#SalutingOurSisters during Black History Month

Seminar / 19 October 2023

Be proactive, be visible, be connected: a discussion on the power of networks and leveraging our own advantages to mark Black History Month 2023

This Black History Month, Real Estate Balance were honoured to partner with Black Professionals in Construction Network, Black Women in Real Estate and The Land Collective at Avison Young in London to hear from a panel of inspirational Black women on their own career reflections and advice on progression in the property industry.

The brilliant panel was comprised of:

  • Chinyelu Oranefo (Chair) - Director, Sustainability and ESG Finance Team, Lloyds Bank
  • Sarah Hayford - Founder and CEO, The Land Collective
  • Reah Huggins-Sutton - Chartered Surveyor, Strategic Asset Management, JLL, and REB NextGen Committee Member
  • Carol Massay - Head of Construction, The Access Group, and Black Professionals in Construction Network champion
  • Georgina Manly - Retail Customer Propositions Director, Landsec, and Black Women in Real Estate committee member
  • Nicole White - Chief Legal Officer and Corporate Secretary, Avison Young

The conversation was introduced by Jo Davis, Principal UK Executive Chair at Avison Young, and our Managing Director Sue Brown, and started with the panellists explaining their own routes into real estate, which in of themselves demonstrated the various ways to enter the industry.

Chinyelu worked in law and then banking and said her current role focusing on sustainability in housing and other areas of real estate was “the best she has ever had”.

Reah also intended to be a lawyer, but a summer job alongside her studies at an estate agents gave her the bug for property and led to a change of degree to BSc Real Estate.

Internships at several companies then led to the JLL graduate scheme and saw her qualifying as a Chartered Surveyor with the company a year ago.

Reah extolled the value of work experience but was also keen to point out that each stage came with assessments and interviews focused on whether candidates presented themselves well and would be able to be comfortable and competent in front of clients.

Sarah was studying International Relations and Politics at university and working as an interior decorator to support her studies when she decided she wanted to work in property.

Although The Land Collective is today an award-winning, youth-focused organisation that encourages those from underrepresented groups to engage with built environment roles, it actually started out with Sarah writing a blog for other students who were interested in the industry but had seemingly unrelated degrees.

Carol started out in an accountancy role with a housebuilder while studying accountancy at night school.

She became responsible for introducing the first accountancy computer system into the business and was headhunted by the supplier of the technology to roll out the system across their tier one contractors.

Carol was then headhunted again in 2015, this time to lead a construction technology company which has since been acquired by The Access Group.

Some of you here are just starting out now, and what I want to share is that you may not end up doing what you are doing now, so always put yourself in the position of getting more knowledge, being confident in what you’re doing, and align yourself with individuals who can help steer you.

Carol Massay

Nicole had worked as a lawyer for an insurance company in the United States for eight years when one of her mentors within the firm advised her to consider diversifying her skills and experiences.

Some of her friends encouraged her to apply for a role at Avison Young, and due in-part to the unwavering sponsorship of the company’s previous Chief Legal Officer, she was promoted to his position when he retired. 

Chinyelu asked Nicole to expand on her thoughts on allyship, sponsorship and mentoring, and Nicole and that while she strategically sought out mentors in different roles and different sectors, a sponsor was quite different.

Someone who is invested in you, someone that has seen something in you, something you may not even have seen yourself or thought possible for yourself… Someone who would willingly step aside to create opportunities for you and is doing everything in their power to help you accelerate your career. That is a sponsor.

Nicole White

Sarah discussed how her own cultural heritage had taught her to be wary of not sharing her plans with others, and that she had had to unlearn that to benefit from mentoring.

Reah urged attendees to research people who they think they would benefit being mentored by and directly approach them on LinkedIn and at Networking events to start the conversation, alongside joining formal mentoring programmes.

Carol said that she has gained such development from her own mentor of 16 years that she still speaks to her every week, and Jo urged attendees not to forget that mentoring was often just as an enriching experience as being mentored.

Georgina told the story of seeing a writer and speaker on innovation she greatly admired by happenchance at a gig. They ended up going for a virtual coffee which became a valuable career development opportunity.


Georgina also spoke about the importance of organisations such as Black Women in Real Estate.

As Black women we are always the minority in most spaces and networks, but within Black Women in Real Estate we are the majority. We see others that look like ourselves but we all have a wide range of expertise, experiences and backgrounds. This community, network and sisterhood is a safe space for sharing and learning without the need to for an unconscious wall to put up as a guard up. We can express exactly how we feel, and create spaces where we are seen and heard in spaces where we may not be. In all, it’s a place to be uplifted.

Georgina Manly

Chinyelu closed the discussion by asking everyone to identify their own ‘unfair advantages’ citing her own to include a feminist father, a mother with a sense of adventure and her own resilience.

For one panellist, it was having no fear of difficult conversations and instead seeing them as the chance to create something positive, and another said it was her understanding that there are no neutral conversations; people are either better or worse off for having spoken with you.

For another panellist, it was being a self-starter and not having a fear of failure, another said their different educational background allowed them to apply a lens to issues unique to that of her colleagues.

One panellist said that having a minority protected characteristic can itself lead to opportunities, but only if we all maintain our commitment to equity, diversity and inclusion in real estate.

Real Estate Balance is thankful to have been able to contribute to the theme of #SalutingOurSisters this Black History Month with this fantastic event.