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On International Women’s Day, we wanted to put the spotlight on some incredible women in property and construction. This year International Women’s Day is all about #ChooseToChallenge and so we asked each of these women to tell us about a challenge that they face as a woman in business.

Bethany Riley, Bethany Riley Interiors

“As a woman in business, I have definitely experienced certain challenges such as not being taken seriously and being questioned on certain aspects of my work. I find the best way to overcome this is firstly to trust myself and the decisions I spent so hard working on, and secondly, to wait until the project is completed and let my work do the talking.”

Machan Enever, Hawksbee

“When I began in lighting design the industry was quite different ‘kettle of fluorescent battens’ (predominantly male, with the next intro sentence being ‘you don’t get many women in lighting design’), and it was a journey to gain respect and be considered a good lighting designer. Now though, years of experience and of meeting other like-minded colleagues, I would much rather be valued than respected.”

Philippa Somerset, Somerset Estates

Networking has been a saviour meeting both males and females in the construction and property industries, a traditionally male-dominated field. This past year has reminded us all of both the impact and importance of togetherness, a lesson that applies to these markets and specifically to female professionals. Ultimately, the sky is the limit in terms of what we can give and gain from forming a solid and ever-expanding network.

Whilst in an ideal world this network would be equal parts men and women, we still have a long way to go before attaining a perfect balance within the property and construction industries. But we want to see this as more than just a challenge: rather, it is an exciting opportunity for female entrepreneurs to make prominent strides towards achieving gender parity in the residential field. In building relationships with professionals based on a mutual focus on construction and property, we expand our access to a diverse pool of leaders, and are thus continuously exposed to different perspectives and talents that strengthen teams and ultimately increase sales.

Simply put, the success of women in property means the success of the industry itself.

Rushim Pellay, Rush Interiors

“Raising two kids whilst setting up my business has been my biggest challenge. Trying to find the time to complete tasks, spend quality time with both my boys and wear multiple hats in one day has proven to be no easy task. Discussing bathroom tiles with a client whilst cooking lunch for the kids is a daily challenge I face!”

Rianne Scott, Oracle Solutions

“For me it has been the stereotyping of that if you are a women ‘you must be employed or the boss’ wife’ I have over come it by actually knowing my trade & knowing what I am talking about. It is a nice feeling when you can hold your own in a meeting/networking event.”

Gilly Craft, Koubou Interiors

“I think the biggest challenge has been being taken seriously on a construction site. Things have improved over the years but I have found that making a joke of the situation often diffuses things to start with and then you just have to prove you are entitled to be there by knowing your subject and speaking with authority.”

Anouschka Fryer, Change Project Consulting

“As I have come up through the ranks and now as a business owner, I am aware that new opportunity often comes from the network you have nurtured.  Quite often it is who you know, as opposed to what you know, when winning new business.  And, whilst I do have a very solid network and consistently work to make new contacts, I’m not likely to be watching the rugby with a few pints with the boys, or playing golf with that Fund Manager, when the latest new project is discussed, or an opportunity arises.

In short, I’m not ‘one of the boys’ so I may not be the first person who comes to mind when a male client picks up the phone to ask for help.  In 2019, Simon Rawlinson of Building Magazine wrote “the female share of the [construction] sector workforce has been stuck at around 14% for over 20 years.”  I think it will be a while until there is a ‘Old Girls Club’ that can rival the comradery that experienced by the boys, until then I’ll just keep reminding them I’m here!”

Charlotte Hepworth, Bespoke Home Moves

“As a female in business I continue to try and overcome the balance between work and family – both of which I love.  I am a better parent as a result of my work and my family inspires me to work harder so both elements have a positive impact on the other. However, it is true that you cannot give everything to everyone.  Being able to acknowledge when each area of your life needs attention the most, is something that will remain an evolving process.”

