A Quiet Revolution

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Joanne McIvor - Property Partner, Edwin Coe LLP

There seems to be a quiet revolution taking place in the real estate sector.  For many years, hotel operators have leveraged off their reputation and have monetised their branding. In the hotel sector, to be a successful hotelier you need to be first class at running hotels but you do not necessarily have to own or even have a long lease of the underlying hotel real estate asset. A well-drawn management agreement will usually provide adequate security and the mutual financial benefit sought by the owner of the property and the operator.

In this modern technology driven world, this separation of "operation" from "ownership" is a tried and tested business model. No longer small start-ups, Uber and Airbnb have become household names with valuations of $68.5bn and $30bn, respectively, - valuations which are higher than many of their traditional counterparts. These "disrupters" have demonstrated that an innovative business model can make a significant impact on an established market.  Airbnb is now one of the largest global accommodation businesses but it owns no hotels or apartments. Uber is one of the largest global taxi businesses but it owns no taxis or cars. Alibaba is the biggest online retailer but with no stock.

The real estate industry is ideally placed to take advantage of these innovative and successful business models. Intermediaries that have a proven track record in service delivery are embracing this new thinking.  Traditionally, the property investment industry has been driven and constrained by the need to satisfy the demands of real estate lenders who have only been prepared to lend if: (a) there is a long lease; (b) let to a good tenant offering a strong covenant; and (c) on terms that provide a  "clear" income for the owner. With the opening up of the real estate lending market to new entrants, new thinking is emerging.

In the serviced office market, operators view with envy the hotel operating structure and evidence suggests that these providers are now exploring structuring their operations in the same way. Exploiting their core skillset in providing services, these serviced office operators are now pure operators and avoiding the heavy capital cost and administrative burden of actually owning the real estate from which these operations are run.   By adopting this approach, service operators are able to significantly expand their operations. By utilising appropriately drawn management and operational agreements, asset owners can secure a healthy return from their real estate holdings if they are willing to explore new arrangements and are free of the constraint of having to satisfy a traditional real estate bank lender.  Other areas of real estate investment that are open to this form of structure include PRS, student accommodation, elderly care and retirement living. In each case, these are all sectors where operational expertise is more important than actually owning the underlying property.

Clearly pursuing this line of operational investment involves a completely different mind-set from the financing point of view and will involve bankers and lenders being far more corporate and taking a far more business-like approach to real estate lending. It also requires the legal advisers to be more commercial in their approach and outlook than perhaps traditionally has been the case with real estate lawyers.

We can only hope that in the future all those involved in real estate from funding to conveyancing will have the vision to adapt to this new environment. That, in particular, real estate lenders will in future find the means to make funds available for development and construction, notwithstanding that the end product is to be occupied on an operational basis rather than on the terms of a traditional long lease.

Building a better workforce

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Rachel Bell, Chairman of WiP South West branch 

How is our industry going to attract more women?  In 2016, Randstad reported that women are expected to make up a quarter of the UK's construction workforce by 2020, just three short years away.  Currently, the industry quotes anything from 11 - 15% depending on the sector, so 25% is encouraging…but…and there are a lot of 'buts'.  We already know where the problems lie, for example a flexible working environment, career progression, the pay gap.  What is the industry going to do about it?

WiP South West wanted to find out more about what women want from work, although this isn't about women per se, because many of the issues impact both women and men. We wanted to examine why women remain under-represented, what can be done to improve retention and also look at the practicalities of work, for example around women returners and parental leave.

We joined forces with Gapsquare, a leading provider of pay gap analysis and executive research consultants, Rosemont partnership, and together we undertook a piece of research.  We distributed a survey to representatives, men and women, from all sections of the property and construction market, asking questions on three core areas - Education, Skills and Training; Recruitment; and Retention and Benefits.  The majority of respondents were aged between 25-44, with 72% female, 26% male and the remainder listed as other.

Here's a snapshot of the results, which were presented in detail, at our "Building: A Better Workforce" Report launch in early November.

It seems that over 30% of those questioned leave their jobs after two years or less, with employers losing some very highly qualified people.  While there do appear to be plenty of female role models, only 12% are in a managerial role and, perhaps unsurprisingly, 74% said they don't have a mentor.  As WiP members know, mentoring is a core benefit and one which really helps people achieve their goals, including career progression. The leaky retention pipeline has long been a problem in the industry.  Those employers experiencing this haemorrhage of talented female staff should explore their own policies, including training, promotion and access to mentoring.

We also learned that the vast majority of roles are still traditional full or part time, at nearly 80% of respondents, with only 16% saying their role was flexible, this being a particular problem for both women and men, around the family years.  And, relating this back to the low number of women in managerial roles, suggests that women haven't been able to sustain their career following a break for children.  Yet flexible working was cited as being the overwhelming benefit of choice…if only it was available in the majority of workplaces.  And flexible working isn't just about women returning, having had children. There was discussion around how one asks for flexible working when you don't have children.  This is about highlighting how it makes the employee work more efficiently and productively, as well as strengthening their loyalty to their employer.  A win win for all.

This feedback probably feels familiar because it endorses what most of us already know. The question is, what do we do about it?  I've already referred to the need for employers to address training, career development and, above all, flexibility.  People really aren't very interested in gym memberships as a benefit, when basic work-life balance is missing. 

During the audience discussion at our report launch, the point was made that, as we are designing-in flexible work environments and breakout spaces into schools and universities, it follows that when those generations enter the workforce, they will have expectations of flexibility there too.  In other words, employers, ignore flexible working at your peril!

The industry as a whole must look at how it inspires and attracts new talent - and this starts in school - selling it as a vibrant, diverse and fulfilling arena to work in.  A comment made at the report launch pointed out that we need discussion in schools and universities on the myriad of jobs on offer, not all site-based roles, in order to attract talent from non-construction-based disciplines.

Women themselves must make sure they're visible, both within their own work structures and to the next generation.  The importance of both role models and sponsors was raised by the audience, something which is currently lacking in the industry.  Related to this are the number of young people, but especially women, who lack confidence.  They need assistance through training or tutoring in order to be able to advance within the profession.

It is really important to note that there are plenty of good things happening too.  We have had great feedback from companies in the South West who are actively introducing flexible working practices that are helping boost retention and productivity and we know there are some fabulous role models out there.  Collectively, they must be the industry's inspiration.  

If you would like to read the survey results, please click here.

Please discuss with your employers/employees and feed back to us any positive improvements you have been implementing so we can share updates and success stories next year.

46% of Female Construction Workers Suffer from Mental Illness

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In a survey of 3,400 people who work in the construction industry, Randstad have reported that a huge 46% of female construction workers suffer from mental illness.

As well as nearly half of the women surveyed saying they currently deal with a mental illness, 34% of both male and female construction workers have experienced mental health issues at some stage in the past year. Almost ¼ quarter of those surveyed said their mental health is making them consider a career change, and there are key differences in terms of age too, with older workers much less likely to discuss their mental health issues than younger people. This is down to younger people being more willing to "open up" to superiors.

The report puts a much-needed spotlight on the industry and the rapid growth of mental illness within it.

1 in 4 people in the UK will suffer a mental illness at some point in their lives showing how prevalent the issue is, but for the stats to be so much higher in the construction industry specifically shows that some serious questions need to be asked. More support and education is clearly needed as 20% of workers turn to alcohol and cigarettes to self-medicate as opposed to seeking help. This statistic is especially troubling given the long-term health conditions and dependencies these activities can lead to.

But it's not all doom and gloom. Last month, the charity Mind reported that 3/4 of line managers feel confident in supporting a team member with a mental health issue. That's a positive step in the right direction if employers create an environment where men and women of all ages can discuss their mental health and get the support they need.

Ultimately, if the construction sector doesn't become more supportive of and educated about mental health then the statistics collated by Randstad will only get worse. It's therefore up to employers to step up and provide support and really look after their staff to retain a healthier and happier workforce.

‘Shift in women in property in recent years has been seismic’

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Rebecca Fritsche, 31, is a property manager with London estate agent Horton and Garton.

