Women in Property’s National Student Awards have helped more than a thousand female graduates on the road to success. Property Week  talks to former finalists about the importance of the programme.

In 2007, national membership organisation Women in Property ran the National Student Awards as a one-off as part of its 20th-anniversary celebrations. Sixteen years on, the awards programme is still going strong and more than 1,500 students have taken part.

The awards seek to correct the industry’s gender imbalance by strengthening the links between education and academia and through encouraging young women to pursue a career in the property sector.

Under the programme, universities nominate their best second-year – or third-year in Scotland – built environment students. They then go before regional judging panels where they are questioned on coursework and their interpersonal skills are assessed. The regional winners go through to a national judging day.

The winners are then announced at the Best of the Best Awards Dinner, which this year will be held at Claridge’s in London on 21 September.

Tallulah Bannerman National Student Awards winner 2022

2022 winner Tallulah Bannerman studied architecture at Edinburgh

The awards are supported by national and regional sponsors, which offer work placements and sometimes even employment to the students.

Jennifer Winyard, national vice-chair of Women in Property and national lead for the National Student Awards, attributes the programme’s enduring success to the growing numbers of women studying built environment qualifications and universities being “keen to showcase their degree courses” to the next generation of students.

“To date, more than 1,500 students have participated in the awards programme, the vast majority of whom are now actively pursuing a career in this industry,” says Winyard. “That’s more visibility for women, more breaking down of stereotypes and more representation of the communities we all work in and for.”

We speak to six Women in Property National Student Awards finalists about how the programme has helped them achieve their career ambitions and how the sector needs to evolve to attract more women.

Vivian Wall, inclusive designer, Motionspot National finalist (South East region) 2020

Vivian Wall Headshot

Vivian Wall

How did you get into property and what motivated you to join the sector?

Growing up in the sunny, twin-island republic of Trinidad and Tobago, I was exposed to a melting pot of cultures. My two main interests were, and still are, making a positive social impact and visual art. The field of architecture provided an opportunity to combine these two interests, and inspired my mission to ensure that the spaces we design are representative of the vibrant and diverse people who use them.

What property roles have you had to date?

My journey began as an architectural assistant, creating sketch models and plans for kitchen extensions. I then became a design and sales consultant for Fine & Able, creating luxurious and accessible bathrooms tailored to clients’ specific needs. Currently, I am an inclusive designer at Motionspot, working with commercial clients to create spaces that are welcoming to everyone. I actively design and advise on built environments representative of neurodiversity, disability, race, faith, cultural practices, gender identity and expression.

How did being nominated for a Women in Property award help your career?

The Women in Property National Student Awards are a source of validation for any young woman on a mission to soar in a male-dominated industry. It empowered me to speak up in rooms where I am the only one representative of a certain demographic, and pursue opportunities to rise to the very top – even if there is no one else like me there yet.

Name one thing that would encourage more women into the property sector…

Representation. You cannot aspire towards something if you don’t even know it exists. Let’s see more women within the property industry on mainstream media. Let’s get them into our schools and universities to speak to the next generation – and let’s empower them to take on senior positions, becoming leaders within the field.

What would you say to someone looking to join the sector now?

Persist until you succeed and, when you get there, pave the way for others to follow.

Rebecca Freeman, quantity surveyor, Dandara National finalist (South East region) 2017

Rebecca Freeman

Rebecca Freeman

How did you get into property and what motivated you to join the sector?

I was working in a shop while at college and a regular customer approached me as she was looking for someone outgoing to join her lettings agency. I had no idea about letting homes, but soon found that I loved all the different types of buildings and travelling to different areas. My love of property and architecture stemmed from there.

What property roles have you had to date?

I have been fortunate to do a variety of roles in property and construction with each one leading on to something bigger. I started out as a lettings negotiator, before moving to a housing association as a resource planner arranging repairs and maintenance on its housing stock. It was from there I was offered the opportunity to train as a building surveyor and move to the asset management team, delivering its improvement programme. For the past six years, I have been working as a quantity surveyor in new-build housing.

How did being nominated for a Women in Property award help your career?

It ended up being a complete game-changer for my career. Part of the process was a presentation to a panel of judges, one of whom was the managing director of Linden Homes Chiltern, a new-build housing developer. He was impressed with my presentation and I ended up being offered a job to join his commercial team. I have since been able to progress in my career and having been a part of the awards has stood out on my CV when applying for roles.

Name one thing that would encourage more women into the property sector…

Targeting school leavers. No one ever came to my school to talk about jobs in construction for women, and from what I gather that has not improved in 20 years. There is not enough promotion of the apprenticeships, degrees and work-based learning available.

What would you say to someone looking to join the sector now?

Do not be put off by stories of how the industry used to be. Come in with an open mind and invest yourself in the vast opportunities available and you can have a really rewarding career.

Jessica Dowd, director, JADA Property Group National winner 2014

Jess Headshot 3 copy

Jessica Dowd

How did you get into property?

My interest in property began at a young age when I loved watching home improvement programmes and had a desire to complete similar projects myself. My dad has a successful construction business, which inspired me to be successful and eventually build a business of my own. I studied construction project management at university and have worked in the industry since.

What property roles have you had to date?

Between the ages of 18 and 22, I completed work placements alongside my degree, including working for Al Habtoor Group in Dubai and Laing O’Rourke in Australia. After graduating, I spent five years working at St George in central London. I started as an assistant site manager and progressed to project manager, managing a team in the delivery of high-end residential homes. I left St George in October 2022 to start a property development business of my own, which has recently launched as JADA Property Group.

How did winning a Women in Property award help your career?

Being selected as the national winner from a group of incredible women had a huge impact on my confidence and belief in my ability to succeed. It allowed me to stand out when applying for jobs and made me even more motivated and determined to achieve.

