Equal opportunities: high-profile views on new homes industry careers for women

The career opportunities currently open and appealing to women in the new homes industry are a major issue. This has been a hot topic for some time, and one the Show House team will be contributing to on Thursday 15 March at the WhatHouse? New Homes Debate event in London, which will be looking at all sides of skills and jobs in housebuilding.

We have spoken to nine women who have achieved great success and who now hold senior roles across companies in the industry including housebuilders and developers, estate agents, and investment companies. Here, they talk about their own experiences, their thoughts about the careers situation today and their hopes for the future in bringing more gender equality to housebuilding as a career path.

We asked them all to consider the following questions:

  • What are your thoughts on UK housebuilding’s current approach to attracting and appointing women to jobs?
  • How have things improved since your career started?
  • Are there roles in your organisation that you’d like to see a more equal number of applications from women?
  • What’s the best single thing the industry could do to significantly increase female job applications?

Katherine McCullough, development director and head of UK property at Merchant Land

Katherine McCullough of Merchant LandI think at entry level on the professional side, the percentage of women being hired is actually quite encouraging. Equally at board level, in London certainly, there are an increasing number of women in the industry. However, we seem to be under represented at middle to senior management levels.

In order to change this, workplaces should offer a better work/life balance and focus on creating a positive company culture. Good promotion opportunities and flexibility will also retain employees in the long run and encourage progression from entry-level to senior management, whilst businesses must also recognise the potential that bringing in highly experienced candidates in their 50s and 60s can offer.

When I started out in the property industry, there were much fewer women in the industry occupying senior roles, and they often had to be particularly tough to get these positions. I think it’s easier now for women to progress in business and there are a variety of senior female managers in top roles, who all exhibit different people management styles.

At Merchant Land, we tend to receive equal applications and therefore, it simply comes down to picking the strongest candidate.

At entry level, the industry should continue to promote women in leadership to young people in schools and colleges, particularly focussing on the less-represented roles, such as trade workers. For older women, whether it’s a 40-year-old with children or someone in their sixties who perhaps feels overlooked in the job market, we need to ensure we are communicating with these individuals and making the industry as attractive as possible.

See our profile interview with Katherine here

Katy Jordan, managing director of Storey Homes

Katy Jordan of Storey HomesI think the UK’s housebuilding industry approach to attracting more women to careers, is open and improving. There is a drive to encourage young women to follow STEM subjects, which is one route into the industry and there are many not-for-profit organisations promoting women in construction. Equality and equal pay are right at the top of the political agenda.

Since I first set out in this industry there are now more bodies specifically set up to advocate women in construction. Reporting on the gender pay gap is highlighting inequalities in the industry (as it is across many other industries) and that in turn is raising the issue of a lack of women in senior roles. I think there has been a societal shift in acknowledging that women can do the same jobs as men and be successful at them.

Every single role within our organisation can be successfully fulfilled by a woman or a man. The reality is, the vast majority of applications we receive are from men, and this I hope will change as we see more young women encouraged into the industry from school-age level.

For me, it does not matter on your gender I have also never forgotten the lesson instilled in me as a child – if something needed to be done, you rolled up your sleeves and did it. The fact I now lead a company in the role of MD, there isn’t a job that I would not or could not do for the good of the project or to support the team. Leadership is about stepping up to the plate, taking on the burden and most importantly working out the solution, communicating it so that everyone understands what needs to be done and seeing through the implementation.

I think being a good MD is not always about being good at the technical aspects of the job, but also about being able to calmly fix problems and continually support and motive those who work for you – and this is true, whether you are male or female.

Judging by the results of a recent survey, flexible working appears to be a significant factor in attracting and retaining talent. The challenges faced by SMEs, however, is being able to accommodate flexible working when the success of a construction project often relies on immediate decision making, continuity and accountability. To fulfil a senior role on a construction project, one is expected to be very hands-on and available at all times – budget, programme and quality still drives every decision.

