A senior male colleague once called me bossy. In a situation where men are often called strong, a leader, ambitious, confident or assertive, women are often denigrated for these same personality traits in business. Whilst it may have been a trivial passing comment to him, it is a remark that I have thought about a lot over time and will likely never forget. I didn’t call him out on it at the time, but it has made me think about how I respond to gender bias. This issue and how to handle it is one I had the opportunity to discuss and learn from in 2020 with six incredible mentors in the property industry, all of whom were women, and where I learnt to take ownership of being bossy.
In 2020, when the world was feeling particularly upside down in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I participated in the inaugural CREW UK Connects Mentorship Programme
, which is a six-month opportunity to gain insight from key leaders across the property industry, as well as the chance to network with fellow mentees. I was lucky enough to spend an hour’s time with each of the following industry bosses:
- Kathryn Harrison-Thomas – CRS EMEA Region Head, Citibank
- Michela Hancock – Managing Director, Europe, Greystar
- Rebekah Tobias – Head of Business Development, Marcol
- Joanne McNamara – Executive Vice President, Europe and Asia Pacific, Oxford Properties
- Sophie White – Director of Infrastructure Grant, Homes England
- Siobhan Godley – Head of Real Estate and Tax Partner, Real Estate Transactions, Deloitte
The initial program was available to 60 women who work in the property and construction sectors and enabled us to gain exposure to 30 senior professionals across our sector that we may not have come across in our day-to-day work or speciality.
Having now launched the second round of the programme, CREW UK has a new group of mentors including Sue Asprey Price, Head of Corporate Solutions UK with JLL. “The programme is an incredible experience for both the mentors and the mentees,” she said. “For the mentors, we create new connections, share our experiences and learn about new challenges. All of the mentees that I have worked with have ‘done their homework’ and been thoughtful on what can help them on their success journey. It is a truly rewarding experience.”
In a hypercompetitive and rapidly changing industry such as property, it is all too easy to get ‘lost’ in the system of large companies where the natural one-on-one mentoring of the past may have started to fall away. The CREW UK mentoring programme allows us to have access to people that are incredibly successful, driven and have a desire to pass on their experiences and knowledge to improve our careers and trajectory. These sessions are personal, with mentors being incredibly vulnerable. This made me feel comfortable enough to open up to them about the challenges I was having at the time, allowing me to be vulnerable as well. They shared personal stories of difficult times in their careers and life outside of work, which instantly provided a deeper connection than any other mentoring I have ever participated in.
Mentoring brings major benefits, not only professionally and financially but personally as well
Professionally, these conversations have formed connections, which led to incredibly useful further meetings with either the women I spoke with or their relevant teams who are interested in the Later Living and Healthcare sectors in which I work. This has created opportunities for me to excel within my team at JLL and improve my network of people within the sector. The sector I work in is still incredibly nascent when compared to office or industrial, and the opportunity to build a network of senior individuals, many of whom were interested in further discussions, is critical. My passion for supporting senior living and giving them the best possible life in their later years is being supported by these institutions and government bodies. This is going to make vast positive change to the rapidly growing senior population in the UK, reducing the economic burden on the NHS and government, and improving lives.
From a personal perspective, our conversations forced me to look at what I really wanted out of my life and therefore my career, and how I was going to achieve that. There were suggestions of working on my personal brand, building my confidence in networking, examining the language I use and how I wanted to be perceived by those around me. These suggestions required introspection which has not only benefited me personally but have been reflected in the way I now work and my future direction.
According to Forbes
, a study found that 25% of employees enrolled in a mentoring programme had a salary grade change, compared to only 5% of those who did not participate. It additionally found that mentees are promoted five times more often
than those not in a mentoring programme, and that they encouraged greater retention rates for staff. I discussed my upcoming promotion with the mentors, which was on hold at the time due to COVID-19, and the impending salary negotiations that would come with it, which I was slightly terrified about! They gave me the confidence to ask those uncomfortable questions of my company, do my market research and to speak to recruiters to determine my wider market worth to have informed conversations with my colleagues.
The number one tip that my mentors gave me
Building your network and leveraging it is the most important part of your career. I struggled at times moving to the UK from Australia and not having a graduate scheme or university group of “frolleagues” (friend colleagues) to lean on for professional networking and social occasions. My mentors all gave me tangible ways to continue improving my network, particularly with the difficulties that COVID-19 has brought to personal interactions. They highlighted the importance of having friends in real estate, not just colleagues and acquaintances—people you can go to when making big decisions about your life and career, and will understand where you are coming from.
A number of my mentors suggested gaining a sponsor within the business. A sponsor is different from a mentor in that it is someone quite senior within your company who can push you forward and influence your career progress, taking an interest in your advancement. The benefit of having sponsors in your firm alongside personal mentors is important as it allows you to grow and learn from your mentors, shaping you into a better leader, while having your progression supported by your sponsor at the same time.
The mentors offered me practical next steps and the generous offer to have further meetings. They opened up introductions to other engaging women across the sector, offered to send frameworks for working through career plans, and suggested good books (Winning from Within recommended by Jo was a highlight!). They proposed the use of paid leadership or life coaches as well as leadership courses to help learn how to move from being a team member to running a team effectively and positively.
If you are going to participate in a mentor/mentee relationship, you have to remember that it is a 50/50 relationship and that if you want to truly gain benefit from it, you have to put in the work. You have to be proactive and take every suggestion and run with it, whether that be an introduction to someone new, joining a property sports team, or doing an online psychometric test. You only get out as much as you put in, which is advice we should apply to every aspect of our lives, and not just to a mentoring program.
Whilst I will probably be called bossy again in my career, I now take it as a compliment and am continuing to develop my leadership skills. This bossy surveyor is going to keep growing in the industry thanks to the encouragement and positivity of six remarkable women in property who mentored me, and the CREW Connects Mentorship Programme.
The next session of the CREW Connects Mentoring Programme starts later this year alongside Ladies in Real Estate (LiRE), with details available here.
CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) UK is an affiliate group of CREW Network, a global business organisation based in the U.S. with over 12,000 members and expanding into the United Kingdom. CREW UK connects leaders in commercial real estate with a focus on inclusiveness in a global and UK business network.
Ladies in Real Estate (LiRE) was founded by Adina David and a group of women in the London property industry who meet informally for breakfast once a month. The goal of the group is to provide informal networking opportunities for women at all levels working across the sector. LiRE was formed out of the desire to encourage women to build personal relationships and support each other on their career journey.