the public sector because of the generally family-friendly working practices (?) In any case, I totally agree with Suzanne Simmons that that action will need to be taken, when the full picture is known.

    3. Hi Suzanne. I did not make a point but, in case you are having doubts, can tell you that I am a third generation believer in female:male equality, following my mum and her dad. I am also the author of an essay on ‘The tragedy of feminine design’ (in a book on City as Landscape, 1996) which opens with the explanation that ‘The tragedy of feminine design is that it receives so little official support. Most of the world’s design schools, having been organised by men, encourage a masculine approach, even when they are run by women’.
      Do you think Jordan’s or Kathy’s points are relevant to landscape architecture?

    4. Following a salary survey in 2017 which revealed disparity in pay between male and female landscape architects, the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects has started a gender equity project:

      My understanding is that research will start with existing data.

      I look forward to hearing an update from the LI Diversity and Inclusion Working Group and will contact them directly to request this.

    5. Thank you all for the above comments.

      An analysis of directorships of LI registered companies by LI Branch is on Talking Landscapes, under the heading “Women landscapers outwith control?” under the “Landscape Institute” category,
      e.g. Li Scotland: “There there are 97 officers of LI practices registered with Companies House, of which 51 were men and 46 officers were women. Conclusion: not quite 50:50 but a lot better than the London region”
      and in LI Wales: “a total of 17 officers, of which 8 were men and 9 officers were women. Conclusion: marginally more women than men.It is large companies which have under representation of female “officers”.

      Regarding Ruth’s point re the public sector some authorities do register their landscape or parks sections as companies and with the Landscape Institute and so these are included but not distinguished in the survey. I know of no way of determining public sector representation from the method used in this survey, however, there is an obligation on the public sector to equality of opportunity, see
      And the reports of large organisations with more than 250 employees, including the third and public sector, will be reported in April and I shall aim to report on on what I can find out relative to LI registered practices.

    6. Interestingly, I would also like to mention that this is not just the case after university, but even at university level. Greenwich university has an entirely male led masters course.

    7. There seems to be a lack of part-time jobs and flexible working opportunities, which hinders women with family being able to work. Also, I find it very difficult to get a job in the first place, despite having the right qualifications, and I suspect this has something to do with my gender and still being of child-bearing age.

    8. One way to help address this is to get women ‘board ready’ so they are more confident about seeking senior positions within organisations. This could be part of CPD or by shadowing an existing board member.
      Also to encourage some of the larger firms to advertise when they have vacancies on their boards so women can apply.
      The LI should keep a watching brief and seek to measure change over time and to praise firms who start to turn things around – nothing like catching folk doing the right thing to nudge others to step up.
      Great piece of work


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here