At CREW UK, one of our core aims is to support people making connections that matter. That’s why we’re implementing a new Q&A blog series, where we shine a light on our members to find out who they are, what they do, and the topics they are passionate about.
In our first instalment, we speak to Vanessa Hale, Head of insights and residential research at BNP Paribas Real Estate.
It’s great to speak to you Vanessa! Can you provide us with a brief overview of your career to date?
Real estate for me started out in the US – specifically in Chicago. Although I had an entire other professional career before I entered the industry, I went back to education to study hospitality and real estate. Then, the financial crisis of 2008 happened, and my mentor told me to find any role in a real estate company and learn through experience.
Taking his advice, I went on to hold a variety of roles before landing a position in research – and I’ve always had a position in some form of this ever since! I’ve been involved in practically every asset class you can imagine and like to think that I’m well-rounded in this area.
I moved to the UK a decade ago and continued my passion in real estate, but focused on the future of the built environment.
Thank you for sharing your career experience. What attracted you to CREW and made you join the organisation?
I was already familiar with CREW Network from my time in the US – as one of my professional mentors was Jan Fiola, President of CREW Chicago. However, I only got fully involved when I was approached to take part in the CREW UK Connects programme. I had just completed my two-year term as Chair for the Urban Land Institute UK, another professional real estate organisation so it was good timing.
Mentoring is something that I am incredibly passionate about, and I was really excited by how the CREW UK platform helped to connect mentors and mentees.
It’s fantastic that you have such a strong interest in mentoring. From your experiences taking part in this process, and drawing on your own knowledge of the wider industry, what do you think the key to greater diversity and inclusion (D&I) is in 2021?
The pandemic signaled a behavioural shift in many individuals as many had to cope with new styles and ways of working and for some, changing caring responsibilities for children or ageing parents.
I believe that the key to moving towards a more diverse and inclusive workplace will be for organisations to continue to provide some form of flexible/hybrid working arrangements, rather than going back to presenteeism. This could incorporate not just more opportunities to remote work, but to provide truly adjustable working hours so that other responsibilities outside employment can be managed.
The real estate industry in the UK currently does seem to have this tolerance towards a more agile approach, as we continue to deal with the pandemic – but it remains to be seen if there will be this open-mindedness in a post-Covid world.
In your experience, what efforts are organisations – both your own and others in the sector – making towards promoting D&I in the workplace? Are there any instances that have stood out to you as being particularly effective?
I think there is a wider acknowledgement all around on the diversity and inclusion challenges in the modern workplace. The growth of speaker formats and employers getting behind independent D&I organisations goes towards addressing these but there’s still plenty of work to do. I think larger organisations are in a stronger position, as there is more internal resource to allocate to these initiatives but for smaller businesses, it’s a bigger challenge – and that’s where the dedicated D&I organisations can really help by providing external support.
A clear example of an initiative that has stood out to me is CREW UK’s decision to not limit mentors on the programme to only women. When talking about inclusion, you can’t be successful by leaving out other groups – it defeats the objective! By bringing everyone into the conversation, we’ll be better able to address problems surrounding gender in the industry, as just one specific strand concerning the conversation around D&I.
On the topic of the CREW UK Connects programme, what made you volunteer as a mentor, and did you have a particular goal in mind?
I have personally benefited throughout my career from having a variety of different mentors – especially early on in my career and because of that positive experience, I’ve always tried to ensure that I give back to the industry through mentoring.
My main goal is to share my experiences and learn from my mentees. I always gain insight into what issues and concerns younger industry professionals are facing and it’s a great way to keep in touch with those coming up through the industry.
And finally, what have you learned or how have you been directly impacted from mentoring others?
Some of the mentees I’ve been paired with over the years still feature in my life – we have coffees and catch-ups. Some I’ve helped for six months on a specific issue and then they’ve moved on. Either way, I’ve always personally got a lot out of the experiences, and I do genuinely encourage people to access mentoring wherever possible – whether as a mentor or a mentee. Both parties can benefit and it’s extremely fulfilling.
For mentors especially, anytime that you can get involved with younger generations that are just getting into the sector or that are being made aware of it, it’s a great way to come full circle with diversity and inclusion.
Thank you for taking part in this member spotlight Vanessa.
Stay tuned for our next instalment of our member spotlight series via the CREW UK blog.