Be Part of the Change podcast episode 1 – women in the built environment

Posted on: 23 January, 2024

The built environment comprises a diverse and exciting range of sectors, but there is still a lack of representation at every level. We want this to change.

‘Be Part of the Change’ is an awareness campaign with the purpose of celebrating the incredible success stories of our under-represented students, apprentices and alumni, as well as highlighting their challenges.

It’s also an opportunity to highlight the positive practices our employers are actioning within their organisations to inspire other companies in their approach.

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In the opening episode of our new Be Part of the Change podcast, Charlotte Thackeray, Outreach and Inclusion Lead at UCEM, is joined by the podcast’s three hosts, Drew Greenhalgh, Ellie Garside and Ummi Mahinoor.

You can learn more about Drew and Ummi in their profile pieces here.

Listen to the episode via your preferred podcast platform:

The topics discussed on this episode include:

  • Why they’re pursuing careers in the built environment
  • The role models that inspired them to enter the industry
  • The work their employers are doing to support women and EDI
  • What the sector needs to do to encourage more women to enter the industry

Full transcript:

[00:00] Aysha: Hello and welcome to the Be Part of the Change podcast. This is our new series that will explore the challenges and success stories of those from underrepresented backgrounds in the built environment. Our sector has committed to making improvements on the level of representation in the built environment, including key membership bodies. Signing a Memorandum of Understanding in 2022 to drive inclusion across the sector, we have launched be part of the change to raise awareness of challenges and share the experiences of our students, our alumni and industry professionals. This will be the first episode in a long running series. 

[00:41] Charlotte: Hello there and welcome to the Be Part of the Change podcast. Our first episode. My name is Charlote Thackeray. I’m the outreach and inclusion lead here at the University College of Estate Management. Now, this is a student based podcast, but for this very first episode, we wanted to speak with the main hosts of the podcast to learn a bit more about them. So today I’m speaking with our current student ambassadors for equality, diversity, inclusion, Drew, Ellie and Ummi. So, hi, guys. It’s great to have you all here today, so I think we can just kick it off with Drew. How did you get into the built environment? Where are you working? Would you like to introduce yourself to us? 

[01:18] Ummi: Yes. 

[01:19] Charlotte: Hello. 

[01:20] Drew: So, I’m an apprentice on the commercial agency team at Saville’s Peterborough. My sort of way into the Bill environment was, I’d say, pretty much just fell into it, really. So prior to this, I was training in the merchant Navy for two years. Decided that I wanted to be on a bit more of a land role. So I sort of knew that I wanted to go into the built environment and I was really interested in apprenticeships, so I was just searching around and found this one. So, applied and, yeah, so I actually started with team bits, like a few months prior to starting the apprenticeship, which I thought really, really helped, but, yeah, I’m really enjoying it so far, I’d say. 

[02:02] Ummi: So, my name is Ummi and I’m in the real estate management route. So I’m an apprentice management surveyor at Workman in the London office. During 6th form, I was a bit confused on what step to take, but as a child I’ve always had a passion in property development and the real estate industry, so I feel like I’m kind of doing the right thing because I was kind of passionate from the start. 

[02:27] Ellie: Hi, I’m Ellie. I’m an apprentice surveyor at Align Property Partners and I’m currently studying real estate management here at UCEM. And I would say probably the same as drew for how I got into the built environment. Originally, I’d worked my way up in my kind of part time job. So once I’d left from doing A levels, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. So I took kind of like a year out where I was management in kind of like a fast food restaurant. And then I was just kind of looking for a degree apprenticeships because a lot of my friends were in regular kind of uni and I really wanted to join, but at the same time, I was wanting to get a house and things. So I was definitely looking for a degree apprenticeship. And I’d never heard of the built environment, really, until I come to the purchase of my own house. And then it really inspired me to want to get involved with something along those lines with the surveillance side and things like that. 