How did you get into the property industry, and what attracted you to it?

I became fascinated with the industry in late 2006 when a female friend of mine drew it to my attention. Her ambition, drive and hard work quickly catapulted her to the top and I knew I could achieve the same progression if I applied myself. Watching her excel drove me towards the industry and I haven't looked back. There's very little nepotism in estate agency. In my experience, if you are a fast learner, have the work ethic and are client-focused, you'll go far. I now work for an independent, owner-run agency in west London with a superb staff retention rate that also happens to be the market leader in Hammersmith.

The property sector - from construction to estate agents and landlords - is well known for being mostly dominated by men, with women performing traditional support roles such as secretarial work and administration. Have you seen this change, so that more women are getting into top roles in property companies?

Absolutely. I'm happy to report that the shift in recent years has been seismic. I have many girlfriends who are now front-line agency managers and one of the west London agencies I've worked in was 100% female. Agency is very much performance-driven, so if you outperform your male colleagues, you'll end up running the show. In property management, which is a behind-the-scenes role, it's about your ability to successfully liaise with contractors, councils, tenants, landlords and the front-of-house lettings team. I have to make everyone happy 100% of the time. It's a juggling act, but one I thoroughly enjoy.

What about pay? Is there a gender pay gap in the UK property sector?

From the agency side, not that I've ever experienced. Your pay in estate agency is tied to your (and, to an extent, your manager's) performance. It's how hard you work and how good you are at your individual role - which, to me, is the joy of this particular branch of property.

Have you encountered any difficulties as a woman working in the lettings and general management area of property?

Rather interestingly, I've never felt any preconceptions or difficulties because of my gender. Rather, my professionalism has been questioned a time or two because I look younger than my years. On multiple occasions I've had landlords ask me my age as they're nervous I might not have the necessary experience. As a result, I've had to work much harder to win business. Having to constantly reassure our landlords that they have a safe pair of hands looking after their properties is something I'm now accustomed to. I have over a decade of experience in the industry, am proud of my fastidious and thorough approach to management - and I'm all too happy to remind our new landlords when needed.

What challenges do you think you face as a woman in this industry?

Fortunately, I've never once felt underestimated because of my gender. I've worked for companies that promote equality in the workplace and elevate top performers regardless of gender. Having never experienced the glass ceiling is unique, I realise, and I feel very blessed. I know exactly how I'd react should I ever encounter gender bias in the future... I'd hit the door running! I'd like to take this opportunity to reassure women in property that there absolutely are estate agencies out there which will value your contribution and promote you straight to the top, regardless of your gender. The career progression is there if you are brave enough to take the plunge and dive into what is still undoubtedly a male-dominated industry.

In your job with Horton and Garton, you work with landlords in London to rent out their properties. What do you find they are looking for most of all in a lettings agent?

The best agencies are proactive, honest, ethical, know the local market, employ experienced staff and have a genuine investment in the local community. Our landlords want to know they're number one and their interests come first. If you ever encounter an agency with an ulterior motive that doesn't subscribe to "The Client Is King" mantra, lace up your Nikes and run a mile. This is a client-focused industry and if you don't deliver that customer service, you'll never succeed. At Horton and Garton, our team stand out because almost all of us live and work in west London, in the postcodes we serve. It's special to be able to bring a resident's perspective to agency.

How would you describe the London property market now, and why?

The pace is absolutely relentless in our office. We're now in the summer months, which is our busiest season for lettings. I keep hearing about the market slowing down and from my perspective that simply hasn't happened. If anything, we're busier than ever. The sales market slowing down has meant our lettings department has found an uptake in applicants registering and, as we're market leaders with an established reputation, we're securing more properties to let every day. Even with complex council-enforced licensing that has come into effect in recent weeks, we're finding ways to work with and for our landlords, upgrading our services to them, to ensure every box is ticked and all legal requirements are met. The licensing might have ushered in a cooler period, but instead, we've mitigated the complexity for our landlords and are carrying on as ever.

What effect do you think Brexit is having on the overall UK property market?

From my desk, I haven't seen any effect. Our sales team has certainly seen an impact, with vendors holding their collective breath and waiting to see what happens over the past 18 months or so. This has meant more Londoners are renting before buying and we're rushed off our feet in lettings. The sales market has softened and it's much more of a buyer's marketplace now, with an adjustment in prices and expectations from a vendor's and buyer's perspective. However, now that this painful adjustment period seems to be coming to an end, and the market is flooded with outstanding mortgage products. Our sales team are finding a marked increase in property coming to market and serious buyers looking to purchase. This week, we've had two properties in 48 hours receive asking price offers in Chiswick and Hammersmith... so it's not all doom and gloom, but a well-considered asking price is the key to generating interest, competition and, ultimately, success for the vendor.

Do you think the landlord business is a good one to get into, including for women?

Yes, of course. It is a huge achievement to own your slice of real estate and can provide, in the long run, a sense of stability and security. The term "safe as houses" is apt.  A word of warning, though: don't overstretch yourself. No-one can predict the future and if we dip into a period of recession, you won't want to experience the pain of negative equity - even in the short term.

Are people becoming landlords as a side-business to their day job or is it something that many are involved in on a full-time basis? That is, can you generate enough revenue to make a career out of it?

These days, you have to be very canny to be able to quit your day job. If you are building a portfolio, make sure to have your eye on the tax implications which are being phased in by the government. Buy-to-let investors are now unable to offset all of their mortgage interest against their profits and, within three years, none of the interest will be tax-deductible. This means that landlords will pay more tax, and in some cases will be taxed on non-existent profits. Landlords need to be prepared and have a tax adviser and mortgage broker to hand to help them navigate the gathering storm. Some landlords are selling their buy-to-let investments which might otherwise drown them in tax bills. Others are snapping up "Brexit Bargains" via a company in order to dodge tax changes. This is despite incurring a potentially massive capital gains tax bill. At the very least, landlords need to re-examine their mortgage products; with jaw-dropping rates going at the moment, they'd be mad not to, as there are serious savings to be made.

Give us your top three tips for someone looking to get into the London property sector and become a landlord. How would they go about it?

Get to know your local agents. Make friends with them. Be in regular contact so you are front-of-mind when a property comes to market. Know the marketplace and be a pessimist when calculating your return on investment. Know, beyond doubt, what your yield will be. If it rains, you want to have an umbrella to hand. Save, save, save and start looking at mortgage products when you have enough put away to take the plunge so that you're set to pounce when you see your ideal buy-to-let.

How are you hoping to develop your career in property?

I am quite happy "back of house" as a property manager at the moment, but when my son is more independent, I plan to return to the front-line again. I feel valued, appreciated and listened to by the director and also our lettings manager. If you're the best at what you do, you'll be able to cherry-pick your employer, and they'll be able to cherry-pick you. I'm very blessed to have a director who has allowed me to work 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, which allows me to have that much-sought-after and coveted work-life balance. That being said, once our son is school age, wild horses couldn't keep me from jumping back into a negotiator's chair. Property is my passion - this is my career and I wouldn't change it for the world.

Views from a Winner

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Kimberley Airey, winner of WiP North West Student Awards 2017

BA Environment and Planning, University of Liverpool

The first time I heard about the Association of Women in Property was upon my nomination for the 2017 National Student Awards and I now wish I had heard about WiP much sooner. Aside from winning the award for the North West region, I have found the entire experience truly eye-opening.

Upon my initial nomination in October 2016, I found a renewed motivation to push myself to realise my potential. The Awards took me out of the comfort zone of university and into a new challenge. Before this experience I had spent time with local councils in the planning departments but struggled to get a foot in the door in the private sector.  WiP propelled me into the private sector, where I not only met some truly inspirational people but also some of the most helpful.  

I soon learnt that training and inspiring the next generation of women in property is high on everyone's agenda. Making connections with people in the industry has helped me gain real world experience in the private sector, where I have developed a greater understanding of how the industry works and found that I really quite enjoyed it.