More support could be given to those returning to the industry after a career break. The problem with property development, in particular, is that it is deal led. Taking time out of the industry inevitably impacts on how much contact you have had with other disciplines that are integral to a deal. Similarly, construction and management techniques move on, so keeping up to date while on a career break, or having the opportunity to refresh your skills is imperative to your employability.

Ultimately, girls and young women need to know that a career in construction is an option for them, and that starts in the home and in schools.

Glynis Frew, CEO of Hunters Property Plc

Glynis Frew of Hunters Property plcThere are far more women entering the property industry now than ever before and we are seeing these women progress to more senior positions across all sectors including sales, lettings, management etc. I’m obviously really pleased to see this; property is a necessity that should be represented by both males and females as the market affects us all! We all live under a roof so therefore all have the ability to understand the inner workings of the industry.

Many people leave university or school without a clear idea of what they’d like to do as a career and this is when we should be looking to convince women to join the property sector. Property often isn’t promoted as a career choice and therefore as a result most people simply drift into it. It would be great if there was a dedicated effort to change this and therefore influence young adults’ views on how to enter the industry. Hunters is particularly well-suited for fresh graduates as we offer substantial training through the Hunters Training Academy. Today, most of our recruits now actually come through the website as our commitment to training is so well presented online.

I started my working career in 1979 in FMCG working for United Biscuits and then later moved to PepsiCo before joining Hunters in 1999. The world of work for women in 1979 was very different from today’s and needless to say it is much better now. Nonetheless when I joined the property industry in 1999 I was surprised at how male-orientated it was.

Today, there are more women throughout the industry and at senior levels. However, there is still a gap between women joining the industry and being promoted within it, which needs to change. Property is an industry that is ideal for women’s skills, it’s about communication; collaboration; co-operation – all elements women excel at and it’s therefore a shame to see we are still represented relatively poorly at board level.

Hunters is not representative of the wider industry as women are very well represented across all departments throughout the group. For example, 83% of our senior managers are women. Looking at our competitors and other companies I find that finance teams are very male dominated.

It would be hugely beneficial to have more female spokespeople who openly and frequently explain the benefits and joys of working in the industry to other women. More profiling for organisations that are passionate about women in the property sector, such as The Association of Women in Property, would be great too.

Parul Scampion, COO at Fruition Properties

Parul Scampion of Fruition PropertiesHousebuilding is still a very male-dominated industry that faces difficulties when competing for female talent, particularly in construction and site-based roles. I believe the industry has to work harder to attract women to the sector, because at present we are missing out on a key talent pool. The first step is to understand what is deterring young women from entering the industry and then actively address these issues – it is not enough to hope that women will apply for the roles directly.

I feel the current under-representation may be due to a lack of public role models in the industry and the preponderance of middle-aged men in these roles, which subconsciously reinforces the message that this industry is not for women. Moreover, given the gender in-balance in many companies and the concentration of women in less senior and more administrative roles, there is evidently still a long way to go in bringing our working culture in line with other industries. Construction in particular suffers from a conservative, traditional image. However, I do believe that with a concerted effort, it is absolutely possible for this cultural change to take place.

There has been a significant increase in the number of women occupying roles in development companies, particularly in front-end and office-based positions, as well as everything from acquisitions and planning to marketing, product specification and sales.

We have also seen a bigger intake of female and male graduates over the past few years, and this bodes well for the future as these individuals move through the ranks to middle and senior management. I have also witnessed many more women in the consultant firms that we work with, including architects, planning consultants, bankers, although the surveying and engineering disciplines still seem to be lagging behind in this regard. Certainly at Fruition Properties, we are proud to have a more even gender balance and more diversity emerging in our workforce.

I would like to see more women entering technical and project management roles, and I feel this is achievable in the coming years as girls are increasingly being encouraged to study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects at A Level and university. Subsequently, this means more women are entering the profession as a whole, with many hopefully making the sideways move into the development and construction industry.

Similarly, it would be great to see more women working on site as foremen and site managers, although this seems a little further off, as the pathways for girls to enter or learn the trade is less defined. More women at director level would significantly help in providing role models, mentors and clearer pathways to progress. We currently have two female directors out of eight within the company and I would like to improve on this in the near future.