[03:20] Charlotte: That’s really interesting. It’s amazing. That term fall into. It is always something that you hear. You’ll come from those different backgrounds, but you can always see there’s one sort of thread that is that built element, that property maybe element as well. Okay, so that’s really cool. So we’ve got to know a bit about you guys. So let’s talk role models, and who inspired you to get into the built environment? Or maybe since you’ve joined the built environment, is there anyone that’s particularly inspired you? 

[03:44] Drew: Yeah. So, because I kind of fell into it, I wouldn’t really say that there was anyone in particular who inspired me to get into the built environment. Like, I wouldn’t say I’ve got one particular role model. But people who I always would look up to, I would say, at the moment, are other apprentices within the company or at the university who I can see, like on LinkedIn, who are doing really well in the studies, who are graduating with first. I sort of see them, and I’m like, oh, wow, I would love to be able just to get that kind of level of academic achievement and to pass the APC as well. I know the grad on my team at the moment, he is voting for his results now. And I just think the way that he’s been handling it over the past few weeks is quite inspiring. 

[04:37] Charlotte: Really awesome. What about you, Ellie? 

[04:42] Ellie: I would say the same thing. I kind of didn’t have a role model kind of before I joined the built environment. But I would say since there is a woman within my team, she’s called Mel, and she’s a registered valuer on a socioeconomic sort of thing. And she’s probably the most organized woman I think I’ve ever met in my entire know, because I don’t think you get kind of many women, as we were going to talk about, but she really kind of runs everything that she does, and I think everybody kind of looks up to her because if anybody’s struggling, we all kind of go to her. And her knowledge on valuation and basically just everything that she does, she does really, really well. So I think to be that kind of, like, confident and have that ability is definitely something to look up to. And then kind of similar to what Drew was saying, I met an apprentice at the time who she’s just recently passed her APC when we were at one of these RICS events, and she worked in the valuation office in Durham, and she worked really hard. I think she was saying she was in the process of kind of, like, within the built environment for about seven years. She worked really hard, and I think that’s really inspiring to kind of see the journey she’s been on and where she came from to get to where she is now. And she loved everything about her job, and I think that’s really inspiring to love what you’re doing within the built environment. 

[05:59] Charlotte: Yeah, 100%. I think if you don’t love what you do, you can’t bring your full self, can you, really into it. That’s really interesting. As I say, Ellie, you picked a couple of women there in particular. Do you think that. Does that provide that extra level of inspiration? Maybe? 

[06:20] Ellie: Yes, definitely. I think so. Because you meet, I think, fewer of them as well. That definitely helps to make them kind of stand out to you as well, but also on a more relatable level, because I instantly felt kind of fully comfortable around, say, like, Mel and the other apprentice that I’d met and listening to their experiences, definitely more like, as a woman myself, is definitely something that helps to inspire you more. Sort of thing, I would say, because it’s more relatable to us. 

[06:47] Charlotte: Awesome. Yeah, that’s really nice to hear. And Ummi, who particularly inspired you? 

[06:52] Ummi: So I grew up in a single parent household, so there’s four siblings, so two brothers, me and my sister. So growing up, I’ve always seen my mom. She’s had a passion in property and the whole jazz of real estate and things, so she bought her property her 1st, 110 years ago, and she’s been growing her portfolio since. So as a child, I just used to look at my mom and think, because it’s a really long process, like buying houses and having tenants and things, and she always was determined, even though there was always, like, obstacles on the way. She used to just be like, no, I’m going to get this done. So when I was a child, my mom used to always say to me, there’s nothing that I can’t do, so I can always do it and I will. There’s always a way out of thinking that you can’t do it, but you can do it. So I’ve just always looked at my mom and thought she’s kind of a big role model. I mean, our moms are role models to all of us anyways. But since joining the built environment, I really do look up the team leaders. For example, my land manager is Isma. She is quite proactive, she’s quite helpful, and she is a woman in real estate also, Kirsty, she’s a partner in our firM. I feel like she’s very understanding. She’s someone that we turn up to when it’s like we have issues or just to have a good chat. I feel like she always sees the best in everyone and she’s always pushing the whole idea of being hardworking and getting things done, which is kind of what you need in a fast growing industry, like in the built environment. 