Through an introduction from one of the Awards judges, Naomi Burrell of Linden Homes who are also a national sponsor and major supporter of the Student Awards, I managed to secure a placement with the North West branch of their parent company, Galliford Try PLC.  Here I was introduced to experienced, knowledgeable people and also some of the friendliest I have met so far in my pursuit of a career in the industry.   Having spent time with the land, technical, and sales team I was able to learn a lot more about the role in a practical sense, to aid my understanding throughout my degree. It has been a wonderful experience to meet people who are so eager to share their knowledge and accommodate an undergraduate student who wants to learn. It can be very daunting to meet experts in the industry when you are just starting out but at every stage of the process I felt encouraged to learn from these people and not be afraid to ask questions.

I viewed the Awards process as a challenge to develop my skills and my confidence. I thought if the only thing that came of it was experience in interviews and bettering my interviewing technique, then the process would still be extremely valuable. I left the interview with the judges thinking 'I wish I had said this' or 'I wish I had elaborated on that'.  In my next interview, for the National award, I will make sure I do say 'this' and I do 'elaborate on that'.  Fortunately, I gained much more than experience in interviews but they have given me a boost in confidence and developed my skills, which I will take with me into future interviews. 

The process has also helped to clarify which sector of the industry I would like to pursue and have a definitive interest in, through helping me secure placements and make connections that are valuable for my future progression. Similarly, I found the networking process to be extremely useful as I met inspirational women, experts in their field, who wanted to talk to me too. This was a wonderful introduction to the world of networking and I will be attending more networking events in the future as I not only found it helpful but also very enjoyable. Meeting the other students of the North West was equally useful. The caliber of contestants was clearly very high and I enjoyed meeting them and discussing our experience, degrees, and plans.

Having won the North West Award, I have certainly gained a new level of confidence and pride in my ability. However, if I hadn't won, I would still say the experience has been incredibly useful.  I am looking forward to meeting more people in the industry as the Awards process progresses. The Mentoring aspect is a unique and valuable opportunity which I would not have benefitted from without the WiP Awards.  The opportunity to practice our interview techniques, meet high profile professionals and get that all-important foot-in-the-door is something for which I will be forever grateful and I will enter the property industry with a strong drive to learn, succeed, and contribute.

Inspiring the next generation...

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Lorna Brown, WiP National Student Awards Champion

Over the last few weeks I have met some truly inspiring young women.  In my inaugural year as Awards Champion for Women in Property's National Student Awards and the 11th year for the Awards themselves, I have been privileged to join some of the regional judging panels.  Sitting alongside a range of industry professionals, I wasn't the only judge to be both wowed and delighted by the enthusiasm, talent and emerging skills of these undergraduates.

The WIP National Student Awards is an area I am passionate about so here is a brief summary of how the Awards came about. The Awards were launched as a 'one off' to celebrate WiP's 20th anniversary back in 2007.  They were such a success for participants and employers that they have run on and we now find ourselves some 813  students later, assessing the class of 2017 from an even bigger range of Universities and courses.

Open to second year (third in Scotland) students studying a built environment degree, we ask Universities to nominate their best female students, one per degree course, which could include any discipline from Surveying to Architecture, Engineering to Planning, Landscape Design to Property Finance.  2017 is a record year with 105 students being nominated, from Universities across the UK.

After an initial round of judging in each of WiP's branch areas followed by awards and networking events in the spring and early summer, the regional winners go before a national judging panel in September.  The same night they experience the celebration of a 'Best of Best' black tie Awards dinner, when one of the 13  finalists will be announced as the 2017 national winner. This year the event will be held on 20th September, at Claridge's - put it in your diary, it is a night to remember and has become, in my view, one of the most enjoyable evenings on the industry calendar.

During the first round of interviews, the students are asked about a specific piece of coursework or project. We talk about diversity, role models, current affairs, ambition. This is a valuable opportunity for them to practice their presentation skills, meet high profile industry professionals and test their networking know-how.  As judges we cast our minds back to when we were at that stage in our education.  Would we have been this confident, this sharp, this articulate?

We are extremely grateful for the time the judges dedicate to this process.  However, I believe there is mutual benefit for judges and participants.  Judges are in the enviable position of meeting some truly superb future recruits, ahead of the wider industry. We have had instances in the past where judges have been so keen to recruit certain students, they have actually got into 'recruitment wars'. As a 2nd year undergrad, this is a very unusual position to be in.  Furthermore, the majority of these girls find themselves with summer work placements, internships and graduate placements, all thanks to the opportunity the Awards programme presents.  The Universities (44 this year) also benefit; with student employability a key target for them, the kudos of having finalists, winners and work placements as part of this package is certainly a terrific sales tool for their institutions.

These students are the future stars of our industry. It is clear that our University Built Environment faculties have some very bright, ambitious young women.  This is great news for the industry because we are going to need them, more now than ever before.  We have an impending skills crisis, particularly with the unknown quantity of Brexit on the horizon, so encouraging as many young women as possible to enter - and stay - in the industry is critical.  It should be unthinkable that we will lose some of these women at a later stage, because the industry is only just waking up to the very real issues of retention, flexible hours, agile working and the mid-career issue.  Unfortunately, that is another story, for another blog.

The Gender Pay Gap

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Rachael Sherratt, Associate Director, NOMA Architects

WiP South West Committee Member

Last week I attended the Women in Property SW event on the 'Gender Pay Gap - how to reduce it and why'. Hosted by RPC Law at their Bristol office, there were over 20 attendees and 3 expert speakers:

  • Zara Nanu, founder of Gapsquare, a tool for calculating the gender pay gap within your business
  • Patrick Brodie, specialist employment lawyer with RPC
  • Sarah Pinch, MD of Pinch Point Communications, ex-President of the CiPR and Non-Exec board member

The event kicked off with each of the speakers talking about their own specific area of expertise and then moved on to a question & answer session. Zara explained how the construction industry currently has one of the highest gender pay gaps in the UK. Put simply, this means that within construction, women are less likely to appear in senior roles - meaning either a career break to have a family or the desire to work flexibly to fit around family life, is something which is pushing women into more junior roles when compared to their equally-competent male counterparts. This is also apparent when promotions become labelled as time-dependent - e.g. after 6 years service. Or if a senior role is labelled as 'full-time' - just because it always has been, rather than because it has been assessed and determined it needs to be. As Sarah debated "we need a road map of how to get more women into senior positions". In business terms, research has shown that broad diversity within both ethnicity and gender enhances creativity and market reach in that business. The Federation of Small Businesses has even published a report on 'Women in Enterprise: The Untapped Potential'. So if it makes good business sense, why aren't all senior executives demanding it? Potentially with the new legislation they will be. There is intention for the government to start publishing league tables of companies on a sector-by-sector basis which means their gender pay gap will suddenly become a PR/ marketing tool. Patrick said that the reporting requirement and in particular the narrative used by a company to support and add colour to the reported statistical data will for organisations which lead on the diversity and inclusion agenda act as powerful "mechanism for the engagement,retention and recruitment of people", speaking directly to the principles and strength of inclusion, collaboration and diversity throughout and particularly at the higher levels of a company . And when the cost of replacing a member of staff can be upwards of £30,000, it suddenly becomes a fairly key part of a HR programme.

Currently the new legislation only requires companies with 250 or more employees to report their gender pay gap, however employees in the room who worked for companies which fall into that category had received no information about it from their employers, so it will be interested to see how upfront and open companies actually are about results in advance. The Women and Equalities Committee have also asked the government to consider lowering the threshold immediately to 100;  the hope is that many more companies will aim to get ahead of the game, take a lead and look to assess their gender pay gap in order to work out ways of reducing it if applicable. The tool at www.gapsquare.com is a free report/analysis guide - all you need is payroll data for the month of April (or specifically for 6th April) and it will clearly set out what your gender pay gap is. All members were urged to talk within their businesses about looking into this tool to see if they can be part of the movement to make a difference.  

