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Inspiring women driving change at MIPIM 2015

Helen Pineo

Associate Director – Cities at the Building Research Establishment (BRE).

CIC Diversity Panel Member

Sipping Champagne on the top deck of Arup’s yacht in the Old Port of Cannes, I was struck by the juxtaposition of the influential women attending our Future City roundtable and the general representation of women at MIPIM, the property sector’s annual business development event. Of the 21,400 people who attended MIPIM, I couldn’t tell you what proportion were women. But I can say that the women I met in Cannes were experienced influential thought-leaders who provide positive role models for women in the property industry.

In the UK, women represent 15% of the property and construction industry workforce. Given this underrepresentation, it is always a pleasure to meet women who have excelled in the industry and can inspire younger generations to stay in this career path and carve out their own way to achieving positive impact. What I found particularly inspiring at MIPIM were the women pulling through values of social inclusion and environmental sustainability fully aligned with a strong focus on economic growth. This blog post introduces a few of these women as inspirational examples in the wider development industry – their stories and perspectives are relevant for anybody in the sector.

I met Natalie Voland at the Future Cities roundtable, organised by World Cities Network and supported by BRE.  She shared her experiences working in Montreal as a property developer with a portfolio of approx. 1.5 million sq. ft and over 500 small and medium businesses. Natalie has a background in social work and this shapes her approach to real estate. She seeks to use her developments to bring about economic growth and urban regeneration, working with communities and small businesses to build property that is sustainable from the triple bottom line perspective.

Taking over her father’s property development business 18 years ago, Natalie had to fight through stereotypes to win respect from her workforce. She did this by working for three months in each of the departments of the company, including pounding nails on construction sites. To prove her commitment to excellence, Natalie told her new employees (some of whom had taken to calling her ‘Barbie’) that if she could do their job better at the end of three months, they would have to find a new job. This approach removed any doubt that Natalie was up for the job, but it’s not her only management style. Her company’s website says ‘whenever possible, we promote and support our employees' families.’ This is followed by a series of the company’s commitments to its employees emphasising strong family values, employee development and diversity within the company.

I saw Martha Schwartz speak at a session run by RIBA on designing Healthy Cities. She was talking about the role of public spaces and emphasised “that nothing can sustain itself over time if people are not invested in it either emotionally or physically”. Martha is clearly invested in the opportunity for urban landscapes to be huge assets for cities but describes a situation where they are currently economically and politically stressed. She was practical about the economic realities of maintaining high quality urban spaces, but adamant that there are huge costs to cities and society of not investing in public places. Her views in this session were a refreshing change from the other presentations which were more prosaic than thought-provoking material. Martha is a tenured Professor in Practice of Landscape Architecture at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design and she runs her own landscape architecture practice in London with international clients. 

                      Caption: Martha Schwartz speaking at MIPIM, 12 March 2015

Photograph: Martha Schwartz speaking at MIPIM, 12 March 2015.

Rosemary Feenan, International Director at Jones Lang LaSalle, also attended our Future Cities roundtable. She is currently running the firm’s Global Research Programmes on World Winning Cities, Global Real Estate Transparency and Sustainability in Global Real Estate Market. I was impressed by Rosemary’s contribution to the discussion as she sought to point out where good practice in investment analysis in the property industry is beginning to address wider urban challenges. Rosemary has a background in urban planning and over three decades of experience in property market analysis.

Walking along the front of the Palais des Festivals you see the thousands of suits and ties moving between yachts and cafes to carry out the business of international real estate investment deals. It was refreshing and inspiring to meet a few women who have made real impact in this industry, albeit in different professions, with passion and expertise.  Outside of their impact on property, I think the women I’ve highlighted in this post will also be influential to young professionals who are looking for role models and the diverse range of career paths available in the development industry.

                               Future Cities roundtable, Natalie Voland (Left) and Rosemary Feenan (Right) at MIPIM, 12 March 2015, organised by World Cities Network.

Photograph: Future Cities roundtable, Natalie Voland (Left) and Rosemary Feenan (Right) at MIPIM, 12 March 2015, organised by World Cities Network.

For more information about the CIC Diversity Panel click here

Contributor: Helen Pineo is Associate Director – Cities at the Building Research Establishment (BRE). She has seven years of experience in urban planning with a focus on sustainability. In 2013 she led the creation of a BRE Women’s Network that holds cross-industry events to inspire young professionals.

@helenpineo

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