[08:20] Charlotte: Super. So, I mean, you work for very different companies. Saviles is a huge company that stretches across the entirety of the UK. And Ellie, you work at line Property Partners. Ummi is at workman LLP. So two of you are based in London, one of you more further north. Is it a case that any of your employers done anything or are they doing anything to specifically support their female employees and women in general? Or is it more sort of a homogeneous effort to support all employees? 

[08:54] Drew: I’d say it’s a little bit of the two there where I know with Saviles we’re such a large company, so we do actually have a gender group as well as gender representatives in the company as well. I was actually looking into a bit earlier and you can probably head online and have a look for yourself. But Saville’s recognized that they’ve got the gender pay gap and they do recognize that they can try to close that. I think I was reading about it earlier. So they are actively reducing the pay gap, which I think is actually really good that they’re acknowledging what they can be doing. 

[09:33] Charlotte: Absolutely. What about the line, Ellie, with us. 

[09:38] Ellie: Being a kind of smaller, as you said, kind of mid sized company? When I was kind of researching into it with our company, we don’t have specific something that’s displayed on the website sort of thing, but I think that in our company, we’re not made to stand out as women, which is nice. I know within our team, within the estates team, the first ever apprentices, I actually am one of the first apprentices, me and another girl. So it’s nice to see that their first two apprentices ever have been women, and obviously around our age as well. So it’s nice to see that it wasn’t even a thing of like, make it especially to be women. It was just as it happened. And I think it’s nice that our company kind of doesn’t recognize that sort of thing. There was no kind of decisions there or anything like that. And they do try. I mean, I think every team, when I was kind of looking into it is fairly balanced. So I think kind of reducing the kind of prejudice against women sort of thing is definitely there. 

[10:37] Charlotte: That’s really cool to hear. How about you, Ummi? 

[10:40] Ummi: I feel like there’s a lot of female partners in workmen. So I feel like already we have woman empowerment because we have quite a lot of senior teams. The senior teams are quite full of females. I feel like the idea of sisterhood is quite big. In Workman, we’ve always got groups of, as the girls really do go and have lunch together and we do sit and have a chat. So I feel like we have been implemented that from the start. Also in workmen, we have the EDI group and it’s called a. Every Friday, last Friday of the month, we have like a meeting. So everyone that’s part of the group will sit and we have a chat. And usually it’s the hub. So the hub is like the workman, where all the employees at workmen can share their thoughts and things and all the updates will get sent onto there. So we usually post updates and things on there. So, for example, the most recent one was Diwali, I believe. So we just post our important things on there, so we’ll feel like, or things that we want to be changed. So currently we have discussions of having a peace and wellbeing room alongside prayer rooms. Most of our offices in the UK have already implemented this, but other offices are still discussions on where or how they can put it in. So, like, people can just step out if they need to sit in the well being room, take a break, or if you want to pray, you can pray in there. So I feel like we are doing quite a bit to kind of implement diversity and appreciating women and womanhood. 

[12:15] Charlotte: So I guess if we’re thinking as the sector in general, the RICS has recently launched its first women in surveying insight report, which was very enlightening. They talk about how the average length of a woman’s membership is 16 years, as opposed to a man, which is 28. And they talk of those who are surveyed, particularly 17% of approximately 99,000 members are from the UK and Ireland who are women. But that there is still a massive variety in the terms of the pathway of the surveying profession is particularly varied. So land and resources is the greatest representation of women. But minerals and waste just 6% in terms of the members of their membership who they surveyed. Sorry, who they surveyed. So there is clearly still more to do. What more could or should be sector do for women, and then maybe why that should be. 