Sarah also highlighted that there is also current opportunity (before 12 April) to input into the government response to the gender pay gap by commenting or submitting a question to Justine Greening, Secretary of State, here: http://bit.ly/2otVCdr . I am currently thinking of a number of questions and it would be great if plenty of other Women in Property members looked to submit questions too.

The event ended on a constructive note of what we should all be doing to work together for change, both for ourselves and for the next generation.  Underlying sexism (whether conscious or sub-conscious) should always be picked up on and challenged. We need to applaud and highlight women as role models within our sectors - the more we can tell the story of current achievements, the more we can reassure the next generation that things are changing. We also need to talk to one another about salaries and promotions, and get involved with mentoring (both as a mentor and a mentee) to ensure we are being given that opportunity to discuss problems and establish solutions. I am a member of the Women in Property mentoring scheme and I would strongly urge other members who aren't yet signed up, to contact your branch representative to get involved. Together we can work to #BeBoldForChange

Lean in - shout out

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Sandi Rhys Jones, Rhys Jones Consultants

Leader of the WiP Mentoring Scheme

Triggered by current events, this post is about audibility as well as visibility, the right both to speak and to be listened to with respect - or 'How to be heard when your voice is softer,' as I say when delivering management and career development training. This can be a tall order, whether you are project manager on a construction site, a newly promoted member of a Board or a politician working in a tribal time warp.

"When a woman stands up, she is told to shut up and sit down.…But I will tell you that women are tired that different rules are applied to us in a different way." These words were spoken last week on CNN by the doughty Barbara Mikulski, the longest serving woman in the US State Congress who has just retired after 30 years.

Retired she may be, but retiring she is not. Her forceful words were made after Senator Elizabeth Warren was rebuked and then prevented from reading a 30 year old letter from Martin Luther King's widow Coretta at the confirmation proceedings for Jeff Sessions, the controversial candidate for the post of Attorney General.  The unprecedented rebuke of Warren was roundly condemned by many, with Mikulski accusing senators of selectively employing the rule book, supporting her claim by giving examples of men who have made direct personal attacks without censure.

 "I see this as a pattern of behaviour," said Barbara Mikulski. "Women stand up in the boardroom, the workplace and now even on the Senate floor, where we have the same job, and the rules, they're applied differently to us and they were applied differently to Elizabeth Warren."

The challenge for a woman is not only being heard, but also protecting her intellectual property when someone around the table takes ownership by repeating her words - to a roar of approval. That is when having a champion, sponsor or supportive colleague is so important. And last week in the Senate, there were four male colleagues who stood up to the plate after Elizabeth Warren was silenced and proceeded to read the same letter - without interruption.

Certainly Barbara Mikulski has plenty of wise words to share, after an extraordinary career for which she was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. She was the first woman elected to the Senate who did not have a husband or father who served in high political office. She was also the first woman to chair the Senate Appropriations Committee and served on many others including Health, Education, Labor, Pensions and the Select Committee on Intelligence. A tireless campaigner, one of her recent achievements was to push through legislation on equal pay for women.

Back to the importance of acknowledging and listening to different views, with respect. When the number of women in the Senate rose to 20, Barbara Mikulski organised bipartisan dinners for all her female colleagues, Republic and Democrat alike, with the inviolable rule that 'the event was a zone of civility even when we disagreed.' A rule to be welcomed in workplaces on both sides of the Atlantic.  

Mikulski warns that the Warren incident will have a long lasting effect on women's activism, referring to the hundreds of thousands of women who have marched in protest against the newly appointed 45th President of the USA and the policies and behaviour he embodies. Like many of the men and women I marched with in London on 21 January, I find it difficult to believe that in 2017 we are still dealing with so many of the same discriminatory practices and attitudes that women protested about a century ago, but there is a growing determination to bring about change.

As I was finishing this post, Sandi Toksvig was echoing these sentiments on BBC Woman's Hour and talking about the importance of women speaking for what they want and deserve to get. In particular she called for equal pay - a topic of much personal conjecture when she took over from Stephen Fry as host of the tv programme QI.

So what can we do? We should shout out our thanks to the increasing number of men who are supporting the diversity cause - including Sir Patrick Stewart, Simon Callow, Sir Ian McKellen who added their powerful voices and presence to the Women's March London. We should provide practical and realistic ways of assisting management to make change.

And like Sandi Toksvig, Meryl Streep, Barbara Mikulski and Elizabeth Warren, more women should shout out for themselves, for others who need support and to remind people of their presence. Like Rose AnnVuich, who became the first female member of the California State Senate in 1977 and who rang a bell whenever her fellow Senators addressed the collective members of the Senate as "Gentlemen," to remind them that the chamber was no longer exclusively male.

This story reminds me of my time on the board of a construction and property company. Unlike the FT columnist Lucy Kelleway, who does not believe that women non executives should promote or support women in the workplace, I was active in helping the company increase its proportion of women from 13% to 30% - in addition to carrying out the usual responsibilities of governance, audit and risk management.

On stepping down from the board after seven years, I presented the chairman with a mason's gavel and block with the request that it be used to open every board meeting with the statement "Remember, the best person for the job might be a woman."

Killer Heels?

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Sandi Rhys Jones, Rhys Jones Consultants

Leader of the WiP Mentoring Scheme

'Dress like a woman' is the latest dictat emanating from the White House to female staff, triggering witty and withering responses from women who are posting photographs of themselves appropriately clothed to fly helicopters, perform autopsies, command ships, fight fires, administer communion, race cars, and so on. In other words, jobs where the Ivanka Trump workwear range of high heels and figure hugging sheath dresses might pose a clear and present danger to the wearers and their customers.

But whilst President Donald Trump may currently be the most prominent - and deserving - misogynist target for feminine ire, he is not alone in demanding stereotypical dress wear for women at work. Only last week the UK Government published its report High heels and workplace dress codes: urgent action needed. The report condemns the frequent flouting of existing law against discriminatory dress codes and calls for a new framework and increased penalties for employers who breach it.

Triggered by a petition started by a woman sent home without pay when she arrived for work in flat shoes rather than the high heels stipulated by the employment agency, the two committees set up to investigate were inundated with examples of workplace discrimination, including demands that women wear high heels, revealing outfits and heavy make-up.

The ‪#DressLikeAWoman furore has set me thinking back many years, to the day I arrived at the City offices of my first job in London and was issued with a full length overall, buttoned from collar to hem and made of slippery blue nylon. To my amazement, I was told that this is what I had to wear over my clothes, every day, and on no account should I wear a belt. The reason? The company did not want their male staff to be distracted by the female form - until 4.00pm when a buzzer sounded and we women could emerge from our shapeless sacks and the chaps were allowed to smoke cigarettes for the final hour of the working day.

At the time when the City firm was insisting that its women staff cover up so as not to distract their male colleagues, rather than revealing more to attract clients and visitors, it was the swinging sixties. It was the time of Mary Quant, Barbara Hulanicki, Kiki Byrne. It was the time of mini skirts, hot pants, white boots, dramatic black eyeliner and bright pink lipstick. Body stockings and sheer tights were invented - perfect for those who, like me, crocheted our own short lacy frocks.

There were articles in the press about men asking for books on the top shelves of libraries and dropping items in shops to encourage short skirted assistants to reach up or bend down. So managers and HR departments may have thought that insisting all women staff wore blue overalls removed the need for tricky conversations with individuals who were perceived as pushing workwear boundaries.

It did not take me long to abandon the insurance company and its blue nylon overall to move into the heady, creative world of global advertising agency J Walter Thompson and then to spend three years as a fashion journalist. I would like to think that my memory of dressing distinctively yet appropriately for work, reserving the crocheted frocks, catsuits and eyeliner for leisure time, is a realistic one.

Then as my career progressed, and I became an employer, there were occasional tricky issues around staff dress and appearance. The most difficult one arose from the decision to introduce 'dress down Friday.' It soon became apparent that the art of smart casual is a rare skill, particularly amongst British men. After a few weeks of grubby jeans, tired sweaters, down at heel footwear and so on the experiment came to an end - and nobody objected.