Name one thing that would encourage more women into the property sector…

I believe more women need to be visible at board level, with flexible working arrangements in place to facilitate this. There has been positive progress with women entering the industry, but at board level there is typically a middle-aged male demographic, which provides insufficient visibility and inspiration for women in junior roles.

What would you say to someone looking to join the sector now?

Go for it. There are so many amazing opportunities and different roles within the industry. It is fast-paced and challenging but equally exciting and rewarding. Be prepared to work hard but be confident in your ability and what you bring to the table.

Emma Kantor, risk assurance manager, Santander UK National finalist (central Scotland region) 2014

Emma Kantor headshot colour

Emma Kantor

How did you get into property?

As a result of several family members working in the industry, I had an early interest in the sector. Consequently, I did sixth-form work experience at a planning consultancy in Belfast. I had a fantastic experience and thoroughly enjoyed the variety of projects the firm worked on.

I then enrolled to study planning and property development at Heriot-Watt University and ended up following the real estate surveying route.

What property roles have you had to date?

After starting as a graduate, I worked at Cushman & Wakefield in Edinburgh for almost eight years in the commercial valuation and advisory team. I moved to Santander UK last summer and am now a risk assurance manager within its property risk team.

How did being nominated for a Women in Property award help your career?

One of the judges for the central Scotland region worked for Cushman & Wakefield, which was called DTZ at the time, and offered me a summer internship. Following the internship, I continued working for the firm one day a week during my final year of university and I was offered a role upon graduation. I then worked my way up the firm before moving to my current role at Santander UK in August 2022.

Name one thing that would encourage more women into the property sector…

I believe that having more workshops raising awareness of the industry in schools, colleges and universities, as well as public information about the huge variety of jobs available, would encourage young women to pursue a career in property. The property sector benefits from having a diverse workforce and offers an extremely exciting, relationship-driven and flexible career.

What would you say to someone looking to join the sector now?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions about potential roles, and contact women working in the industry to find out what it is like on a day-to-day basis. After hearing a few personal testimonies, I am sure anyone will find that it is the perfect sector to join.

Caitlin Mitchell, assistant engineer – water asset management, WSP National winner 2017

Caitlin Mitchell_085236933.MP~2

Caitlin Mitchell

How did you get into property and what motivated you to join the sector?

I decided to pursue a career in civil engineering after reading a book about how things are made. The book piqued my interest when it discussed how skyscrapers have developed over time.

What property roles have you had to date?

I have predominantly worked in water management and drainage. Initially, I worked in Northern Ireland for a family-run contractor and project-managed surveys of sewer networks. I have also worked for a small family consultancy, designed surface- and foul-water networks and been involved in projects looking at the phosphate-neutrality impact on planning.

I currently work for WSP as an engineer, predominantly working on highway drainage and designing sustainable drainage systems.

How did winning a Women in Property award help your career?

I think the most helpful aspect of the awards was to be exposed to a network of successful, helpful women already working in the industry. A few times, when I have been unsure on an aspect of my own career, I have been able to reach out and ask advice. It has also helped me understand more about what different careers are out there.

Name one thing that would encourage more women into the property sector…

There needs to be more education from an early age about how the sector is open to women. We need to show engineers and property professionals as a mix of men and women in media, books and on children’s television shows.

What would you say to someone looking to join the sector now?

Do it. You won’t regret joining an industry that has such significant potential to make the world a better place. It might not always feel like it, but you have the chance to make a massive difference to the quality of people’s lives, regardless of how you are involved in the property sector.

Eunice John, architectural technologist, Smalley Marsey Rispin Architects National winner 2019

Eunice John

Eunice John

How did you get into property?

I was unsure what I wanted to study at university, but I knew that I enjoyed English, chemistry and design and technology. So, I did a variety of courses in Leeds that seemed to marry all these interests of mine, and ended up studying architectural technology. I have enjoyed the challenges ever since.

What property roles have you had to date?

I have worked for the past four years as an architectural technologist within the ecommerce team at SMR Architects, specialising in the industrial and logistics sector. I have designed, co-ordinated and managed projects of various scales, seeing them through from feasibility to construction.

Since graduating, I have had the opportunity to gain further experience by operating as lead designer and project director, with a growing focus on micro-mobility and bespoke industrial and logistics solutions.

How did winning a Women in Property award help your career?

It has greatly encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and put myself in spaces that I otherwise wouldn’t have. It has provided me with connections to other great women in the industry, who have inspired me, aided my professional growth and uplifted me. It has also helped me make friends with other young women coming up in the industry.

Name one thing that would encourage more women into the property sector…

Representation, representation, representation. Seeing other people who look like you in spaces that you potentially want to enter and navigate makes a world of difference. Coming across Women in Property made me realise there are so many spaces in the industry for women. Companies should take the opportunity to actively seek out ways to support women’s growth in the industry, whatever each woman’s journey may look like. There is so much to gain when we allow different voices across all levels.

What would you say to someone looking to join the sector now?

There are so many different opportunities across the sector – so many different jobs, roles, styles of work and more. There is something for everybody. Pursue your passion and you will find your crowd.

IWIP & PW master

Join us for an unforgettable evening of celebration, empowerment, and inspiration at Property Week’s inaugural Inspiring Women in Property Awards taking place 5 October at the Hilton London Metropole.

Book your tickets now to witness the recognition of outstanding achievements by individuals, teams, and commendable corporate initiatives that have made remarkable contributions to improving gender imbalance in the UK property and real estate industry.

For more information, to view the finalists, and to book tickets please visit https://iwip.propertyweek.com/inspiringwomeninproperty2023/en/page/home