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International Women’s Day – encouraging young women brick by brick

In the third and final instalment of our International Women’s Day series, we explore the theme of inspiration, with partnerships to encourage young women to pursue a career in property, a female entrepreneur witnessing the growth of her business and a collection of senior women in the luxury property world.

Moda and Part W join forces to drive gender equality in property sector

Build to Rent developer and operator Moda Living has partnered with campaign group Part W to encourage young women to pursue careers in the property and construction sectors.


Moda will fund an educational outreach programme by Part W to reach its target audience, which it announced on International Women’s Day (Monday).

Part W, founded by architect Zoë Berman in 2018, is an action group that works to encourage women from diverse backgrounds into real estate sectors.

Together, Part W and Moda are calling for action across the built environment sector to address the systemic gender equity challenges that exist in the sphere and work towards a more inclusive industry, so it can be changed for future generations of young women.

The partnership will launch with a mini film outlining the spectrum of careers across the built environment sector, accessible for 16-to-24-year-olds across social media channels including Twitter, Instagram and TikTok, as well as being shared amongst students in design colleges, schools and universities.   

Phase two of the outreach programme will include digital Q&A sessions spanning the UK with leading representatives from across the property, design and construction sectors covering (but not limited to) construction, design, architecture, planning and operations.

Successful female and male contributors will speak about their own career highs and lows and will answer questions from the audience – with a focus on positive equality and diversity in the industry.

There will also be an opportunity to promote jobs and apprenticeships and make a next generation of diverse young people feel welcome in the industry.   

Lydia Eustace, director at Moda Living, comments: “The Moda team is passionate about the role our female colleagues play in the success of the business, and 40% of the Moda workforce are women, a figure we intend to keep growing. However, we recognise that there is still a long way to go in our business, and the sector more widely, before women are headhunted for senior leadership roles in high profile corporations.”

“We believe that the solution is education, and we are so excited to be working with Part W in driving an educational outreach programme targeting young people. There are not enough females looking to build careers in the property space currently, and to keep gender equality at the forefront requires a continued effort in changing this.”

She continues: “It is our duty to empower the next generation of female leaders with the exciting opportunities that can be seized within this sector, and in BTR specifically, acknowledgement of the meaningful impact women can make to the way that residential neighbourhoods are created and operated.”

Berman adds: “We are impatient for equality, and our work includes us calling out instances of gender discrimination in an industry that routinely excludes – alongside developing positive and proactive solutions that can support bringing about change.”

“We are pushing for intersectional thinking and are developing a series of actions intended to support women from diverse backgrounds, ethnicities, across generations and with different experiences. We are excited to launch this project – our first formal step in UK-wide educational outreach work this year. It will make a significant contribution to supporting young women to create a future role in the built environment and property sectors.”

She concludes: “We want to see more women joining the sector in the future, and this first project, supported by Moda, will help us to engage with and support young people’s learning. We are a volunteer-led group, and Moda’s sponsorship is invaluable in helping us to take this vital step.”

Female PropTech entrepreneur sees business boom during lockdown

Michelle Milnes, founder of Property Studios, has seen her virtual tour business expand during the pandemic.

The Scottish firm has recruited an additional eight staff, bringing its headcount to 32 as it plans to roll out its hi-tech offering beyond the property sector.

Milnes says the pioneering firm responded immediately to the pandemic by developing a suite of new products to support its clients – leading to a 50% bump in revenues. The surge in its virtual product sales saw the company’s profits increase by almost 400% in 2020.

Recent growth means Property Studios now has national contracts with more than 30 major estate agents as well as 12 renowned homebuilders. Every month it completes an average of 100 3D tours, 50 live virtual viewings and 50 virtual projects, as well as 500 photo-shoots, creation of 500 floorplans, 350 brochures, 100 films, five full CGI projects and five drone films.

Since its inception in 2014, the firm has become a major player in the Scottish property scene, particularly in Edinburgh’s thriving housing market. It also notes that 80% of its senior roles are held by women.