I became increasingly involved in promoting and supporting women in construction, including the Purple Boots campaign in 2010 to make properly sized workwear and protective clothing available for women. Dunlop responded by producing safety boots in women's sizes, but it wasn't until January 2016 that Transport for London (TfL) produced its first ever women's safety clothing range, following a successful six-week staff trial. The new range includes high-visibility jackets, trousers, gloves and adjustable eye protection and a tailoring service to ensure female staff have access to better-fitted, safer PPE.  

The TfL initiative is to be applauded of course, but there is a degree of irony in that the introduction of appropriate clothing was seen as a fitting celebration of 100 Years of Women in Transport.  It reminded me of the women fighter pilots in Japan whose reward in passing the rigorous training a few years ago was to be issued with properly fitting aviator kit.

So here we are, several decades from when I was obliged to don a blue overall to conceal my female form and we are living in a world where in some countries women are forced to cover themselves completely from the public eye by wearing the burqa or the niqab.  Meanwhile an increasing number of other countries forbid women from wearing such clothing and some businesses want their women staff to present themselves in a way that at best could be described as attractive and at worst, alluring.

Modesty or threat, freedom or protection - the issues around dress codes for women are complex. But it shouldn't be too difficult to agree reasonable guidelines for women working in democratic, mature countries. So congratulations to Nicola Thorp for setting up the petition that attracted more than 152,000 signatures and led to the UK Government report calling for an end to discriminatory dress codes in the workplace. At a time when people are questioning the effectiveness of protest, this is a great example of one determined individual succeeding in bringing about action.

Picture: US surgeon Rebecca Alleyne posted this picture on Twitter, saying That's me on the left wearing my favorite outfit ‪#DressLikeAWoman

WiP/CIBSE BREXIT round-up: "If 2016 is when we saw Brexit, 2017 will be the time when we see the consequences of it"

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Rachael Sherratt, Associate Director , NOMA Architects

WiP South West Branch Committee Member

Rachael Sherratt recently co-organised an event with CIBSE to debate BREXIT, hosted by ARUP. Here she gives us an overview of the discussion.

Last week The Association of Women in Property and CIBSE South-West held a joint event on BREXIT and the impact on the south-west construction industry. Attended by over 100 people, and kindly hosted by ARUP, the evening was full of insightful questions and expert opinion. The panel was chaired by Peter Bull, Director at ARUP and the expert panellists were:

- Hywel Davies, Technical Director CIBSE and government advisor

- Jo Davis, planner and Senior Director Bilfinger GVA

- David Gascoigne, Managing Director at pensions specialists Trigon Ltd

- Mark Alker Stone, Architect and Director at AWW

As we are frequently finding, the issue of the skills gap dominated conversation. Better training for young people is just the start. Jo Davis explained how it is an issue everyone working in construction needs to address in order to find a solution. Not only do we need to consider young people but also how to change the cycle of people aged 30-40 of all genders who become disillusioned with construction. Hywel Davies remarked that encouraging new employees of both genders, as well as retaining people, are both issues we can do something about with the right proactive attitudes. And when so much of the issues around Brexit are out of our control, it is essential we do face head-on anything that we have control over. As well as existing skills shortages, the construction industry may have to deal with further issues around non-UK nationals if Brexit policy dictates. Mark Alker Stone reiterated that 10% of the construction workforce was born outside the UK, and it isn't always the case that these are the lower paid, unskilled labourers - indeed on Hinckley they are very highly skilled specialists. So replacing such skills if Brexit brings about restrictions on non-UK workers will not be a quick or easy process. 

It is this level of uncertainty that is hitting the construction industry hardest, slowing growth and investment as David Gascoigne explained "we do not know what the landscape looks like, so investors are waiting to understand the landscape before making any decisions. If 2016 is when we saw Brexit, 2017 will be the time when we see the consequences of it". Owing to the uncertainty around this sector, rising inflation and collapse of the Sterling, investment has dropped massively. 64% of materials are procured from the EU therefore it is inevitable the currency issues we are facing will affect projects across the board and cross over into the labour market as well. As Jo Davis highlighted, deals being announced now were done prior to Brexit so these are not really an indicator of investment health post the Brexit vote. David Gascoigne remains optimistic that a positive outcome might be possible through overseas investment into the UK increasing owing to the fall in the value of Sterling. However investors are nervous, and projects with long term lets and indexation links are being considered safer havens for investment. This doesn't solve the issue that inflation will have an impact on construction costs. As Mark Alker Stone explained, contractors are already concerned when asked to tender for large projects not being let for 12-18 months owing to this level of uncertainty around inflation. Inevitably this will also lead to prices increasing. 

Hywel Davies reassured the room that the government has neither the time nor the money to re-write the 40,000 plus pieces of legislation in existence, and so a lot of the laws around the Climate Change Act, EPCs/SAPs, Eurocodes etc, will remain as is. The same applies to the majority of planing law, which is and always has been in the control of the UK government. One area that could hopefully change is the waste laws from the EU, which create barriers to reusing construction materials, so could have a positive outcome on cost and productivity if altered. Another positive outcome could be that procurement will not have to be via OJEU, which Jo Davis interprets as paving the way for more SMEs, or public and private sector partnerships. We are all well aware of the tightening belts in the public sector, and the delays that come hand in hand with local government. Therefore we need to be consciously looking to other partnerships for projects that have realistic expectations of moving forwards. That is not to say the government cannot do its part to help - indeed all the panellists agreed infrastructure is going to be critical moving forwards, and that is something which the government does have funding for. David Gascoigne explained that the Chancellor's 'Housing Infrastructure Fund', which is £2.3bn to deliver infrastructure to 100,000 houses in areas of high demand will be a positive outcome. The government acknowledge they need to increase growth and are trying to think of ways to stimulate this. However, this alone is not going to create sufficient positive outcomes for the construction industry. As Mark Alker Stone summarised, "we need to be innovative and smart". That means considering waste reduction, better use of technology, and better use of offsite construction. And thinking outside the box in all those areas. So offsite does not need to mean panels built in a factory a few hundred miles away, it could mean whole houses built a few thousand miles away in China, or skills outsourced across the world using BIM technologies. 

Whether the proposal that the UK needs to consider purchasing more products & skills from other countries in order to successfully feed its own construction industry will also in turn be detrimental to the manufacturing industry of the UK will remain to be seen. What is obvious though is that we all need to keep our eyes and ears open to the announcements of the government plans for Brexit which may even start filtering through this week, and be ready with an action plan.


Women in Property South West Branch Networking Mum’s Group

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Louise Gill, Associate, Curtins Consulting

WiP South West Branch Committee Member

My name is Louise Gill and I am an Associate leading the transport planning team at Curtins in Bristol. I provide professional advice to Developers seeking to bring forward sites for a whole range of land uses not just in Bristol but nationwide.  I offer advice on access issues, prepare Transport Assessments to consider the impact of development on the highways and transportation infrastructure and prepare and administer Travel Plans to encourage the use of alternative modes of transport rather than solo car use.  I am a senior member of staff with responsibility for a team of people in Bristol.  It is a busy and challenging role but equally rewarding. 

I am also the mother of two young children - Harry aged 8 and Emily aged 4.  Every morning, before going to work, my husband and I have to get both kids washed, dressed, breakfasted and dropped off at school and nursery on time.  All whilst getting ourselves ready as well!  And then in the evening, we have to be back to school and nursery to pick them up before any late collection fees kick in and then it's back home in order to organise dinner etc.  On top of this, we need to find time to deal with all the other admin that comes from having kids - paying fees for nursery, breakfast club, after school club, school trips etc., making sure they have clean clothes that fit, shopping and cooking so they (and we) are fed and so on.  And we try to make sure there is time left over to actually play with the children!  It is tough trying to juggle a professional career and raise a family, but there are lots of us who make it work successfully.  An understanding of how organisation, flexibility within the workplace and compromises are needed has been key to successfully juggling work and family life.