[13:03] Drew: I feel like something which is highlighted quite a bit in the report as well is the difference in the amount of women in the director roles compared to men. So I think so much they could be doing is looking to put more women into the higher up roles. They could probably also focus on sort of the lower end of it as well. I know for me it was never a thing where we had anyone come into our school to talk to us about the built environment, and I feel like they could be really trying to encourage younger women just through trying to promote it a little bit more. 

[13:40] Charlotte: Yeah, absolutely. I think. Would you also potentially look to other areas and almost as potentially as somebody who’s sort of as an apprentice, you’re looking to gain that experience as well. So would you potentially think about gaining that experience from your university as well? Could there be something that we could do as an institution to help support that, potentially, if you got this role as an example, but yeah, and then you also mentioned outreach as well, which is really interesting. Do you think that collaborating maybe as built environment institutions and members within the sector, we could do more, maybe to collaborate on that? It’s quite a leading question, but I wonder sometimes if we should be as an institution when I’m going out and doing outreach, maybe we should do that with other industry outreach teams, if that would have that more impact. 

[14:33] Drew: I guess I could see so, yeah. 

[14:37] Ellie: I think it would. 

[14:37] Drew: Could probably help having the university and maybe some of the companies in the building environment as well. Just probably trying to get like an outreach program where sort of showing how you can work together and how the apprenticeship would work. 

[14:53] Charlotte: Absolutely. Ellie, have you any thoughts? 

[14:57] Ellie: Yeah, I would agree with everything Drew said there kind of like just including more women in the kind of director roles and having that kind of a support system even further down below kind of thing to help for more women to understand that I think is definitely something the profession because a lot of the time if I tell, say like my friends what I do, you kind of get a bit of a blank look. So I think trying to raise awareness of what you do within the built environment. All the different types. I mean I work for. The company that I work for is multidisciplinary. So we’ve got a lot of people in there, kind of like architects, that sort of thing and building surveys and everything along the lines of that and sustainability team and stuff like that. So it’d be good to know about the different roles that women can get involved in as well. Or just anybody really. But that further down below sort of thing with people in schools and that sort of thing to know about basically just the different roles that there are and what’s involved in them. 

[15:55] Charlotte: Ummi, have you anything to add? 

[15:57] Ummi: So as the built environment as we all know is quite male dominated. So it can be quite scary, quite daunting for some woman to enter a room that’s probably full of men. Not in a rude way, but it could be a bit like do I feel a bit of out of place or do I feel like I’m in the right place? I feel like there should be maybe a bit more events or more like notice for women in particular. For example, ladies in real estate, they host a monthly breakfast. So a lot of women in real estate like they go and join the breakfast, make some friends, network and just bounce off ideas from each other. So I feel like that’s a good idea. Maybe we could implement ideas like that in maybe our firms or there could be charities or other organizations that could implement that for women that are looking to start in real estate or already working in real estate or even your University perhaps as well. 

[16:51] Drew: Yeah, of course. 

[16:54] Charlotte: So I’ve got two more questions left and my first one is what do you enjoy most about the built environment? It’s obviously such a wide, broad sector and you guys have talked about how actually you are working in quite different sort of areas within your apprenticeship. So what is it that you enjoy most? Drew? 

[17:12] Drew: First, I feel like for me the thing that I enjoy the most is the diversity of the building environment. You could be doing anything and every day for me is just so. It’s almost as if I never know what. I’m going to actually head into the office at like 09:00 a.m. And I’ve got no idea what the day ahead holds, which I personally really just love about it. But yeah, I feel like the fact that you can also, I know within savvy, especially, I know that I’m training with the commercial agency team right now, but I could probably head into anywhere in the built environment, really. There’s the variety there, I think, which really appeals. 

[17:55] Charlotte: Super. 

[17:56] Drew: And Ellie? 