Milnes comments: “We’ve worked hard for this success and the irony isn’t lost on me that it’s now coming as a result of the pandemic which has left so many other jobs and businesses flattened. It’s pleasing that our technology kept a number of smaller property agents from going out of business.”

“While we’ve managed to weather this, we also appreciate our good fortune. The various lockdowns have played to our strengths, while the housing market has remained buoyant.”

She adds: “Our remote video tours and other services were already part of the buying and selling process, but as add-on marketing tools. Now restrictions mean house hunters realistically need to take virtual tours first. Then they can arrange a socially distanced property viewing.”

Milnes’ innovation and ability to pivot to meet market needs won her the accolade of Resilient Business Woman Scotland 2020, while the firm’s response to the pandemic has seen it shortlisted in the upcoming Edinburgh Chamber of Commerce Business Awards 2021 for Service Excellence.

Property Studios’ 3D virtual tours are built on ‘state-of-the-art’ camera equipment and software from Matterport. That allows them to create detailed virtualisations of any setting, where a virtual visitor can then walk through, examining a high resolution, true-to-life rendition of the layout, furniture, fixtures and even the views from windows.

The latest tools allow visitors to take detailed measurements of rooms, windows and fixtures, while key features can be highlighted with Mattertags, which can be embedded anywhere within the tour, providing accompanying text, photographs, video, or even links to an e-commerce site.

Milnes says the pandemic has pulled the future forward, with ‘levels of use, acceptance and normalisation of technology which might otherwise have taken another five years’.

“We are already working with a number of venues and exhibition spaces. Being able to let potential guests view dining areas, bedrooms or other event spaces and even to take measurements is a potential game-changer, by letting them plan their events remotely,” she explains.

Industry experts band together to tackle imposter syndrome

A female property collective has launched a cross-sector scheme to address the lack of women in real estate senior positions and call on newly qualified professionals to apply.

Vanessa Murray, asset manager at London developer Stanhope, has announced the launch of a new female mentoring scheme to address the ‘acute disparity’ between men and women in leadership positions within the property industry.

‘Mentoring Circle’ partners newly qualified female surveyors with senior female professionals working in real estate for a free, one-to-one mentoring programme over the course of 12 months. 

Over 35 mentors from a wide variety of prestigious partners have signed up to the programme already. These include Savills, MACE, Aecom, Build UK, Foxtons, Say Consulting, CBRE, Kier Group, Capita, Great Portland Estates, Bruce Gillingham Pollard and more.

One of the key themes from initial research has been the widespread recognition of ‘imposter syndrome’ amongst women in the industry with many doubting their skills, talents and achievements against their male counterparts.

The scheme’s mentors have identified that the period post-qualification becomes a key point for talent retention of women within the industry.

Murray comments: “Graduate intake of men and women has been evenly split since I qualified as a Chartered Surveyor in 2014, but there is still a disappointing lack of women at senior executive level.”

“I noticed that the industry loses a lot of women post-qualification and was really keen to address this issue and provide support to the group who need it the most, that’s where the idea for Mentoring Circle came from.”

Murray believes that the principles behind Mentoring Circle are crucial to help address the diversity challenge within the industry, particularly the stark lack of women in senior leadership positions.

She goes on to say: “I’ve worked with so many talented graduates who don’t know their own value, particularly young women who aren’t good at promoting their own interest. They come fresh faced from university where goals and success are measurable, but find their confidence wavering within the workplace when the benchmark of success is undefined and often dependent on the quality of a line manager.”

Vanessa is not alone in her mission. Gillian Charlesworth, group chief executive of BRE Group, Debra Yudolph, partner at SAY Property Consulting and Polly Plunket-Chekemian, senior executive director at MAPP, are amongst the 35 inspiring mentors who will be providing their professional expertise to assist mentees in establishing clear goals at the outset of their careers.

Mentoring Circle is free and available to all female property professionals with up to 18 months post-qualification experience.