This is where The Association of Women in Property South West Branch's Networking Mums group can help.  We meet for lunch every other month in order to share our experiences of balancing family and work.  It is a great forum for mums on maternity leave to discuss their thoughts and concerns about returning to work and expectant mums can gain an insight into the amazing, but at times challenging 'world' they are about to enter.  It really is open to anyone who wants to have a chat or learn more about what it is like to be a working mum.  It is also really useful to understand what others are facing or have faced with similar challenges, and how they have come through them.  There are no formal speakers or presentations, it is more of a sub-network for people with similar experiences. 

Whilst I am currently responsible for organising and coordinating these lunches, the initiative was started by Laura Fuller of Burges Salmon who comments:

"I started this initiative when I was returning to work after the birth of my first child three and half years ago. For me personally, it is always immensely helpful to hear about other people's experiences, including from those who are some years ahead of me on the family path, and to know that you are not alone. Childcare isn't just a balancing act in the first few years but remains so for a long time, so understanding all the different types of working options out there and the choices people have made to make their lives work from both a family and career perspective has been immensely valuable. I hope Networking Mums will continue to be a valuable support network to the many other families out there striving to make that balance work for them."

By holding the informal Networking Mums Group at lunchtime, the hope is that all working mums, with children of any age, can attend from time to time without affecting their childcare arrangements.  If you have previously attended a Networking Mums Lunch, I hope to see you at another event soon.  If you have not attended before, perhaps not realising that you were eligible, please do come along to the next event. 

The next lunch in Bristol will be at the Watershed Café on Thursday 26th January 2017.  The lunch is open to both members and non-members.  Your children are also welcome.  There is no obligation to stay for any specific length of time and lunch is not compulsory - you could just come for a drink.  Please contact me, louise.gill@curtins.com, if you are intending to come along to a lunch or if you would like any further information.

Alternatively, please contact Natalie Barham, nlb@gardandco.com, if you would prefer to attend the Networking Mum's Lunches held in the Devon and Cornwall region.

West of England Devolution Deal - Don't be left in the dark, What Opportunities does it bring?

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Natasha Cottell, Business Development Manager, Wates

WiP South West Branch Chairman

The Association of Women in Property and the Forum for the Built Environment  recently jointly hosted over 100 hundred property professionals at an event to discuss the upcoming West of England Devolution deal, held at and sponsored by Burges Salmon. First announced in the March 2016 budget and signed on the 14th November by Bristol, Bath & North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire councils, the devolution deal will bring an impressive £1,004 per head of investment to the region - the best £/head deal agreed so far.

Key note speakers included Steve Evans, the Senior Responsible Officer for Planning, Housing and Transport in the WoE devolution deal, who argued this opportunity gives the region "a real seat at the table". Infrastructure demands will need to be addressed in order to secure investment to the region in a way which takes business and public opinion with it, if we are to meet the challenges and opportunities which growth presents.

He highlighted the need to learn from the challenges presented by the construction of MetroBus in the area if we are to gain public support for the scale of infrastructure investment needed particularly to tackle the growing problem of congestion. All parties agreed there is a real need to accelerate delivery of housing and to engage and engender public support in order to provide the additional homes the region needs to provide.

The skills shortage within the construction sector particularly was also identified as a problem which needs to be addressed with the additional powers and funding that the devolution deal will provide, particularly within the Adult Education Budget to be controlled locally from 2018/19. As explained by Adam Powell, Director of Skills from the West of England LEP, construction workforce requirements are predicted to grow nationally by 14.4% in the next 10 years - not just through increased workforce demand but also through replacement demand through an ageing workforce soon to enter retirement.

Focus will include an aim to improve equality and diversity in the sector - currently women account for a shockingly-low 7% of full-time construction industry workers, and when you look to the skills of the next generation, it is an even lower number - currently only 2% of apprentices across the West of England are women. This is something that needs to be addressed in order to improve the diversity of our workforce and help plug the skills gap. As well as diversity, the number of apprentices needs to grow significantly - a recent West of England LEP Skills Survey suggested that surprisingly only 29% of local construction companies employ apprentices. Through the devolution deal, a new local Apprenticeship Grant for Employers scheme offers grants of up to £2,500 to help small businesses in the sector meet apprenticeship recruitment costs with a view to raising this proportion. Aiming to encourage women as well as the younger generation as a whole to consider the variety of roles on offer within the construction industry will be an opportunity available through the devolution deal in order to tackle the skills gap - something which both WiP and the FBE are keen to support.

As summarised by Richard Bonner, UK Cities Director for Arcadis, the devolution deal is "an opportunity to genuinely improve the quality of life for future generations" and the general consensus from this session was that although there is a mountain to climb, there are also a huge number of opportunities here and with the wealth of talent we have within construction in the West of England coupled with a collaborative approach, there is surely a very real possibility of making a big difference to this industry if we open up to the upcoming devolution deal.

As a result of the discussion, Clive Woodford, FBE Great Western Chairman and myself, as South West Women in Property Chairman have agreed a feedback paper will be drafted and provided to the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership, suggesting recommendations on how to implement solutions to the areas of concern identified."

Does the housing industry need more “nasty women”?

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Anna Sabine-Newlyn is Chief Executive at Meeting Place Communications

It's a sad reflection of the housing industry in 2016 that the very fact of an all-female panel is worthy of comment.  Recently I was lucky enough to be on one (at the NHF London conference) and not only was it noted by the audience, it got several further mentions by others throughout the day.  An all-female panel!  A rare sight to behold…

The housing sector is growing ever more diverse, in terms of gender (and ethnicities), and it has long been a problem that what is reflected back at us - from panels, membership organisations and the media - is not representative of this.  In fact, I think it is something many of us have come to reluctantly take for granted.

It is always interesting to understand the different views on this question.  I have challenged staff at several events and organisations whose panels or materials are male dominated, and had two distinct responses.  The first is "Yes, it's a real issue, we are really trying to address it."  The second goes something along the lines of "We put people on panels because they're suitable, not because of their gender."  The former I have more sympathy for, but I still query whether well-meaning organisations are doing enough.  I find it hard to imagine there is a topic in UK housing where it wouldn't be possible to find a woman (or someone from a BME community) with some degree of expertise if you really tried hard enough. 

The latter response just leaves me (perhaps naively) open mouthed in amazement.  No one would suggest a panel member, or someone being sought for expert opinion in the press, should be chosen if they don't know what they're talking about.  But representation is self-perpetuating.  For example, the more women attend events, read the industry press, and see only male faces and views reflected back at them the more intimidating it is to put themselves forward for these things.  

In other areas of life this is being addressed.  The Parliament Project is a growing a campaign to encourage women to run for office in the UK, and at the moment is encouraging men and women to send e-postcards to women they know to encourage them to stand for office - recognising that self-belief is a large part of what holds women back. The Women's Room was set up in protest at the lack of female voices in the media - women with expertise in any field can register at TWR and when the media are looking for spokespeople, they have a ready-made database of female voices.

The housing industry has lots of great female groups, like Women in Property, which mainly exist as a chance to network and are undoubtedly helpful with women's careers.  But I wonder whether, on the issue of getting women to progress more visibly in the industry, it's time to focus on a more campaigning approach as well.  Perhaps, like Hillary Clinton's legions of female fans, we need a "nasty women" moniker - we need to actively challenge some of the approaches of colleagues and organisations in the industry and not be scared that if we do so, we will be labelled as 'difficult'. 

If we can't get ourselves organised in this way, then we shouldn't be surprised when all female panels remain as elusive as ever.

Pride Road: A Game Changer for Women in Architecture

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Lisa Raynes is a chartered architect, founder of architectural franchise Pride Road.

Past chairman of Women in Property North West.

How can anyone make a real difference for women in architecture, a profession overwhelmingly dominated by white males? I have been asking myself this question for the last five years, while running Raynes Architecture - my own practice in South Manchester. Today I know the answer. I know how female architects can be happy at their jobs again, proud of their hard won skills, earn stable income and still have plenty of time for their families. I set up Pride Road in order to share this knowledge.

