An equal world is an enabled world: Kelly and Karen

13 Mar 2020

Celebrating women’s achievement across our business for International Women’s Day (8 March) we are catching up with some of our inspirational women to hear what gender equality means to them. All this week we will be sharing our interviews with them asking them about their career journey, what this year’s theme ‘an equal world is an enabled world’ means to them, and what advice they would give to their 12-year old selves.

Today, meet Kelly Knee who leads our Ocean Science teams in North America, and Karen Jones, Operational Director based in our London Farringdon Street office.

What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today?
I started with the business as an intern 16 years ago.  I was fresh out of grad school and didn’t know much about consulting, but the work was immediately interesting and engaging.  From day one there was a new challenge around every corner – my background is in water resources, so I had a lot to learn about ocean science and software development. 

The Ocean Science business has always been good about connecting staff at every level to clients and I quickly found that I enjoyed working with clients and helping to manage projects.  When I started, I was more focused on the science side of our business – modelling and data analysis.  About six years ago I started to focus more on the data management and software development side of our business and found that I loved the collaborative nature of that work – we work closely with federal and academic partners.

My career path is pretty traditional – I started by helping to manage projects and progressed to leading a team and managing larger and more complex projects. I joined the Ocean Science management team several years ago and took over as director of the Ocean Science business at the beginning of 2019. I got to my current position by working hard, always being willing to take on the next challenge, and building strong relationships both internally and externally.

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is ‘an equal world is an enabled world’ – what does that mean to you?
First, I feel very lucky to be surrounded by fantastic women at RPS. I have the privilege of working with the brilliant women in our office every day and connecting regularly with other female leaders across the North American and global businesses.  While, we have a lot of great examples of women in leadership positions across RPS, I think a lot about equality in our workplace and am always looking for ways in which we can improve.

I think an equal world enables women to stop spending energy worrying about stereotypes and bias, working harder to achieve the same goals, or worrying about how we are being perceived and focus on what really matters to us and our careers.

What advice would you give your 12-year old self?
That’s a tough one – two things come to mind immediately: worry less about what other people think and learn to code.

Karen Jones, Operational Director for Planning in our London Farringdon Street office, is listed in Newington’s Women of Influence for 2020, celebrating influential UK women making tangible differences in planning, property and built environment.

What was your career path? How did you get to where you are today?
I followed a traditional route of being governed by my strongest A level subject – Geography, which led me to studying it at university. The university wasn’t great on career recommendations – town planning as a career wasn’t acknowledged.  Consequently, my long-held desire to enter the police took over and I applied for the fast track route to Inspector. I didn’t get in on my first try and determined to find an alternative career path.

Then recession hit and opportunities were scarce. However, graduate recruitment schemes were being initiated in certain industries, including the retail sector. I joined Gateway Foodmarkets as a graduate trainee, influenced by my father.  I had my pick of potential disciplines and chose human resources.  After a year of very useful management training courses, I decided I wanted to pursue a professional route. Several peers from my university course had started masters courses. Once again, I played to my strength in Geography and started a Town and Country Planning course. During that time I was appointed by a local college to lecture to Housing degree students on a planning module. This led to offers to take a PhD in women’s studies and equality at Sheffield University, but I felt I needed more real-world planning experience.

A graduate position as retail planner with Lichfields took me to London. Not wishing to pursue a narrow field of planning, I joined Avison Young (to date my longest serving role). This probably had the most professional planning influence on me, particularly as strong business development skills and commercial acumen were key requirements for career advancement. My path to RPS was fortuitous and where I am today has been enabled by a strong and supportive team, and a passion for the job.

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is ‘an equal world is an enabled world’ – what does that mean to you?
Strength in my business comes through diversity of skill sets and projects. To achieve this, you need different types of people with varying experiences and perspectives. It stands to reason that a workplace that is representative of the population it seeks to serve – especially in terms of creating a built environment that is usable by all sectors of society – will be enabled by women’s perspectives.  In our dynamic environment, which as planners we are seeking to shape for the better, we must be adaptable, creative and innovative.  Enabling all sectors of society to have an equal say in how this is achieved will inevitably lead to a transformation in the way we apply ourselves, create policies and adapt and flex to our environment.

What advice would you give your 12-year old self?
Careers advice at the time gave little attention to the person you were capable of becoming. In retrospect, I would tell myself I could be anything I put my mind to and, as such, I would have followed my original ambitions. Also to acknowledge that drive, passion and tenaciousness can take you a long way, and need to sit alongside academic qualifications. Finally: not trying to be someone else, but learning from others and letting your personality show; and to be confident in who you are.

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