International Women’s Day (IWD) is the perfect opportunity to stop and reflect on our collective progress towards a gender equal world - a world free of stereotypes, bias, and discrimination. It is also a time to celebrate the female trailblazers leading the way.
This year, CIM is exploring this in the context of the property sector. By engaging with some of the industry’s senior leaders, we hope to spark a conversation about the important issues. We are fortunate enough to have a large number of inspiring, accomplished and driven women in the sector in which we operate.
For our ‘In Conversation’ series, we sat down with CBRE’s Amanda Steele, Knight Frank’s Alison O’Neill, Centuria’s Annie Scott, and for this segment, SRL’s Sarah Blackmore. A results driven hands-on leader who thrives on leading high performing teams and growing emerging leaders, Sarah has over 20 years experience in property with roles spanning JLL, Colliers and Colonial First State. Sarah is currently the Head of Asset Management for SRL (Sandhurst Retail & Logistics), a diversified property group that’s redefining retail and logistics in Australia’s fastest-growing regions.
We are grateful for Sarah’s time, and gleaned a lot from our conversation. Here is a snapshot of the key takeaways, followed by the complete Q&A.
CIM X Sarah Blackmore: Key Insights
- Be confident in your own skills and value, and back yourself. If you never take the risk you may never get the opportunities.
- Providing paid parental leave for partners so that women can return to work whilst providing the other parent the chance to take main carer responsibilities will help women return to the sector and create a more level playing field.
- Leadership in organisations need to look within their executive team and consider how they may be perceived from the outside – are they a diverse group bringing diverse thoughts and perspectives?
- Senior leader ratios are not always the answer. People should be appointed based on merit, not on gender.
CIM X Sarah Blackmore: Q&A
Q: Tell us about your career progression so far? Why did you decide to join the property industry?
A: Like many others, I fell into property by accident – my first full time job was at a local real estate agency where I worked in the sales team. I spent three years in real estate and decided I wanted to move away from that (not to mention working Saturdays and Sundays) and I landed a role at The Gandel Group in the development team. That was 20 years ago and I have worked in retail property ever since. After working in development for some 7 years, I started my family and decided I wanted a role where I could have some flexibility and work part time while my son was young. A former manager introduced me to JLL where I was offered a role as Portfolio Coordinator in the Property & Asset Management department.
Over the 9.5 years I was at JLL, I worked my way up to National Projects Manager focusing on Business Development and Business improvement initiatives, and my last role with JLL I was the Portfolio Director, overseeing a large national shopping centre portfolio, responsible for managing a team of 90 people.
I then accepted a role at Colliers as Head of Retail Management in Victoria where I stayed for the next 2.5 years. Colliers was a great rounding for me, filling out some gaps in experience that I had and, gave me a renewed perspective on property, leadership and business in general.
“Having recently joined SRL, I am enjoying the best of both worlds – as Owners in the greenfields space we are fortunate to be able to create places from the ground up, so whilst responsible for overseeing Asset Management, my role also involves a proportion of the development side too.”
2. Words to Go By
Q: What challenges have you faced professionally, and what advice do you have for younger women to help them navigate these?
A: Like many, I have had my fair share of challenges. You may think you’re not as experienced as you “should” be or compare yourself to someone you or others may perceive as being more experienced than you. I think the key is to be confident in your own skills and value, and back yourself. If you never take the risk you may never get the opportunities – you have to go and get them, they won’t necessarily come to you.
“There are times you will be told no or rejected – as difficult as that is don’t take it personally, ask for feedback, work hard, take on more responsibilities to grow your skills and in the right business, the rewards will come.”
I’ve been fortunate to have a few really great leaders I’ve worked for who have supported me in my career growth. It's never a bad thing to have a couple of allies in your corner.
3. From Equality to Equity
Q: The IWD 2023 #EmbraceEquity campaign theme seeks to get the world talking about why "equal opportunities are no longer enough". What are some ways that this could play out in the professional world of property? How can we embrace a culture that actively promotes and supports women, as we move from equality to equity?
A: I actually think the property industry does a pretty good job of providing equality and equity. Often challenges for women come when they decide to start a family. Providing paid parental leave for partners so that women can return to work whilst providing the other parent the chance to take main carer responsibilities will help women return to the sector and create a more level playing field. It’s great to see so many organisations and many male colleagues I have worked with have taken this opportunity. It creates equality the other way also.
4. New Pathways
Q: How can the industry create more pathways to encourage women to join property?
A: There are so many great pathways already to encourage women to join the property industry. Many organisations have cadet or graduate programs, however they do often rely on the person already having a desire to work in property. The Property Council is creating some excellent initiatives such as Girls in Property, to give young women still in high school the opportunity to have exposure to the industry before they select their career path or degree.
5. Industry Initiatives
Q: What is the industry doing well right now to encourage equal opportunity, and what needs improvement?
A: The industry has already done a lot of work in the gender diversity stakes, which is really positive What needs improvement will vary organisation to organisation, however generally, leadership in organisations need to look within their executive team and consider how they may be perceived from the outside – are they a diverse group bringing diverse thoughts and perspectives?
“Traditionally many property organisations have had the boardroom filled with men of a certain age – this is changing though with many women appointed to senior roles across the sector.”
6. Women in Leadership Roles
Q: How might we improve ratios in senior leadership roles?
A: I’m personally not supportive of creating ratios – if we talk about equity and equality as has been covered above, people should be appointed in senior roles based on merit, not on gender.
“I feel that these ratios actually do female leaders a disservice and can appear tokenistic.”
There are definitely organisations that have a lot of work to do to improve in this space, however generally our industry already has many senior female leaders in key roles across the board.
7. Women in Technical Roles
Q: How can we encourage more women to join technical roles, and nurture more (FMs, mechanical contractors, engineers etc.)?
A: When I got my first role working on a building site back in 2007, I was the only female on site. Things have changed significantly since then and I see many female tradespeople, electricians, and I personally have employed a number of female FMs over my career.
Getting women to be interested in these roles whilst they are still at school is key to creating interest in these roles – many of which only really start teaching in university or trade school.
“Schools that provide opportunities for young women to learn about this early is one part, also fostering a healthy environment for women that are working in these roles or trades so they stay in these roles is critical.”
8. Role Models
Q: Which women leaders in property do you look up to and why?
A: I’m fortunate to have a number of female professional leaders in my social circle, none of whom however work in property! It’s important to find a tribe of women to support you and I have learned many things just by sharing challenges or bouncing ideas off these wonderful women.
9. Learning From Your Organisation
Q: What are some great examples where SRL has empowered females?
A: SRL is a fantastic family friendly organisation – for both our female and male team members. We are afforded a level of flexibility to manage family commitments, and life commitments – a number of our team work part time, we have implemented new wellness initiatives, and provide opportunities for training and development. Everyone is treated equally and particularly given our size, all our staff are empowered to and expected to look at things differently, take on a variety of responsibilities (sometimes outside their day-to-day remit). I believe this creates great opportunities for career development and learning.