I am a chartered architect with 19 years of professional experience across both residential and commercial sectors. Once I had my first child I wanted to work part time. Five years later, when I had my third child, the industry crashed and I was made redundant. Faced with unemployment and a young family to support I decided to set up my own practice.

I set up Raynes Architecture 5 years ago, during the recession. I discovered that the domestic sector is perfect for getting my work-life balance just right: jobs are predictable and easy to manage once you have the right systems in place. I quickly found out that my passion and technical skills were not enough to make me a successful business person. They are necessary, but what you really need are the right business systems, managing client's expectations and the right marketing strategy. I found a perfect niche for my business: domestic residential market, relatively small budget contracts worth 30 - 150 thousand pounds. Small scale work is more predictable and a bad debt is not going to bankrupt you. I have learned by experience - I mean by mistakes! - how to simplify the whole process, manage expectations and distil every job into four stages: a concept design workshop, planning, building and a tender.

At the same time I was Chairman of Women in Property North West and could see a huge number of women leaving the industry. On entering the architecture school, there is 50/50 split across genders but once you get into practice, the numbers fall to 20-30% of all architects being women. We fall prey to economic cycles far more than men and once we decide to have a family, we quite often "fall off the cliff" altogether. But I had a new, perfect business model to cope with family life and I wanted to share it. 

Setting up a franchise has been a huge learning curve, requiring a new set of specific skills and help from professionals. My first pilot franchisee already operates in Liverpool; I'm looking for two more people ready to pilot the business in new territories. I strongly believe Pride Road is a game changer for women in architecture and a whole new road (sic!) forward. 

Careers advice in front of the camera

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Rachel Bell is Divisional Director, Head of Business Development, for Stride Treglown

Throughout my ten years as a member of WiP, I have been particularly motivated by encouraging the younger generation to find out about the numerous careers on offer in the construction industry. Although we had very supportive careers advice at school the teachers themselves weren't equipped to give specific details on architectural careers, or which routes to take in order to get on to the career ladder. I had been told that the college course I selected was not going to provide the opportunity to get into university. I was determined to pursue the BTEC in construction and it certainly didn't preclude me from university courses when the time came. With further support today from industry leaders and links into schools we can help to provide as much current information as possible on careers and the required skills.

Over the last five years I have taken on the roadshow role on the South West committee along with introducing the South West eco homes competition for Year Nine students. It is really inspiring to hear feedback from WiP members when they say this is an aspect of the Association they find most rewarding.

So it didn't take much persuasion when I was asked to be interviewed for a National Careers Service video, which would aim to inspire young women in seeking out various careers and to challenge gender stereotypes. However, after saying yes, I was rather overcome with nerves and totally out of my comfort zone. I was going to be filmed whilst being asked a series of questions and they wanted to do this out on a construction site. Perfect, I thought, we had a large project at the University of West of England (UWE) which could be used, as the concrete frame was nearing completion.

A week before the filming I was issued with the list of questions I was going to be asked and some of them were particularly challenging. "What woman inspires you and why? What is the best and worst decision you've ever made? What do you think is the most significant barrier to female leadership? What will be the biggest challenge for the generation of women behind you? What advice would you give to young women who want to succeed in the workplace? After all this success, what do you struggle with now and do you still feel you have more to achieve?"

I certainly was most grateful to have help from my WiP mentor, Rebecca Tregarthen for her advice on how to approach the questions and filming overall, along with views and opinions from colleagues at Stride Treglown. I was one of four or five people being filmed, all being asked the same questions but we were all representing different careers.

The filming day came and, needless to say, the weather was particularly unkind - very atmospheric! Rob from the production company, Boomsatsuma, had never been on a construction site before so after our site briefing with Martin from ISG, the main contractor, we equipped ourselves in the appropriate PPE and headed out. The wind was howling, the rain was pouring and here we were trying to encourage women to look at careers in construction - what wasn't to like!  Climbing up to the higher floors, carrying the film equipment in driving wind and rain was challenging enough, let along trying to keep the lens free from rain and steaming up, while also ensuring I was heard above the elements and the noise from the live site.

I had prepared answers to each of the question but running through them live on camera was a whole new experience. It only took a couple of takes and I am sure each time I answered slightly differently. Rob was particularly encouraging and felt that, overall, it was working very well.

On seeing the finished film, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgzHYBsJ7xs , I hope everyone agrees that, if we can all provide some of our precious time to help to pass on information and enthusiasm to the younger generation, we will start to improve attitudes and challenge the gender stereotypes.  

A short 430km from Bristol to Paris

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Natalia, Naomi and Ros

Thrings LLP and WiP South West Committee members

Most of us had never considered taking part in an endurance cycling event before now, but when we were asked by the fundraising manager at Above & Beyond in Bristol if we would be interested in cycling from Bristol to Paris, the adventurous side took over and we signed up straight away! 

Our four day challenge begins on 29th April and will take us through Bristol, Salisbury, Portsmouth, Caen, Evreux to finally finish by the Eiffel Tower in Paris. 

We have trained really hard both individually and as a team spending numerous Saturdays and Sundays together on long rides stretching through long dark winter months.  We have trained through hail, torrential rain and cold conditions to try to ensure we are ready for the big day on 29 April. We've also taken part in a couple of sportives (organised long distance rides) along the way to improve stamina.   

We all have different strengths and by working together we have come to appreciate each other's strengths as well as understanding where each of us struggle to recognise when we need to lift each other's spirits.   As we all work closely together at work it's been great fun getting to know each other outside of work and bonding over shared experiences of which type of padded shorts or jerseys works the best!  It has been a great team building exercise for us. 

Our motivation stems from the amazing work that Above & Beyond charity do in the South West.  They help Bristol hospitals sitting within the Bristol NHS Hospitals Trust by providing support, equipment and care facilities to visibly change the face of Bristol hospitals for the next generation.  The ride from Bristol to Paris is specifically to procure a new 3D heart ultrasound scanner for Bristol Children's Hospital to help children like Joe. Joe is aged 11 and was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition from birth, and had a heart bypass aged only four and will need hospital treatment for the rest of his life.   So far our team has raised over £23,000, and the event as a whole has raised over £150,000. 

We will be joining 77 other cyclists from Bristol's business community.  The Bristol business community has provided us with great opportunities throughout our careers here and it is great to give  something back to Bristol and the South West.

We are proud to be part of it, excited to get to the start line and looking forward to hearing how our hard work has paid off!

We would like to thank Women in Property and especially the South West committee for their support and encouragement over the past few months.

If you would like to sponsor the team please click here:  https://bristoltoparis2016.everydayhero.com/uk/team-thrings



Taking the work out of networking

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Vicki Freestone, Associate Director, Turley Leeds

I launched Networking Mamas in 2015 for WiP in Yorkshire, having heard about the very successful initiative started by Laura Fuller in the South West branch and following my own experience of returning to work in property following the birth of my daughter in 2012.  An enthusiastic networker and long-time WiP member, on returning to work I was keen to pick up where I'd left off - reacquainting myself with clients and contacts and exploring new business opportunities.

Whilst the world of property was still recognisable, my own world had changed a great deal!  Working a four day week and dashing out of the door to do nursery pick up meant that evening networking, something I hadn't previously thought twice about, presented all sorts of logistical challenges.  Even if I could find cover for the nursery run, I was sometimes simply too exhausted to socialise.

I quickly discovered that I needed to be a lot more selective about the events that I attended, favouring breakfasts and lunchtimes, and ensuring that the networks really worked for me.  I embraced social media, fitting in tweets and updates around my commute and lunch breaks.

So far so good, but something was niggling me.  None of these networks truly recognised or helped to address the challenges that working parents face, particularly those expecting children, on or newly returning from parental leave.  These can include a drop in confidence, concerns about career progression or simply coming to terms with rebalancing priorities and values.  I decided to do something about this.

