‘I’m trying to break down barriers so others don’t have to’

The lack of gender diversity in real estate has long been acknowledged. But what is more complex is understanding the reasons behind the paucity of women in leadership positions – barely a tenth of executive director positions across the UK’s largest listed property companies are held by women, according to diversity consultancy The Pipeline.

The issue is multifaceted. Unconscious bias, the absence of female role models and mentors, and a lack of flexible working options are often cited as just some of the challenges faced by women in property.

These barriers to progression can be internalised, causing women to lack confidence in their ability to progress and to make their voices heard in a male dominated industry.

In response to these challenges, EG has launched its Future Female Leaders programme.

Twelve women working in businesses across the built environment have joined the initiative and are undergoing a course hosted by Ginger Public Speaking at London Executive Offices.

Over the course of four weeks, all 12 women will have the opportunity to learn new skills in communication and presentation, helping them to become engaging, powerful speakers.

The programme will see them work together to tell the story of the journey of a building, and the ways in which their individual roles in the built environment are vital in bringing a property to life. The event will culminate in the women delivering a presentation at an EG event in front of a high-level real estate audience.

EG caught up with the women taking part in the programme to discuss their career paths so far, the challenges they have encountered along the way and their hopes for what they will take away from the initiative.

Kathryn Cripps, partner, London leasing, Knight Frank

Cripps arrived on Knight Frank’s graduate scheme in 2008, pushing to one side her initial plans to craft a career in sports, which she studied at university. She has stayed at the company for 11 years now, and today is a partner in its London leasing team, working on deals and development in submarkets across central London. She also sits on Knight Frank’s People Board and is a member of its Gender Focus Group, which encourages gender diversity within the firm. Among her passions is promoting an improved workplace for working parents. “I had a lot of challenges returning to work after having my daughter,” she says. “Hopefully, this programme will help create more role models and help me become one.” Cripps says her goals at Knight Frank are to “influence the direction of the central London division and help drive forwards new initiatives in property”.

Helen Davis, director, Arup

Having been responsible for leading design and engineering group Arup’s 50-strong environment and sustainability team in the Midlands since 2015, Davis is no stranger to what it means to be a leader. With more than 21 years in the industry working in environment and energy, she has gained an in-depth knowledge of those areas. Starting out as a senior environmental scientist in 1997 for Arup, Davies held a variety of positions at WSP and MWH Global before returning to Arup in 2013 as an associate director. Arup has flagged sustainability issues as at “the heart of [its] work”, underlining the importance of Davis and her team in driving that part of the business. The firm’s projects including Derwent’s White Collar Factory development, a building it said showed that “sustainability and adaptability don’t mean compromising on the quality of internal environments”.

Sandeep Dhillon, principal surveyor, Cabinet Office

Dhillon has found the lack of role models in the property industry as a challenge to overcome but says she has been lucky to have mentors “appearing at the right place at the right time” in her career to push her forward and offer support. “From this programme, I want to be able to be my authentic self and have my voice and my story heard to inspire others going forward,” she says. Her ultimate career goal is to be “an authentic leader that shows thought leadership and isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo”. Dhillon joined the Valuation Office Agency in 2012 and worked her way up to principal surveyor, before joining the Cabinet Office in 2017. She studied history at the University of Wales before completing two masters degrees, in international business, and property investment and management.

Emily Hamilton, senior sustainability manager, Grosvenor

With a passion to improve sustainability in the property industry, Hamilton hopes that the Future Female Leaders programme will help her to drive changes in the industry and “communicate this in a way that chimes with people”. Having held various positions at Capita and the University of East London, Hamilton is now Grosvenor Group’s senior sustainability manager, working with stakeholders to encourage its staff, suppliers and customers to adopt environmentally friendly practices. Hamilton is also a board member of the Better Buildings Partnership, an organisation co-founded by Grosvenor with an aim of encouraging commercial property owners to improve the sustainability of existing stock. She says one of the challenges as a woman in property is that women can often be given labels such as “difficult” and “bolshy” if they challenge the status quo.

Alanna Hasek,  senior associate, real estate, DLA Piper

Hasek started her legal career at Eversheds in 2008, qualifying into the firm’s real estate department two years later. She moved to King & Wood Mallesons in 2015 before taking up a senior associate position in DLA Piper’s real estate department, where she currently works.  Until recently, Hasek says she had not worked with a female partner during her career. Now, she says she feels a “weight of importance” in trying to be a role model for a younger generation building a career in the business. “What I love about the programme is meeting everyone here, and I’ve found the stories of their careers and roles very inspiring,” she says. “Having the space and the opportunity to develop the skills that we need to take forward these ideas in our organisations and the sector is such a fantastic opportunity for me and I am excited to see how the programme progresses.”

