Diversity network: support for success

Charlotte Morphet talks to Laura Archer about how diversity networks can boost inclusion within the planning profession – and beyond  

Charlotte Morphet is a principal policy planner at the London Borough of Waltham Forest, the co-founder of Women in Planning, trustee of the Planning Officers Society and a member of the Academy of Urbanism’s Young Urbanist Steering Committee. She is a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion within the workplace, and for the promotion of planning as a profession. 


Tell us a bit about yourself and your career journey so far.

I have held a range of roles during my 10 years’ experience in the public, private and third sectors, from planning enforcement to consultancy to policy planner. I have been passionate about strategic planning throughout my career, and have focused on this in most of my role. I currently work as a principal policy planner for the London Borough of Waltham Forest. I have also held various roles at the Royal Town Planning Institute, including chair of RTPI London and trustee. I am a trustee of the Planning Officers Society, chairing its NOVUS network, and a member of the Academy of Urbanism’s Young Urbanist Steering Committee. I also help set up and run Women in Planning.


What does your daily role consist of?

People think being a policy planner is quiet, but it isn’t. Some days I am working on evidence-based commissions to support the Local Plan, the next I could be drafting or editing planning policy or guidance, working on site allocations, undertaking engagement, attending meetings around partnership working (such as housing associations and other public sector bodies), or providing policy advice for masterplans or as part of pre-application advice.


Have you have faced any challenges within your career, and if so, how have you overcome this?

Being a planner during the recession was hard. It took me a long time to get my first role and I completed a lot of internships. Looking back on it now, I think of it as my planning rotation. I have worked in most parts of the system – in training for a third sector organisation, small to very large consultancies and in development management, policy and conservation. It is the best grounding I could have had.


What’s the best advice you have been given?

My mum always says ‘start by starting’, and it truly is the best advice. 

“Diversity networks are only likely to work when you have a critical mass of employees” 

How did you get the idea to set up the network Women in Planning?

Alison Mackay and I co-founded Women in Planning in 2012 because we didn’t see enough women speaking at or attending events, and we wanted to provide an affordable, supportive women’s network that focused on planning.


What works well in network events? 

It depends on the location, but panel events discussing industry challenges with some great female panellists is always good, and I really enjoyed the housing event I organised at City Hall – a career highlight. Branches are also now offering training, from leadership to mock public inquiry training. If I hadn’t attended the mock inquiry training put on by the North West branch, I would not have felt so prepared when I was an expert witness for the first time last year. However, my favourite is hearing about women’s careers and how they got to the top – my favourite speaker will always be our first, Michèle Dix CBE.


Where should people look or go to if they want to become involved?

Visit www.womeninplanning.org. We have 14 branches across the UK, details of which are available on the branch page. 


What is your biggest piece of advice for an employer getting started with diversity and inclusion? 

Understand your organisation. Each organisation will face its own challenges and have its own successes. It is important you know what these are by analysing the data you hold on your employees and the way you work. Once you have done this, start shouting about the success and start building a strategy to deal with the challenges. It is important to keep trying out different solutions – diversity networks are only likely to work where you have a critical mass of employees. If you’re a small company, there are lots of diversity networks, such as Women in Planning, that you can tell your staff about.


What change have you seen since you started your career?

Diversity and inclusion have gained momentum in the built environment. There are so many networks you can get involved with, and so many amazing events. Women in Planning supports these networks and is proud to be a partner of BAME in Property, an ally to Planning Out and a sister to Urbanistas and RE Women. It is too early to see the changes, but am hopeful that in five years that there will be a noticeable difference. 


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