Role models in senior positions within construction and development organisations speaking in schools and universities to sell the benefits of the industry and a career in housebuilding would be an extremely encouraging start. They should discuss the various pathways into the industry, including apprenticeships and the essential skills this kind of training can provide. Furthermore, companies ought to be actively looking at their culture and staff make-up to understand why they are not attracting or retaining female employees. Female-focused industry networking groups are great for providing a peer group for women looking to work towards more senior levels.

Lauren Atkins, managing director of The Malins Group

Lauren Atkins of The Malins GroupI think there is lots of opportunity for women in the housebuilding industry and I think if people of any gender work hard they can achieve their ambitions. I think having confidence in your abilities is really important and makes applicants stand out. My office is 70% women, and I employ female tradespeople on site such as plumbers and painters, so I feel gender balance is not such a concern in my company. However I do think construction is still largely male dominated and, in my opinion, change comes down to inspiring more women to want to work in the sector and not perceive gender barriers to entry.

I think the industry has improved since I started working in property in 2008, as it has across the board over the last decade or so and continues to improve. I’ve never had a negative experience of being a woman in the property industry and I don’t think there are so many barriers now.

One of the strongest female members of my team started four years ago as an apprentice. I think it is important for property companies to create opportunities for the next generation and to provide excellent mentoring to encourage young people to grown and stay in the industry. This individual now leads most of my main site back office functions and I am training her on the planning side of the business. Another excellent more senior female member of my team has evolved with me from carrying out a purely administrative function to leading project management and operations.

As my office is 70% women, including project managers, and I employ female tradespeople on site, I am not concerned that I need a greater number of women in my organisation and do not have notably less women applying for my roles. I am a firm believer that men and women should be judged on their merits and that the best person for the job should prevail regardless of gender. I do not believe in positive discrimination. However, I do recognise that on the construction side, which is still somewhat male dominated, there could be some resistance to get more women into this area.

I think that employment options need to be flexible for women who have or are planning to have children, so I think offering more flexible working arrangements might encourage many women to apply, stay in and/or progress their careers. As a single mother I know well the difficulties of juggling a full-time job with the responsibility of raising a child, and I try to be as accommodating as I can for my staff. I have always operated a flexible working environment, and at one point my entire office was made up of part-time working mums!

To this day, my operations manager works flexibly around school hours and as she has grown with the company, her children have also grown so she is now able to flex her working hours a little. My operations manager has been with me for over seven years and the experience that she has developed over that time is not something I would ever want to lose, so I believe that flexibility around children breeds commitment and longevity of your teams.

See our profile interview with Lauren here

Karen Jones, group HR director for Redrow

Karen Jones of RedrowThe sector’s approach to attracting more women into the industry has traditionally been disjointed.  However, with the skills gap growing ever greater we are at a crossroads, and the industry is having a serious conversation about how we attract untapped pools of talent into the sector.

The key ingredient is greater collaboration, and this is where the CITB’s and HBF’s Home Building Skills Partnership (HBSP) comes in. The partnership has brought together over 70 companies from across the industry to develop an action plan for getting more people into the sector and retaining skilled workers too. Essential to this work is finding ways of attracting more women into it.

Through a series of campaigns that will launch in the near future, the Partnership is attempting to break down barriers into construction, as well as helping to change the perceptions of young women about the wide range of career options that are available. Housebuilding careers are not just limited to bricklaying, but encompass planning, sustainability, engineering and many other roles too.

Things have changed in the industry and I’m proud to work at one of the most progressive businesses in the sector. This year 22% of our trainees are female, significantly higher than the industry average of 14%. When I came into the sector a statistic like this was unfeasible. However, we cannot be complacent the sector still has a long way to go in its efforts to attract more women into it.

At Redrow we started our major recruitment drive and push for more new entrants in 2010 which means we are now starting to see more women reach middle management. Carrying on this positive path we expect to see many more women in senior management positions and achieving directorships over the next five years.

