With seemingly perfect timing for International Women’s Day, Homes for Scotland chief executive Nicola Barclay recently addressed the annual dinner of the Association of Women in Property’s Central Scotland branch, which draws members from across the many different disciplines in the property industry.
Having first addressed the group a decade previous, Nicola reflects on her journey since then.
Ten years ago, I stood on the stage at the EICC addressing 850 guests at the Women in Property Dinner. I was Chairman of the Central Scotland branch at the time, and this was my penultimate event before handing the reins over to my vice-chairman.
I was recently honoured to be able to address the most recent dinner, to give them some of my personal thoughts on my own journey over the intervening decade as well as that of the Women in Property organisation itself. With International Women’s Day coming up, what perfect timing!
Back then, as I nervously made my maiden speech, I would never have believed that I would ever have the confidence to voluntarily deliver the after-dinner speech, nor that I would actually enjoy it!
“For me, the only thing you can do is be yourself.”
I spoke about my journey through the housebuilding industry to becoming Chief Executive of Homes for Scotland, and the internal struggle I had with myself to accept that I was good enough to take on the job of leading the organisation tasked with representing such a vital industry. I also talked about the importance of the work Homes for Scotland does and recognised the tremendous efforts of my fabulous team. But my main focus was on my approach to leadership.
I’d been on a couple of training courses about leadership before taking on the role, and I also knew that it would be possible to get advice on all those HR or legal matters that would crop up, but what I’ve discovered since being in post is that you can’t rely on others to tell you what to do. For me, the only thing you can do is be yourself; trust yourself; and accept that, yes, you will make mistakes but most importantly you will grow and learn from them.
Last month’s dinner had a masquerade theme, which is ironic really because the first thing any leader must do, in my opinion, is take off your mask – don’t hide behind something you’re not – and be your authentic self.
The main influencer on my journey was Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, and author of “Lean In”. I encourage most women I meet to read this book! There are so many practical, almost obvious approaches to use in business to help you become more engaged, more connected and more in control of your working life. I love the example of asking questions at a conference. If the speaker says they have time for two more questions, invariably all the women in the room will lower their hands after two questions have been taken – they’re doing what they’re told and have been rewarded all their lives for being ‘good girls’. Unfortunately, the men in the room didn’t get that memo, so tend to keep their hands up, hopeful that they’ll get the chance to make their point or ask their question. I shared this example with a group of women in housebuilding, and was delighted when a few days later, I saw one of them put it into practice. Given that I was the one on stage looking for questions from the floor, I had to let her ask that third question, didn’t I?!
So, what of my involvement in Women in Property? Is it still as relevant as it was ten years ago when I was Chairman? Absolutely. In fact, even more so. So many women lost their jobs during the recession, and we must encourage them to return and help shape the industry of the future. For young women entering the industry, it provides great opportunities to meet people, develop networking skills, and learn from those who have beaten down that path in front of you.
I will always remember the first networking lunch I attended.
I was terrified.
I sat in my car for at least ten minutes trying to summon up the courage to meet this group of women. After all, I had entered the property industry in the full knowledge that it was male dominated. Now I’ve always gotten on well with men and know how to deal with them, for the most part. But a group of professional women? What on earth would I have in common with them? The wonderful thing was, when I finally plucked up the courage to enter, I was greeted with warmth and friendship, and I got on just fine. I realised that I didn’t even know what I was missing: camaraderie, friendship and support.
“How can a process that is influenced and determined by only half the population create a place that suits the whole?”
But Women in Property is about much more than just helping those embarking on their careers. They have just rebranded and want women in the industry to ‘Aspire: Succeed: Inspire’.
It is those who can inspire that I really want to reach out to: those who can provide support and guidance to younger women. The mentoring scheme that Women in Property operates needs more mentors to help, and the organisation needs more senior women to stay engaged and involved so that it can provide a balanced mix of representation at events.
We need the credibility of senior women to influence and shape this industry. A pool of experience gives us the chance to put forward senior women for slots at conferences and panel discussions. We all want diversity on these panels, and are beginning to see more of it, but we must be willing to step up, or ‘Lean In’ you might say, when offered the chance to take the platform.
Only then can we really influence the debate.
Our industry needs women to do this. Our jobs are ultimately all about creating places where people will live and work. How can a process that is influenced and determined by only half the population create a place that suits the whole? Women have a fundamental role to play in this sector and we must be involved from the top to the bottom.
With International Women’s Day coming up on Thursday 8th March, will you pledge to support Women in Property? There are many ways you can help, depending on who you are:
- Join up yourself or encourage your staff to join. If you can’t justify them all joining on cost grounds, get them to pitch for it. Who will value it the most? This may help you spot future leaders within your team.
- Support the organisation through sponsorship. Sponsor individual events, the branch or the annual National Student Awards. Previous sponsors have been on the judging panel and thereafter had the pick of the crop (they’ve even been known to run down the street after one to offer her a position!).
- Host an event. Site visits are always popular, but business skills, networking and training events are also great ways to engage with the membership and expand your own network.
- If you’re already a member? Think about joining your local committee. It gives you an opportunity to expand your skills, and you can help to shape the diary of events.
For more information go to www.womeninproperty.org.uk
Catch up with the rest of Scottish Construction Now’s International Women’s Day feature here.