Bringing a week of International Women’s day content to a close, PropElle founder Ayesha Ofuri writes about the property sector’s diversity strengths, and where it needs to work harder.
Starting a business in any sector is challenging. Being a female entrepreneur is challenging. Being a black female entrepreneur is even more challenging. Starting three businesses as a black, female entrepreneur in the property sector, well…. it’s been quite a ride so far.
I have found the property sector to be rich in diversity in some ways and completely lacking in others. The sector has such a wide breadth of people from various walks of life, from forward- thinking CEOs, pushing boundaries and seeking to revolutionise the industry through technology or new construction methods; to high-net-worth individuals investing in property to maximise their investment returns; or to a mother wanting to use an ISA to invest in property to build an investment pot for her young daughter.
I love the way the sector speaks to so many different people from all walks of life. My businesses cater to people from all of these backgrounds: PropElle Network is focused on female financial empowerment through property investment; Black Property Network aims to help increase financial literacy among minority communities, using property investment as the vehicle; and Axion Property Partners works with high-net-worth individuals who want access to property investment opportunities.
However, at the more professional levels, whether in the corporate sphere or the entrepreneurial world, the sector is still very much dominated by men and while change is something people talk about, it can’t come soon enough.
I’m no stranger to working in male-dominated environments. I studied physics at undergrad, one of only a handful of women out of 200 on my programme. I worked for a decade in investment banking and investment management, again in a male-dominated environment, and then I moved into the real estate sector as an entrepreneur.
There have been many times when I have felt the property industry is an “old boys” club and I stuck out like a sore thumb, but I try to not let that deter me. In fact, I usually seek to use it in my favour – if I stick out, at least I will be remembered - so I always try to make sure that I bring my A-game so I’ll be remembered for my business acumen or something else positive.
Overall my experience has been highly rewarding, and dare I say, because of some of the challenges. I’m learning that the journey itself is a large part of the reward, not the final destination. So, as I navigate and overcome unconscious biases, a male-dominated environment, an industry that seemed one of the last to embrace technological change, I can cheer the wins I see (both my own and those of others).
I am buoyed by the prospect of the changes to come and the bright future I see ahead for the industry – one that is more inclusive and diverse, one that embraces technology and sustainability. And so I challenge each and every person in the property sector to be open to change, embrace change and actively seek change. After all, the sector as a whole will be better off for it.