Bronwen Gombert, Connected Architecture

Working as a woman in the construction industry has definitely had its challenges not least of all being taken seriously by male contractor clients. One example stands out; a contractor client was temporarily stationed in our office as we were working collaboratively on a project and whilst meeting with a supplier, (also a male), in our office, he made a loud jokey comment to the supplier about me being ‘bossy’ when I was briefing our team on the day’s tasks. My team were shocked into silence, so I calmly replied that “I wasn’t being ‘bossy’, I am THE BOSS”. He would never have said something like that if my male counterpart had been going through the daily tasks with the team!

Selena Quick, PAD London

“The biggest challenge I have faced as woman in business has been on site. As a 5ft and a half lady, rocking up to site to problem solve was initially met with raised eyebrows and condescending tones. The problem was solved by not rising to it, being myself and solving problems that ‘weren’t possible’!”

Adrienne Cain, Cain Architects

“As an architect, I always knew that working in such a traditionally male-dominated profession might bring with it some challenges, especially with regards to other people’s pre-conceived ideas of what ‘type’ of person works in the built environment. The main challenge has actually been establishing respect from the guys on the building site – and they are ALL guys! Times are changing though and I have noticed that the good builders can see past the gender stereotypes and appreciate hard work, thoroughness, empathy, great communication, attention to detail and effective collaboration on their projects – qualities that are often second nature to women.”

Jo Harding, Trajan Stone

Being a young woman, running a business in the highly male-dominated natural stone sector of the construction industry, was initially a huge challenge. However, I have learned that by ensuring my understanding of the industry and product knowledge is second to none, I have earned the respect of clients, suppliers and colleagues alike.  Now, far from feeling intimidated, I have managed to turn this unique situation to my advantage.  Being a woman in a male-dominated industry allows me to stand out from the crowd. I believe it is something to be proud of and to celebrate.

Natalie Wells, Wells Interiors

My biggest challenge as a woman in business has definitely been personal – balancing my ambition for scaling a business and my desire to be a mother too. I thought that I’d be ok with going back to work full time after maternity leave but my heart pulled me in another direction though, which put the cat among the pigeons with work plans!

Genevieve Hughes, Change Project Consulting

“Having started working in retail I was lucky to transfer to a head office property department in my early 20s. It was a very positive experience in terms of diversity. I was trained on the job and became a Project Manager at 28 years of age. However, I did not envisage that life as a woman in construction would be demanding and challenging. I soon learned that I was going to have to work a little bit harder in an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry to be taken seriously. But, I was undaunted and although I have experienced some sexism over the years, I have found it a very rewarding industry to work in.

Gradually, I have met more and more women in property and construction over the years as well as female business founders and owners since I set up a business with another woman.  I am now an ambassador for Women in Construction and am delighted to see primary schools focussing on girls studying STEM subjects.  As a School Governor, I now have an opportunity to support this for future generations of women in the property and construction business.”

Yasmin Ulhaq, Glenfield Asset

“The biggest challenge my female clients face today is garnering support from other women. My advice to women worldwide is to support and empower each other, starting with our basic principles of who we are — our morals, values, integrity. ”

And the final words from our own Becca Cranfield, Co-Owner and Director of Athena Stonecare

“I will always remember the first networking meeting with other ‘trades’ that I went along to. I took my seat at the table with a pint in hand. Next to me, with a smirk someone remarked ‘are you drinking pints?’. No one else at the table, not a single one of the men got the same reception. From that day, I knew that I would have my work cut out. Not only was a woman in a predominantly male sector but I’m also the wife of the business owner. I wanted to demonstrate that I had earned my position in our Company and it had not just been gifted to me. I went out on site, I learned the trade and then I worked hard behind the scenes to build my network and grow our Business.

But the biggest lesson I’ve learned: Don’t worry yourself with spending time and energy proving yourself to those people that judge and question your abilities. Instead, surround yourself with people who support and celebrate your talents. Look for other women that inspire your and learn from them. Connect with them and encourage them. Being a woman in business is a pretty special thing and I feel lucky to have met, collaborated and worked with all of the women above and so many more.

We would like to thank every single one of the incredible business women who contributed to this discussion on International Women’s Day. To join  in the discussion head over to our Instagram page.

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