Real Estate Balance in Leeds

Seminar / 07 June 2024

We were very pleased to work with inspiring women to bring our members a fringe event at this year’s UKREiiF which was kindly hosted by Addleshaw Goddard in their Leeds office.

The brilliant panel of property professionals, listed below, discussed topics including regeneration in the city and how it intersects with representation and opportunity, widening access to roles in real estate and associated sectors and progressing diversity and inclusion in our industry.

  • Jasmine Ceccarelli-Drewry - Senior Advisor, Strategic Advisory, Montagu Evans, and REB NextGen Committee co-Chair (moderator)
  • Laura Colson - Residential Delivery Director, Harworth Group PLC
  • Jill Goodman - Principal and Head of Lease Advisory and Office Agency for Avison Young in Leeds, Avison Young
  • Imogen Smazanovich - Associate Director, Strategic Programmes, SEGRO PLC
  • Lucy Sturrock - Real Estate Partner and Head of Leeds Office, Addleshaw Goddard

Jasmine started the conversation by asking about the vision for regeneration in Leeds.

Jill spoke about the importance of focussing on the end users, which in the case of homes and workplaces are residents and employees, and her professional enthusiasm for creating high quality and well thought-through built environment projects in previously under-used spaces.

She cited the Latitude Blue project as a great example of bringing residential and office blocks, green space and heritage value through the use of viaducts to a well-connected part of the city, and how such developments lead to economic growth and enhanced living spaces and workplaces.

Laura discussed how Harworth Group's main residential outlet is through selling parcels of remediated land to housing developers and that it retains open spaces, community areas and facilities. This includes buy-to-rent and affordable housing projects.

Jasmine said she thought the aim for regeneration in the city should be genuine legacy in the form of opportunities for the local community, particularly in areas with disadvantage and poverty.

Recent research undertaken by the REB NextGen Committee Jasmine co-chairs found that the majority of participants fell into their real estate roles by chance or through connections with friends or family members, and that the perception persists that our industry is still difficult to access socially and economically.

Imogen spoke about SEGRO’s steps to widen access to the industry including having bespoke community investment plans for each of the regions in which it operates. In Coventry, for example, the company worked with social mobility charity Career Ready to identify schools in social mobility cold spots and provided their pupils with information and experiences relating to the variety of roles and opportunities in real estate. SEGRO’s staff and people working for its suppliers then mentored the young people over the course of a year and provided career guidance in areas including CVs and networking.

Imogen added that SEGRO’s partners generally value the opportunity to make an impact in their local communities in this way as many of them work for SMEs without the resources to introduce such initiatives themselves.

Jill spoke about how Avison Young has embraced progressive recruitment processes, which even extends to individual initiatives in different regions and reflects the depth of feeling among her colleagues for providing opportunities to a wider range of people. The company has increased the number of apprentices it employs and continues to do so, and Jill herself has a relationship with the University of Leeds whereby she offers work placements to people who have not studied on real estate courses. A geography student who undertook such a placement has now been offered a role at Avison Young and will be funded to study the real estate course required for the role.

Jasmine asked Lucy about the retention of people with underrepresented protected characteristics and what could be learned from the law profession. Lucy discussed how even though there are more women than men in the legal sector, there is still an issue with progression rates, especially to senior leadership levels, and significant scrutiny of gender pay gaps.

Improvements to the gender balance at Addleshaw Goddard have been achieved by interventions including menopause-related initiatives and sponsorship of junior partners until they are equity partners. Indeed, the company’s focus on gender balance has been recognised by it being included in The Times’ Top 50 Employers for Gender Equality list for many consecutive years. Lucy added that the profession should now look to make more progress when it comes to ethnic diversity and representation.

Although the panellists broadly agreed that progress has been and continues to be made in gender balance in professional, office-based roles, they were less positive when it comes to social mobility and inclusive working environments for women on construction sites.

Laura shared that she had started her real estate career having not gone to university and not having family connections to the industry. She spoke about being a Quantity Surveyor on sites when she was pregnant earlier in her career, and how she believes there are still too many barriers for women and unappealing working cultures and conditions in parts of the industry.

Imogen said that two particular experiences had shaped her view that people who can influence site environments to make them more inclusive for women have a responsibility to do so. In the first instance, young women were invited for a site visit and suitable PPE to take into account their body types was not available. On another occasion, a risk assessment for operating a piece of heavy machinery had not been undertaken because a woman about to use it was the first person with long hair to have done so.

Jasmine closed the conversation by asking the panellists about defining moments (for better or worse) in their careers. Jasmine said that experiencing a lack of understanding of women’s health issues earlier in her career had led to confidence to talk about them with subsequent employers and, consequently, accommodation of her requirements.

Jill said that within the first week of working in real estate, she knew it was the career for her. As well as working with an inspirational woman in the work placement, she loved the energy and can-do attitude of our industry and the opportunity to work with people who want to make a difference to communities through the built environment.

Lucy spoke about the heartwarming moment she told her working class grandmother - who was just as clever, talented and dedicated as she is but who entered the workforce at a time when there were fewer opportunities for women and for upward social mobility – that she had been made a partner at her law firm.

“Oh treasure,” she said. “You’re a partner!”

All of us at REB would like to thank Jasmine, Laura, Jill, Imogen and Lucy for sharing their views and insights, everyone who attended such a brilliant event and Addleshaw Goddard for warmly welcoming us all.