[17:58] Ellie: Yeah, I would definitely say the diversity is something that’s really good because it keeps your day kind of interesting. You’re not doing the same thing over and over again. As I say, I tend to do quite a lot within valuation. So you can go from learning how to value like a piece of land one day, to be doing a house the next, and that sort of thing. Just the variety of work, but also getting to work below really experienced people within the built environment is definitely something that’s really good because you get to learn a lot of different things from different people, different perspectives. And if you’re working within a couple of, say, principal surveyors, you get to learn what they’re specializing in. And they tend to talk about with such passion that I think it’s really nice to see kind of to have the conversations to learn something about the built environment from somebody who is so understanding of it and knows what they’re talking about. 

[18:51] Charlotte: That’s all really interesting. How about you, Ummi? 

[18:55] Ummi: I feel like in the built environment, every day is different, so you’re not always expecting the same thing. And I feel like there’s so many different roles and so many different opportunities that you can grab, and you’re always learning new things. And as there’s a lot of clients, especially in property management where I work in, so it’s like you’re always bouncing off ideas from different clients and understanding how some asset managers like to work, how some property managers like to work. So I feel like there’s always something for you to learn, and there’s always new ways for you to create networking, relationships and things that will help you grow your own independent portfolio, like your personal portfolio as well as your professional portfolio. 

[19:39] Charlotte: Amazing. Cool. And then I guess the final question would be, what has made the biggest positive difference to you as a woman in the built environment? Drew first. 

[19:48] Drew: So the biggest difference for me would be definitely working with other women. The team that I’m on currently, the director, associate director, and the graduate, they’re all men. So being able to work with other women, especially those in the direct positions and those who are qualified, I find it really helpful. I do feel as if there’s definitely a difference in the way that men and women work. So being able to work with other women is I find it personally really helpful. 

[20:22] Charlotte: Cool. Thank you, Ellie. 

[20:26] Ellie: Yeah, I would definitely say, like, working alongside other women. Sometimes I see when I work in a second with a principal surveyor, we go into a local authority, and we see a lot of women that kind of work there within their kind of estates team. And you see them kind of like leading meetings, leading different aspects. And it’s nice to see that it is a woman who’s in charge of something and is kind of also passionate about it, but also in that kind of leadership role. And then again, as I say, within our own team, seeing a woman who tends to lead our team meetings and stuff like that, it is nice to see. And then I’ve also been obviously here in my current role for over a year. So I’ve seen the new batch of apprentices from different teams come in, and seeing that they’re quite a diverse range of women as well, has been really positive to see that. We’re seeing more people come into the built environment that are women more accepted, and it’s more kind of well known, but also seeing them in kind of like, kind of like leadership roles or leading team meetings and being a big part of it. 

[21:31] Charlotte: That’s all really interesting. How about you, Ummi? 

[21:34] Ummi: So, as I’ve only been in the built environments for a year and a bit, I feel like I have gained a lot more confidence. But I have plans of making the built environment a bit more inclusive, a bit more diverse. Like, for example, last year, I was having this chat with my land manager, and I was saying, like, Ramadan is coming to an end, so maybe we should do something to celebrate the end of Ramadan. So I was suggested the ideas of maybe like, sharing cupcakes out to my teammates in the office, or maybe like a quiz or a social after so we can celebrate the idea of Eid. And I feel like it’s kind of nice to have these things put in place, because then my other colleagues can kind of understand what this religion is about or what this culture is about, and it just brings everyone together, so we’re more socializing, and it just brings us to make more friends and good networking. 

[22:28] Charlotte: Cool. So I guess cumilatively, from what you’ve said over the course of this episode of the podcast, is that there are some positive steps being taken by the sector. But you mentioned your female role models. So women inspiring women clearly is the most positive takeaway from today. But by bringing more women into the sector, this will only enhance that. And that is what the sector really needs to make an effort to do. Thank you so much for your time today. It’s been really amazing to hear about your experiences in the sector. Really, really appreciate it. Our next podcast will be in the new year, so make sure you keep an eye out for the next episode. Thanks very much. 

[23:08] Aysha: Thank you for listening to the Be Part of the Change podcast to find out more and get involved with the campaign. Google UCEM Be Part of the Change. If you’d like to get in touch with our student ambassadors for EDI, email