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International Women’s Day – reflections from inspiring women at Milton Park

Published on 28 March 2022

This year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) asked us to consider not just how we maintain diversity, be equitable and inclusive, but also how we can ‘break the bias’ that exists in many parts of our everyday lives.

We’re proud to say that at the team at Milton Park including our partners at Ashdown Philips and CBRE (that make up the wider Milton Park team) comprises 72% women overall. At the same time, there are countless other women doing inspirational work at Milton Park, some of which we have been delighted to feature as part of our regular ‘Park People series’, including Planet IT’s Farah Nazir-ChapmanSuzanne Harvey from Ipsen and Tokamak Energy’s Hannah Willett.

To help us reflect on IWD 2022, we asked six inspirational women from the Milton Park team what breaking biases means to them within the property sector, a typically male-dominated field. Here are some snippets from our thought-provoking conversations…

There are signs that gender equality within the property industry appears to be going in a positive direction, albeit it’s clear that there is much more work that needs to be done to accelerate the pace.

Clare Fleet, a Commercial Surveyor at MEPC, provides her take on this: “Being a surveyor, I’ve been interested to see that the proportion of female members in the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has only risen to just over 17% (April 2021) from about 13% a decade ago, with only approximately 26% entering the profession today. So, I suppose technically it is going in a positive direction but at this rate, it will be far beyond my retirement when the statistics’ match that of men in the same roles. Gender equality is not the only issue, it is diversity in its entirety, and the statistics on this are abysmal.

“I have felt I am working in a man’s world during my career, and this has been a real struggle at times, but changing your environment and connecting with like-minded individuals and organisations can make a big difference.”

Clare adds: “Working for a company such as MEPC, that champions the views of women as well as men, is sadly a rarity. I am now fortunate to be in a position where I can make a difference and I know that if we all work hard to make a difference together, we can make a real positive change.”

Nikki Gibson, who is Head of Flexible Workspaces and recently became the Centre Manager of Milton Park Innovation Centre, adds her thoughts: “I think that gender equality has come a long way, but I do feel there is more to do. As a woman and working mother, I sometimes feel like you need to work harder than male peers to shine. My employer Ashdown Phillips & Partners does a fantastic job of creating a level playing field and recognising talent regardless of age, gender, race, religion etc.”

Kathryn Andrew who works within the MEPC Development Team on development and construction projects across Milton Park, explains what she feels is the biggest challenge facing women in the industry she works in today: “Historically, the built environment has been a largely male-dominated industry, and I therefore think the biggest challenge is making women’s voices heard to ensure the places of the future are built with gender equality at the forefront.”

Zoë Allen a Property Administrator at Milton Park gives her thoughts: “The biggest challenge is not being heard. In my experience it is easy to have an opportunity to put your opinions and ideas across but are they really being listened to? I think that’s something that needs to be worked on.”

Anna Fletcher, Milton Park’s Marketing and Communications Manager, agrees: “For me the biggest challenge is the need to dismantle the stereotypes within the industry to encourage more women to consider a career in property. We can do this by standing up, making our voices heard and inspiring others.”

Meanwhile, Milton Park’s Sustainability and Community Manager, Veronica Reynolds, says finding the right balance between family and work is still an issue many women have to contend with: “Despite the massive strides that have been made in terms of equality of opportunity, women are often still faced with the challenge of balancing a family with their career. As more women rise to senior positions, there is definitely more understanding of how difficult that can be, especially for a young family or women who often take on the majority of the caring burden for elderly relatives.”

Finally, we asked the team to each share one piece of advice that they would give to a woman – be that a new graduate, someone fancying a career change or looking to progress in their chosen career.

Anna Fletcher: “Be yourself.”

Nikki Gibson: “This advice is not just for women, it’s for anyone looking to enter an industry or change vocation, be it into the property sector or anything else. If you have the right attitude, passion for work and dedication, I believe there is nothing you cannot achieve.”

Veronica Reynolds: “Don’t try too hard to compete. Find the thing(s) that you are really good at and focus on delivering those to the best of your ability. Women tend to work more collaboratively – something that employers are now starting to value more and more. Seek out those women who want to collaborate and will help you achieve your potential.”

Clare Fleet: “The piece of advice I say to myself is: “what would Gen Z do” – I think the newest generation are the most inclusive, and they question the norm and discard any pre-existing behaviours that are probably ingrained in a lot of us.”

Zoë Allen: “Take those risks and be brave whether that is going for an interview at a job you may not get or going for that promotion – what have you got to lose?”

Kathryn Andrew: “Just give it a go!”

As we continue to look for ways to improve gender diversity in the property industry, it’s important to think about how we can inspire the next generation.

Later this year, Henley Business School, part of the University of Reading, will be running its Pathways to Property Summer School.

Now in its tenth year, the Summer School is a fully funded, four-day residential programme at the University of Reading for Year 12 students. During the week, students will attend taster lectures, go on site visits, take part in a group project and debate, learn to network with key employers in the industry and experience life on a university campus. All individuals will be provided free accommodation and food and their travel expenses to Reading will be covered.

At the end of the week, if they are keen to learn more about property they can complete a funded work experience placement over October half term, have access to an e-mentoring programme, and if they choose to apply to study a property related degree at university, they can apply for a bursary of up to £30,000 over three years.

If you or anyone you know might be interested in applying, please visit the Henley Business School website for more information.

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