As the number of women in property continues to rise, Alun Thorne met two young professionals about what attracted them to the sector.
There were almost 80,000 qualified members of the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors at last count. Around 10 per cent were women or 7,813 to be precise.
It’s not a particularly impressive ratio compared to other professions but the days of property being something of a bastion for the male of the species are changing by the day.
Last year the ratio for students enrolling to do their Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) saw women accounting for 20 per cent – an important part undoubtedly played by the RICS’s ‘Raise the Ratio’ commitment that saw a 141 per cent rise in the number of female students who were members of the RICS globally from September to December 2004 compared with the same period in 2003 after the project was launched.
There are certainly a clutch of experienced female property professionals in Birmingham but the industry still remains overwhelmingly male whichever way you look at it.
President of the RICS Peter Goodacre is well aware of the importance of creating a gender mix that better reflects the changing demographic of 21st century Britain.
“We were very concerned that the percentage of ladies was much lower than we wanted,” he said. “But we set up a ‘Raising the Ratio’ campaign we are now moving towards 25 and 30 per cent. Traditionally the sector has had a reputation for being male, pale and stale but there is a mood to change.
“It’s not an easy task and if you look at other professions they suffer the same issues. For instance in the health sector it is very difficult to plan long term successfully because of family and career breaks. Even more complicated is the veterinary field where 80 per cent of current students can be girls so it is very difficult to get a male vet so it is clear that different professions play out in different ways. We haven’t yet had a lady President but I am certain that time will come soon.”
There is certainly no good reason why the sector shouldn’t suit either sex other than perhaps a problem of perception but the range of disciplines the sector boasts from office agency to fund management to party wall surveying to dispute resolution compliments no end of interests and backgrounds.
Lisa Hastilow and Hazel Whittingham who work at Jones Lang LaSalle’s Birmingham office at One Colmore Square are in no doubts that they have made the right decision after committing themselves to a career in the sector.
Both of them are set to complete there APCs in the next couple of years, 27-year-old Ms Whittingham first and then 23-year-old Ms Hastilow in 2011.
Ms Hastilow, who is from Kingswinford, has taken the more traditional route into the profession although her first job may have taken her in a completely different direction.
“I did my A-levels and got a job working for a mortgage outsourcing company. The career progression was nil and it was basically a glorified call centre. However the work gave me an interest in valuation as I was doing these for loan security purposes.
“I did some research on valuation and realised there was a vast array of opportunities in the property sector so applied and was accepted to what is now Birmingham City University and graduated last summer.”
Ms Hastilow started at JLL last year and is currently gaining experience in the different areas of the business for her APC although that has currently been deferred six months due to the current economic conditions. “I’m currently doing national office agency but a move to investor property management is imminent,” she said. “At the moment I would probably like to go into investment or valuation.”
Ms Whittingham has come into the business along a completely different route. Born and bred in Solihull, Ms Whittingham shared her colleagues’ initial desire to do something other than study on leaving college and worked for the Audit Commission and the NHS before making the switch to property.
“I moved to York and was working for NHS on an IT contract but it just wasn’t for me. I suppose I am an outgoing person and there were very few career prospects.”
Ms Whittingham came back to Birmingham and started in an administrators role at JLL with a promise that they would sponsor her through university if they got on well.
“Within six months I got to understand the different side of surveying and I signed up in September 2005. I went on the same course as Lisa and it was a bit daunting as it is over five years as I do just one day at university a week but I can see clear goal at end. It is great to have gone from admin support to having own clients.”
Whereas Ms Hastilow has been drawn towards the valuation and investment side of the business, Ms Whittingham is very much attracted to office agency.
She said: “When I first joined and embarked on this degree the position was office agency. Having seen what they did I jumped at it. It’s a sector of the business I find fits my personality and no two days are ever the same. It’s very social and that suits me.
“The market may not be so good at the moment but we are friendly rivals. In times like this we come together and have a clear goal and that is to boost Birmingham whenever we can. I’ve never worked in an industry that has this kind of ethos. I suppose there is a sales element to agency but it is not like cold calling, it’s building contacts and relationships.”
Ms Hastilow’s attraction is being out the office and on the road, meeting contacts and networking and meeting people from such a variety of sectors – as well as the more technical aspects of the job.
“My attraction is putting worth on buildings for clients – I like the fact it is an art and a science and really challenging but very rewarding. You work for a long time so it’s important you do something you want to do.”
And while they accept they are still in the significant minority, they are adamant it will never hold them back.
“I accept I am a girly girl but get on with all the other guys and have always been able to pick up the phone if I have a problem,” said Ms Whittingham. “Sometimes you have to work twice as hard relating if all they want to talk about is football but I haven’t really found it a problem.”
Lisa added: “On the whole guys pretty welcoming. I was quite worried coming into industry knowing how male it was but haven’t felt any discrimination either inside or outside the office – I certainly feel very much one of the team. Of course you are going to get people in whatever profession but if I did encounter it I’m sure it would just make me more determined.”