Whilst our intake of women across the spectrum has come on leaps and bounds, we still have a lack of women in straight construction roles. This is not limited to the trades roles but also managerial roles on site. I would also like to see more women using their influencing skills in our land acquisition and planning teams. More work needs to be done in these areas to incentivise women to take part.

It’s my view that improving young people’s perception of the construction industry generally is the single most significant thing we can do as a sector to boost the number of applications from women.

Whilst the split taking STEM subjects at GCSE is relatively equal between the genders, women only represent 38% of entrants to core STEM subjects at A-Level, and just 25% at degree level.

Additionally, our recent ‘Overcoming aversion to apprenticeships’ report found that young men were more likely to have been given advice on a career in construction at school, with 40% having received this, however just 29% of young women had received this advice in comparison. The result is that just 30% of young men questioned said a career in construction was a possibility for them and just 16% of young women.

As an industry we are good at getting into colleges and universities to talk about our range of career options – but often by this point it is too late and we are already speaking to a predominately male audience. We need access to younger women to help them guide their career paths before they make up their minds.

However, in the short term there are actions we can take to improve numbers now. Five years ago at Redrow we broadened our entry requirements, and accepted young people with degrees such as English and History, as well as the traditional STEM subjects. This has resulted in a much more equal spilt of applications between males and females and we are confident we can deliver the skills and knowledge needed on the job. We have found that through this approach we have been able to significantly open up the pool of young women we have access too.

Victoria Anthony, group HR director for Galliard Homes

Victoria Anthony of Galliard HomesThere is certainly more that needs to be done, however it’s great to see the industry as a whole moving forward. In the past, the network has been male dominated but this mentality is changing. Through engaging women at school and university levels, we’re able to educate them and provide the career opportunities for them.

My career has been predominately in HR for companies that are male-dominated sectors such as manufacturing and precision engineering. Since moving to Galliard, I am really pleased to see there are a number of females in senior roles, including on the construction side of the business. The company has also recently appointed two females to its board. This is a fantastic step forward for us and certainly rare among property and construction-based businesses.

To help promote the job opportunities in the business Galliard are actively partnering with primary and secondary schools and colleges to ensure young girls and women are aware of the STEM roles and the opportunities open to them.

Whilst we appoint the best person for the role irrespective of gender, we thoroughly encourage female applicants in IT, engineering, construction and surveying. We are working with Women into Construction and other organisations to help promote the choices available to women. Whether it’s at entry level, as a career change option or those who are returning from career breaks, everyone brings a unique skill set with valuable transferable skills.

Going forward, the industry should focus their efforts on changing the perception that a career in construction or housebuilding is off limits to women. Currently, there are some exceptional female role models managing large-scale projects and/or developments that we must do more to promote these success stories and support their successors.

See our interview with Victoria here

Catherine Riva, director at Rendall & Rittner

Catherine Riva of Rendall & Rittner

Since I first started out in this industry I have found there to be a substantial proportion of women within the residential property management role, with the exception of only one firm where I was the first female to be made an associate director. What I have seen change, more significantly, over time is more females take to more senior roles within our corporate clients.

At Rendall & Rittner (R&R), I feel we are doing an excellent job at promoting roles for women. Our head office of 262 employees includes 56% female staff, including myself a female on our board of six. There is a 50/50 gender split on the senior management team, including our area directors, who manage property teams. The next level down from area director is team leader, of which 63% are female, with 65% of our senior property manager team also women.

We are committed to attracting and retaining the best staff in the industry whatever their gender and we regularly survey our staff to obtain their views on how we are operating, via pulse surveys and focus groups. As a result of this engagement and our commitment to continuous improvement in 2017, we introduced more family friendly policies that included an enhanced maternity offering and sabbaticals. We have also recently engaged with, and had our first staff hire through The Daisy Chain – a specific company set up for parents to match their careers, while supporting their work life balance.

