By Beth Hampson, Commercial Director, The Argyll Club
There are more CEOs named Peter running a FTSE 100 company than there are female CEOs across the entire UK. Working in the commercial real estate industry, this fact certainly chimes with me. It is normal for me to sit in financial negotiations or industry panels and often be the only woman. I’m sometimes surprised that this is still the case but reading statistics about the number of Peters in the world of British business makes us all realise that there is more to be done to ensure that more women can take a seat at the boardroom table.
Being a young woman in real estate
At the age of 26, just four years after I graduated from university, I was appointed as a Director of The Argyll Club. As one of London’s leading flexible office providers, we offer businesses premium workspaces in 38 prestigious locations. I have worked hard to quickly climb the ranks of this long-standing real estate company, which sits at the heart of the typically male-dominated world of London real estate.
Although at The Argyll Club I am fortunate to be surrounded by a management team comprised of strong professional females, this is not the norm for real estate. In fact, a report commissioned by PwC found that at the start of 2020 the boards of UK property companies were only 22% female.
This issue is synonymous in many professional services industries – whether that is finance, accounting or consultancy. As such, in 2021, exiting a national lockdown for the third and hopefully final time, how can our industries do more to better these shocking statistics? Ultimately, I believe it is all about seeing it to believe it.
At The Argyll Club, I have always made it a priority to select a diverse team and appoint and promote talent fairly; my ‘number 2’s’ have predominately been female. During my seven years in management, I have mentored several women who have gone on to secure director or head of department roles, and still get in touch for advice now. To create real change, this is the key for me: ambitious women helping other talented women to achieve leadership positions by mentoring and skill-sharing. My experience demonstrates that you can be young, female and powerful in the property sector.
The crux of this issue is ensuring that women secure C-suite positions and close deals in front of the men who assume that women are not able to do so. We have to create visual change. After all, how can we alter a deep-rooted industry’s perception of women in business – or indeed these women’s opinions of their own potential – if they can’t see examples in front of them?
How can 2021 be a catalyst?
For me, the key to a more inclusive real estate industry is skill-sharing; something that can be mirrored across any business structure. To change the dialogue around women in property, we need to get more women talking about women in property. They must have difficult conversations, request greater responsibility and present their case for promotion. But, to get there, we must build their confidence and develop their skillsets.
To do so, we must come together. As the nation exits lockdown in the weeks ahead and the work from home message begins to lift, it is crucial for the development of young female professionals that teams begin to work together in offices again and have those daily opportunities to learn from seniors and mentor juniors.
Conversations with our customers across the wealth management and financial services sectors echo this. They have fed back that there is a limit to how much skill-sharing and knowledge exchange can take place over a Zoom call. For their teams to continue to develop, they are eager to get them back into offices, so they can learn from each other in-person.
Consider how much you absorb by just listening to a senior colleague deftly tackle a sensitive client matter on the phone, or the management skills you take on-board when overhearing them brief a junior. Future leaders have lost out on all of these experiences over the past 12 months. Surely this will have played some part in stunting the career trajectories of many professionals, including women?
To get our future female leadership generation back on track, in-person exchanges and collaborative working are critical – even if it is only a few times a week to accommodate for greater remote working. Seeing change encourages you to become part of that change, and we must ensure that future leaders can work alongside these change-makers in-person.