For more years than I care to remember, I have held the belief that the property industry in general – and estate agency in particular, for all of its short comings, was a sector that was openly positive about equal opportunities for women – with not a “glass ceiling” in plain sight!
That isn’t to say that I was naïve enough to believe that somehow estate agency was a sexism free zone – because I guess we must all face up to the uncomfortable truth that the workplace to a greater or lesser extent is destined to mirror the society that we live in – albeit that some workplaces more than others are prone to overt chauvinism, sexism and/or misogyny.
So I was saddened to read recently of the case of a female estate agent in Worthing who had brought an unfair dismissal case against her employer for being squeezed out after suffering stress and depression due to the unabated sexual harassment of a male colleague. The lurid details of a case like this, not only made uncomfortable reading for me as a mature male of the species, but also as a father/step father to five young women – all in the early stages of their working lives.
Personally, I have to admit that my own thirty- year experience of working with the fairer sex has been overwhelmingly positive – with only a couple of notable exceptions that I can recall. In fact, I would actually go further, and confirm that if I were to name my top five list of the smartest, most impressive and most progressive estate agents with whom I had ever had dealings throughout my career, three of my five selections would be female.
I will spare the blushes of the other four people on my list by not naming them – but will make an exception for my number one choice – Victoria Mitchell, as I believe her story to be exemplary to all young, ambitious females in business (let alone estate agency). You see, Victoria joined a male dominated firm called Savills in the mid 1960’s as a typist – with Savills in those days being a more modest Central London firm with a few country offices – ostensibly run by mature Chartered surveyors.
Over a period of some years Victoria progressed on merit alone to eventually become Head of Savills Residential in the early 1980’s, most notably establishing a Residential Research Department, as well as overseeing the takeover of South-West London firm George Stead (a name perhaps now more familiar as Founder and Chairman of estate agency software firm – Reapit).
Both were visionary moves – the first because this was the pre-internet era, and Victoria recognised the need to supply factual market data to her developer clients, rather than just personal opinion so as to maintain their confidence. The second because under her stewardship, Savills were the first major Central London estate agent to recognise the market potential of (what were then) the secondary areas of London like Battersea, Fulham, Clapham and alike.
Both of these moves had the effect of strengthening Savills’ grip on a recession hit London property market, enabling them to expand when most other major competitors were defensive and static. Today, Savills is a Public Limited Company employing over 30,000 people with 700 offices & associates covering 60 countries – due in no small measure to the vision and drive of a typist who fought chauvinism head on – with both natural charm and a steely determination.
Would it surprise you to learn that even today Victoria remains an Executive Director of Savills, but her personal story should not be forgotten, as in my humble view it should stand out as a shining example as to what is possible for young women with both ability and guile in business.
The author of this article is Peter Nicholls CEO of ideology consulting, for more information call 0333 939 8010 or go to www.ideologyconsulting.co.uk