The first WiP Networking Mamas lunch was held in March 2015 at Carluccio's in Leeds City Centre.  From the start, the network has been phenomenally successful with up to 20 attendees not including the bumps, new-borns and toddlers!  Held every four months, the lunches provide a relaxed opportunity for parents to share their experiences of work and family life.  Marina Kirkpatrick, Principal Consultant at Advisian is a regular attendee and comments that she "really values professional female company in a relaxed environment where we can give each other a well-deserved pat on the back and walk away with our heads held high in tribute to our achievements as women both at work and at home".

I believe that the popularity of the network is down to its uniqueness and shows how WiP is ideally placed to support women in all stages of their careers, from the Student Awards to the mid-career taskforce and championing women on boards.  Indeed, many of the group's career paths have mirrored my own - we networked together a decade ago and are now senior women in the industry.

If you would like to attend the next Networking Mamas lunch in Leeds on Wednesday 11 May 2016, you can find out more here.

Valuable experience for the Board

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Lisa Jane Risk, WiP National Chairman

Director of Group Property, Towergate Insurance

March is a milestone in the WiP year.  This is when we welcome our new branch chairmen and committees, those members who work so hard to deliver the events, CPD workshops, education programme and networks, for which WiP is renowned.   WiP committees work for the members. They are all volunteers, with full time jobs working in the property and construction industry. And working on a WiP committee can be a secret weapon in career development.

While WiP has a national Executive and Steering Group, that guide the branches and agree the 'macro', each branch committee has the autonomy to organise the 'micro'.  They calculate their own budgets, appoint their own officers, organise their own events, and invite their own speakers.  In other words, they behave much like the board of any business.

This is a great advantage for committee members and one we probably don't talk about enough.   The branch Chairman is supported by her team, which includes Vice Chairman, Treasurer, Membership officer, Events coordinator, website and PR officers, Education lead, Mentoring coordinator and Student Awards tsarina, as well as 'regular' committee members. Together, they not only represent their branch members but, critically, have responsibility to them, ensuring that funds - members' money - are spent wisely and appropriately. 

Committee meetings are held on a monthly basis, minuted and forwarded to the national executive.  Decisions are taken, budgets agreed, actions apportioned and delegated.  The branch Chairmen and Vice Chairmen attend our quarterly National Steering Group meetings, to report on branch progress, exchange ideas and help take decisions on WiP business at national and regional level.  Former branch Chairmen often go on to take the National Chairman role, which is a superb opportunity to raise her professional and personal profile and really make an impact on the organisation as a whole.  I did just that, becoming National Chairman last year, following branch roles as Chairman, Student Tsarina and National Roadshow Co-ordinator.   Recently I was delighted to welcome members and guests to the launch of a new satellite branch, for the Solent area, under the South West branch banner, just one of the many events and meetings I attend events across the country, giving me the opportunity to meet other WiP members.

Anyone sitting on one of our committees will experience what it is like to sit on a Board but with the advantage of doing so in a friendly, supportive environment.  In the majority of cases, this will be a first time for committee members and a valuable learning experience for them, one it can and should maximise for their own professional development.

There are also the associated benefits, although not exclusive to committee members.  Employers are welcome to host WiP events, giving them additional profile and members are representing their employers at events.  We invite members to contribute to our newsletters and to our blog pages, an invitation we extend to employers too.   Opportunities come up in the local and national media and, whenever possible, we will approach a member to comment, particularly if she is supporting WiP on a committee.  Support works both ways. 

So, I would encourage all members to consider joining their local committee at some stage. Alternatively, think about getting involved in a voluntary, non-executive capacity with a not-for-profit organisation, housing association or charity.  The breadth and depth of your professional expertise, combined with the experience gained on the board, will undoubtedly enhance your career while allowing you to give something back.

Get to know the new WiP branch Chairman and committee in your area by visiting the Branch pages /branches.aspx

‘Age of housebuilding’ will demand a million more construction workers in the UK by 2020

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Owen Goodhead, Managing Director of Randstad Construction, Property & Engineering

"We recently undertook new analysis, which indicated that a million extra workers will need to join the house building industry if the country is to build new homes at the necessary rate.  By 2020 the UK will need a total of 1.98 million housebuilding workers - to build the necessary 300,000 homes per year. This means the creation of over a million new construction jobs by the end of the decade. 

The housing crisis is a skills crisis too.  If expecting an ambitious output, Britain needs to be ambitious about employment. Despite various speeches being made on this topic, the targets remain seemingly out of reach. We need to think beyond the 'what', the 'where' and the 'when' and instead look into who will be building enough homes.

Doubling the rate of house building will mean at least doubling the workforce involved too. That means a practical challenge for workers as much as it is a conceptual issue for politicians. Employers will need to prepare as carefully as planning departments, and we need to lay the foundations of a skilled workforce as much as we need foundations in concrete.

Our research has found that skilled trades will be particularly vital - requiring the creation of 27,000 bricklayer jobs, 89,000 plumbers jobs and 100,000 carpenter jobs. Moreover, hitting housebuilding targets will also demand large numbers of more office-based workers. This could result in 13,000 jobs for planners, 28,000 architect jobs, 30,000 quantity surveyor jobs and 61,000 project manager jobs.

Ageing workers also add further pressure on the need for new recruitment. Currently, 19% of housebuilding workers are aged 56 or over, with 4% of these actively considering retirement. At the other end of the spectrum, 28% of workers are between 26 and 35 years old and just 7% of house building workers are aged between 16 and 24.

Another challenge facing the industry is encouraging young people to enter the industry. Almost one in three construction workers currently involved in housebuilding (32%) say there is a prejudice against the construction industry as a career path emanating from parents, teachers and careers advisers.

Gender prejudice also remains an issue. Across the construction industry women make up one in five workers, which is mirrored in the house building industry more specifically, with women filling 20% of roles in 2015. However if the UK is to hit the necessary output of 300,000 homes per year then this does provide a theoretical opportunity to level the gender balance in UK house building.

In order to fill the need for homes in the UK, we need to address the skills gap. This needs to start with a reform in our education system making the construction industry more appealing to younger minds and all backgrounds."

Read more on Randstad's analysis of the skills gap crisis in the housing industry:https://www.randstad.co.uk/cpe/age-of-housebuilding/


Planning to stop homelessness

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Lauren Thompson, Senior Planner, WYG

Homelessness is a really big issue that can affect anyone at any time.  Most of us will probably know at least one person touched by this.  In my case, I remember my Dad having his house repossessed in the 1990s - he had to sofa surf at the age of 47.  Luckily, he had friends and family to turn to but not everyone is so lucky.

Shelter's Policy blogger considers that the homelessness statistics from the Department of Communities and Local Government reveal just how broken the housing market has become.  The Shelter blogger makes a direct link between homelessness and planning.  As a planner, my view has always been that the link between planning and homelessness is indirect (when compared to, say, social services as an example), which made the blogger's comments striking and thought provoking.

Steve Fidgett, Head of Planning at WYG, delivered a presentation at the Royal Town Planning Institute housing seminar highlighting the significant problems facing the housing market, which gave further weight to the blogger's comments.  The salient points from Mr Fidgett's presentation were that we are building fewer homes in the UK today than at almost any other time.  This has resulted in first time buyers being squeezed out, which has placed pressure on both the private rented sector and affordable housing.  The RTPI's housing seminar and Steve's comments were particularly well timed, given that they were made a few days before the Conservative Party Conference came to Manchester in October; housing was a hot topic in the Prime Minister's speech. 

David Cameron called for a 'national crusade to get homes built' and announced the Government's plans to widen the definition of affordable housing to place more focus on affordable housing available to buy and to introduce a single-stage approval process to bolster housing supply.

From a commercial perspective, whilst WYG has a proven track record in obtaining permission for housing quickly, many house builders remain frustrated by the timescales it can often take to gain planning permission which is an important part of the process of building housing.  If these changes gain traction they are very welcome, but local authority buy-in is crucial given that they are often in control of the timescales for determining applications and for dictating the type of affordable housing on qualifying sites. 

History is often our harshest critic and it will be interesting to see if these bold changes trickle down quickly enough to make a difference to those who suffer most acutely from housing need.