When we survey our staff, our staff tell us that one of the best thing about working for R&R, apart from our strong values, is our flexible approach. However, we are keen to continuously improve and will continue to listen to our staff and potential employees about their priorities, what they value in terms of package offerings. In addition, we will regularly undertake benchmarking exercises within the industry. I am incredibly passionate our Investors In People (IIP) Gold Standard, something that I have led on for 10 years. Our Gold IIP status demonstrates this commitment to staff training and development.

We have also established a strong reputation as one of the few managing agents regulated by RICS and we are recognised as an Inclusive Employer and have early adopter status. This further demonstrates our constant review of our employment practices and that we are committed to monitor our performance.

For the residential property management sector, it is not gender-specific changes to the industry that is needed but regulation as a whole. It is this regulation that will raise standards and professionalism. There are many firms like R&R, which operate and maintain high standards, but unfortunately this is not true across the entire sector. In response to the DCLG’s recent call for evidence on this – ‘Protecting consumers in the letting and managing agent market’ – we have recommended minimum entry requirements for firms to operate, licencing of firms and individuals. This will bring numerous benefits including an increase in service standards sector wide, but we also strongly believe it will assist us to attract and retain the best employees across our industry and outside of it, increasing positive awareness of our sector.

Andrea Gardner, sales and marketing director at Waterstone Homes 

Andrea Gardner of Waterstone HomesWhile approaches to attracting women have improved, especially when it comes to the sales sector, it is still unusual to find a woman in the board room, or at the core of construction on the ground. There are many reasons behind this lack of female representation, but it’s encouraging to see that the industry is taking steps to address this with initiatives such as the #notjustforboys and ‘Spotlight on women in construction’ campaigns, which have been designed to encourage more women into the sector.

However, while women are being encouraged and recognised within the industry, it’s important to stress that women really want equality – they want to be chosen for a job for the right reasons, based on merit and ability, not for their gender as a way of paying lip service to equality.

Female representation within the industry has certainly improved compared to when I started 20 years ago thanks to more opportunities for women within property and construction in general. But, while the days of widespread gender discrimination in the industry has indeed changed, where women often found themselves subject to ‘banter’ and innuendo, there’s still some way to go.

Unfortunately, it’s still not uncommon for men in meetings to direct questions that should be answered by female employees to other males on the team instead. Therefore, we have to work even harder to justify the reasons behind their decisions. But, it has to be said that we are certainly gaining pace to more equality in the workplace, for sure.

I would love to see more applications for project managers and site managers, roles that we have not traditionally seen much female interest in. Women typically have a strong eye for detail and a clear understanding of systems and processes, making them well placed for such positions. This would have such an impact on our business and the sector as a whole and I predict this is where we will see big changes in the near future.

Greater female representation in these areas will be a very positive step forward for the industry, setting the precedent to encourage more women into other areas of the construction sector, which will naturally progress to the boardroom and equality will be the norm.

Attracting more young women to consider a career in the sector at an earlier age is key to tackling the gender imbalance in construction and so improved construction career education in schools is essential.

While the industry is consistently offered as a career choice to boys in secondary schools, it is rarely promoted to girls. As a result, there is a widespread perception that the construction industry is a male domain where women can’t progress – an idea that is ingrained in girls from an early age. Such stereotypes tell women they aren’t physically strong or good enough at construction-related tasks to succeed in the sector, when this simply isn’t the case. On top of this, most young girls think construction is all about working on site, which isn’t for everyone, when in reality there are a range of other opportunities open to them including marketing, commercial, legal and financial, to name but a few.

If women are to play a greater role within the industry, girls need to be engaged at grassroots level and made aware of the opportunities available to them. Schools need to provide adequate careers advice to promote construction and engineering as a viable career choice for women. It’s also important to have passionate female role models from the sector who love what they do and who can visit schools to talk about the opportunities for women, helping to bring the industry alive in an exciting and real way to students.

From a young age, we can see that some children are academic while others want to pursue more practical agendas, therefore an increase in the number of construction academies would also be a positive step, providing an opportunity to engage all children, girls as well as boys, whatever their preferred style of learning, with fun, hands on and interactive teaching about construction.

 

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