Hana Hassan, senior project surveyor, Willmott Dixon

Hassan admits that a career in construction was not always on the cards. After graduating with a degree in chemistry in 2008, she joined construction company Willmott Dixon on a temporary basis while she “considered what life had to offer”. Over the 11 years since, however, she has found reason after reason to remain with the business, rising through the ranks to become senior project surveyor. Now she wants that journey to inspire others. “I think a challenge is having a lack of female role models,” she says. “If you’re ambitious and want to progress and further your career, not having females to look up to can sometimes be a hindrance.” Hassan is hoping this programme will help her to develop the “confidence to publicly speak with poise and authenticity”, and achieve her ambition of becoming a board member and taking on a more strategic role in Willmott Dixon.

Victoria Ireland, partner, residential consultancy, Cluttons

Ireland has always experienced the property industry as male-dominated, and says the Future Female Leaders programme has already been helpful in encouraging her to feel she can “speak out and know that what I’m saying has meaning and is important”. After studying geography at the University of Liverpool, Ireland was initially undecided as to what kind of career she wanted to pursue, but took up a position with an estate agency at which she had previously worked and has never looked back. She enrolled on a Property Appraisal and Management course at Sheffield Hallam University and graduated in 2009. A year later, she secured a place on Cluttons’ residential graduate scheme, working her way up to the role of partner in 2017.  She says her main aim in her career is to “be respected by my peers and to gain recognition”.

Eva Kiivit, regional operations manager, Greystar

With a background in the retail industry, Kiivit moved into property in 2011, joining MWB Business Exchange and then moving to developer Greystar Europe in 2016, where she is now regional operations manager. Joining the Future Female Leaders initiative has opened Kiivit’s eyes to the issues faced by some of her peers. She says she has not experienced the level of challenges that some of her fellow members of the programme have encountered during their careers, and adds that she feels “fortunate to be in an environment with great male and female role models, bosses and leaders”. Nonetheless, Kiivit has already experienced the benefits of the course and says she has made progress in learning how to express herself and push her ideas forward. “I want to become a leader for others who have had challenges,” she says.

Helen Lowe, business development director, BW

As a woman in the property industry, it can be hard to ensure your voice is heard and feel confident in speaking out, Lowe says. “Everyone has the same issues here, we’ve covered a lot of common ground,” she adds of her time attending the Future Female Leader training sessions so far. “All the women are amazing and really support one another. It’s been a great journey so far, pushing all of us in our public speaking and getting to know each other both as individuals and as professionals.” Lowe had previously worked in interior design for commercial fit-out projects, including a stint at Cushman & Wakefield, but decided to take a different course in her career and moved over to business development, an area she has now been focusing on at refurbishment specialist BW for close to two years. Her ultimate career goal is to become a BW board member.

Rossella Nicolin, associate director, Aecom

Nicolin’s career goal is to “become a senior leader in the construction industry and be a leading voice of change”. Her time in the industry so far has seen her live on both sides of the Atlantic, starting her career in New York working for engineering consultancy Buro Happold for five years before moving to London in 2012. She took a new role as a senior structural engineer at Atkins the following year, and headed to Aecom a year later, where as a principal structural engineer she was named associate director in 2016. “The biggest challenge for me is that as a woman, I feel I always have to go the extra mile, show more technical knowledge, be more assertive,” she says. “There are a lot more expectations. I hope this programme will give me a platform to make me feel more confident about public speaking.”

Anna Parry, projects director, Hayes Davidson

Parry had something of an unusual transition into property. While studying at London College of Fashion, she took up a year-long placement at leather artisan company the Bill Amberg Studio. After graduating she returned to the studio as architectural production coordinator, organising the delivery and installation of leather interiors and furniture for commercial and residential buildings and superyachts. After working with design consultant Ellen Kern, Parry joined CGI design studio Hayes Davidson in 2012 as planning projects coordinator, working her way up the ranks to become an executive partner and board director. Throughout her career, all of Parry’s bosses have been male. She is now striving to be the female mentor for other women in her company that she never had. “I’m trying to break down barriers so they don’t have to,” she says.

Manreet Randhawa, senior portfolio manager, Nuveen

Randhawa joined the real estate investment business of Henderson Global Investors in 2010 and has stayed with the business throughout its various changes to become TH Real Estate and now Nuveen. Today she is a senior portfolio manager on the Janus Henderson UK Property PAIF fund, run by Nuveen. She says that taking part in the Future Female Leaders programme is an opportunity for her to step outside of her comfort zone, challenging herself to work on public speaking skills, an area she feels has been a weakness for her. “It’s a challenging programme, which was disarming at first but at the same time is making me self-aware of how I communicate and how to be a better version of myself,” she says. “I just want to be the best I can be without any obstacles in my way. I’d like to push the boundaries and see where I can go.”

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