Can you tell us about your career progression?
My career progression, I suppose, started when I left school. And I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go, but knew some of the themes that had come up in that study course were of interest: a passion for places and buildings, a passion for social geography—understanding what makes cities work, what drives people to live or work in certain places.
So, I went off to study a degree in town planning at UCL. And at the end of my degree, I ended up writing to a range of different developers saying: “Can I have a job?” And I was invited to join Barratt’s [Barratt Development plc] fresh from university and I joined their team who were focused on buying land. I thought I knew how to get planning permissions, having done a degree in planning—reality is I didn’t. And I ended up staying in housebuilding for the first ten years of my career. Loved it. There’s something quite magical in a way about buying a site, seeing it built, and then seeing people move into it.
But I suppose after ten years, my passion for places was more than just about homes. I wanted to do bigger developments. I wanted to do developments that created places for people to work, to come and shop. Mixed-use, really. So, in 2007, I joined Land Securities, now Landsec, and I spent seven really fun years there working on a whole range of mixed-use developments, high-rise inner-city developments, which really, I think, cemented my passion for the value of place and what we can bring through creating something quite special. And then in 2014, I left Landsec, who had at that time come to the end of their development pipeline and joined British Land, where I’ve been for the last eight years, having a really super time.
Do you think ESG and a sense of purpose and values at British Land have been useful to attract talent?
I think ESG is a major reason why people choose where they want to work increasingly. I heard a fascinating story last week about a graduate recruitment exercise in one organisation where the graduates were not only looking at the corporate mission and sustainability target, but very keen to know what the personal carbon footprint was of the senior leadership team. And so, it’s important that companies not only have an overall target, but the employees have confidence in its delivery amongst the leadership and the broader staff.
We’ve seen individuals coming to work at British Land because they admire our way of working. They admire our commitment to sustainability in what we deliver, the real estate that we provide. And I think that will only increase as climate change continues to be the rightful cause for all of us that it is.
Which female role models have played a part in your career?
It would be nice to think that there are a whole range of female role models who I could point to as being proxies for where I want to get to, or particular individuals who have been instrumental in being a North Star for women like me. The reality is we don’t have those, sadly, but I think there are efforts underway to really push people through. Both men and women need to promote the cause of women’s career progression, and I am starting to see that being debated, assessed, measured, monitored. And I think that’s probably at the heart of how we make real progress.
Do you think targets matter?
I think targets are helpful. Without some ability to measure your progress, I think it’s easy for other, more pressing issues—be they economic, be they social—to rise up the fore and therefore focus can be lost on promoting gender balance. Targets can be useful as a reminder of the progress that one needs to make and then celebrating success when you’ve got there. For us, the focus around gender pay gap reporting, particularly, has been helpful at monitoring right the way through organisations how we’re thinking about gender balance as well as promoting women to more senior roles.
Why are women not going into real estate development?
I think women haven’t been going into development because we have not done a brilliant job at encouraging it and promoting it as a career choice. You tend to find women naturally attracted into finance, naturally attracted into legal or central functions. But development has got a bit of a stigma as being a male-dominated industry. We haven’t done a lot, I don’t think, to redress that and encourage women into what is a fantastic career, actually, working on some super interesting challenges and projects.
It needs to start earlier. I think pushing people through university into those pathways, celebrating and promoting what amazing career opportunities there are for women in development roles needs to happen and I think we are starting to see it. But it takes an age to push people through that system and you have to start at the university or entrance level to see them come through or else you move people from other functions and encourage them into development and support them with the career and skills needed to do that.
We’ve done a bit of that here. We’ve certainly seen women moving from asset management roles into development, from strategy into development. And there are a lot of skills that lend themselves well to what’s needed in development roles. But the more traditional route of pulling people through surveying courses, planning courses, as was in my case, I still think there’s a lot of work to do.
What advice would you give to a young person coming through?
So, my advice to somebody coming into this organisation would be, don’t be afraid by the lack of gender balance that you might find. Be part of making that change, driving that agenda. I’ve really enjoyed pushing it on in the time that I’ve been here and you can take it on further, so I wouldn’t be fearful of that.
The second thing I would say is: take some risks. Having a career plan is important, but not at the expense of taking a sideways step, or perhaps taking on a role which might not seem obvious, might not seem part of the plan. But you’ll learn something and ultimately it will be additive to your package of skills and that career goal and career path.