To apply for the scheme, mentees will be required to submit an application form outlining key information and areas of focus by March 22 2021. Forms are available via the dedicated LinkedIn and Instagram page.

Murray concludes: “I really hope Mentoring Circle will provide a structured career kick-start for aspiring female professionals and ultimately identify rising stars that could become mentors themselves.”

Women get it done too – celebrating notable women in luxury

While efforts are being made across sectors within the real estate market to improve the long-standing gender disparities, progression is at a slow pace, and women in the industry are still a minority, especially at leadership and senior levels.

This year, the conversation surrounding the disproportionate impacts Covid-19 has had on women in business over their male counterparts, has again highlighted the importance of continuing to support women in business.

Below is a collection of notable women in luxury from the design and property industries, who are paving the way for those to come and have demonstrated significant successes throughout their career.

Laura Marino – creative director and co-founder of Alchemi Group and founder of Studio L, London

Marino founded Alchemi Group in 2002 alongside Charlie Baxter and now acts as its creative director. The company was born out of a passion to bring great design of quality to the built environment and has grown to be a highly regarded acquisition and design-led development management firm.

With an emphasis on conceptual, architectural and interior design, the company is behind a number of award-winning developments. This including a RIBA London Awards 2017 for 55 Victoria Street. 

As a natural extension of Alchemi Group, Marino founded her interior design studio, aptly named Studio L, London. She has conceptualised, designed and overseen an extensive portfolio of prime central London real estate developments.

Currently, Studio L is working on Westminster Fire Station for Alchemi Group, which is being transformed into a boutique collection of 17 one to three-bedroom bespoke apartments arranged over two buildings.

Jennifer Beningfield – principal of Openstudio Architects

In 2006, Beningfield founded RIBA Chartered Architectural practice Openstudio Architects. In 2017, her and her team won the international open RIBA Taylor Wimpey 2020 competition to design prototype housing across the UK.

Today, the studio is the chosen practice to implement this prototype – the ‘Infinite House’ - and has a long track record of success, having been shortlisted for and awarded a multitude of international awards. 

Before founding Openstudio, Beningfield gained experience on museum and art gallery projects in the US and Europe, most notably the Getty Antiquities Museum in Malibu (for Machado and Silvetti), the Corning Glass Museum in New York (for Smith-Miller Hawkinson) and the installation of the Francis Bacon studio into the Hugh Lane Gallery in Dublin (for David Chipperfield Architects).

A published author, Beningfield studied architecture at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg before completing a Master’s degree at Princeton University in New Jersey, USA, and a PhD at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London.

She now leads her team in completing new-build and refurbishment schemes across the globe, most recently Westminster Fire Station in Victoria, London, where she has worked tirelessly to ensure the Grade II-listed building’s heritage is honoured, both in the transformation of the former Fire Station and in the construction of the Station House into 17 apartments. 

Katerina Katopis – sales and marketing director at Dolphin Capital Partners

Katopis boasts more than 20 years’ property experience in Greece and Japan. She holds a BA in Economics and Minors in Statistical Mathematics and Business Administration from Boston University and an M.Sc. in European Studies from the LSE. 

Prior to joining Dolphin, Katopis was the general manager of the Greek Chamber of Commerce in Japan, and an adviser to the chief executive officer of the 'Invest in Greece Agency'. She has also worked in banking in Japan, specialising in investments of Japanese trading abroad.  

At Dolphin, she oversees all sales and marketing activities on a company and project level, including promoting and facilitating sales of all luxury branded real estate of the group, collaborating with the hotel operators, creating marketing strategies and liaising with the international press.

Katopis is also a freelance journalist to a number of Greek and foreign publications specialising in luxury travel, gastronomy and lifestyle, and is the editor of the Istanbul Luxe City Guide as well as a travel adviser for a number of exclusive concierge services companies.

She is also no stranger to Property Investor Today. You can view her article on Greek investment here and her expert opinion on where to invest post-Covid here.


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