Celebrating Avant’s women in housebuilding

IWD avant2

In 2019, the need for gender balance and equality across all roles and opportunities is important and something that shouldn’t be defined by a sector. Housebuilding as a whole is taking steps to make our industry more attractive to a wider talent base.

At Avant, we’re challenging the stereotypical conventions within the housebuilding sector and we’re proud of a diverse, vibrant team. We believe in a balance for better, shown through the number of females in our company paving a career within housebuilding. Over several years, we have achieved more gender balance in our management development programme intake, based purely on merit.

We need to empower and encourage our young women to join the sector and increase the talent pool in male-dominated departments, such as technical and construction. With a strong work ethic and good attitude, the opportunities to develop and progress within housebuilding are limitless for both men and women.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve spoken with three exceptionally talented women within our business to get their thoughts on being a woman in housebuilding.

Lindsay Ramsden, strategic land director, Women in Property Yorkshire and North East chair

   

Q: Why did you choose a career in housebuilding?

LR: I am a qualified town planner and a career in land planning and working for a housebuilder offers a real opportunity to play a key role in shaping the places around us.

The UK has a clear need for more housing and working in housebuilding provides an ability to directly influence the location, scale and form of new housing development. Housebuilders regenerate existing brownfield sites and also creating entirely new sustainable communities on greenfield sites.

This is balanced with maximising the use of land and natural resources whilst seeking to protect the environment as much as possible. It is very much a multifaceted career and matches well with my philosophies as a Chartered Town Planner.

Q: What sort of tasks do you undertake within your role?

LR: My role involves overseeing the strategic land requirements for Avant Homes and sourcing, promoting, securing planning consent and purchasing land. Every piece of land is different whether in terms of location, technical constraints or planning policy positions and often involves managing the increasingly competitive and sometimes conflicting demands on the use of land. I would describe my role as challenging but very rewarding when new homes start construction.

Q: Do you feel the housebuilding sector is becoming more gender balanced, with more opportunities for women?

LR: I think housebuilding has a long way to go make it more gender balanced and more opportunities for women are required. However, I think the issues are isolated to certain departments of housebuilding – for example, sales and finance tend to have females in senior roles, but technical, engineering and construction, and land departments still have very few women in head of department roles.

It is, however, encouraging that housebuilding is doing a lot of work to support young women into these roles and therefore in the future, this situation will hopefully improve.

Q: What tips would you offer any female looking to start a career in housebuilding?

LR: My top tip is actually one given to me by a female local authority chief executive, who used the example of a female reading a job advert versus a male reading a job advert. A female reads the advert and thinks that she can only do 50 per cent of the job description and so doesn’t apply. A male reads the advert and instantly feels confident that he can do the role despite the fact that he also only has experience in 50 per cent of the job description.

Therefore, the tip would be not to shy away from opportunities that would be challenging and believe more in your own abilities, particularly in the ability to learn new skills. It is the challenging opportunities that provide growth and females have a different, but immensely positive perspective, to add to many parts of housebuilding.

Hannah Berry, assistant site manager

Q: Why did you choose a career in housebuilding?

HB: You could say I didn’t “choose” a career in housebuilding. I was brought up in and around the construction sector, as my dad had his own building company, and always aspired to work with him when I was old enough – you can see how keen I was by this photo from when I was four-years-old! Unfortunately, his company suffered during the recession and went into liquidation in 2009, but although I couldn’t work with my dad’s business, I still wanted to be part of the building sector.

In the day to day of working life, I like to work outside (worth it for the occasional sunshine) and all of the jobs I’ve ever done have had a manual aspect to them. I genuinely don’t know what else I’d do – I honestly can’t picture myself doing any stereotypical female jobs and I definitely couldn’t sit still long enough to work a 9 to 5!

Frances Taylor-Cook, finance controller

Q: Why did you choose a career in housebuilding?

FTC: I think choosing a career in housebuilding was a conscious decision. I’d never had the desire to work within professional services but liked the idea of being in a role with the idea of tangible product, and everyone working towards seeing something be built.

I feel working in a sector themed around homes and living was also a big draw, as it’s something that’s relatable to all of us. There’s currently huge importance on the housing market in the UK, so being at a brand like Avant who build quality homes and focus on what’s best for the customers was also a reason for choosing housebuilding.

Q: What sort of tasks do you undertake within your role?

FTC: My role at Avant Homes is group finance controller. My daily to-do list consists of taking care of statutory and regulatory finance, ensuring everything Avant does is financially compliant and undertaking any actions that come out of the operations or executive board meetings.

Being part of the group team, I offer support to the regional teams with any financial issues or problems they may be facing, and also liaise closely with Homes England to discuss any Help to Buy funding requirements Avant has.

Q: Do you feel the housebuilding sector is becoming more gender balanced, with more opportunities for women?

FTC: I feel the opportunities are there for women within the housebuilding sector, however, there needs to be more awareness raised at a school level to introduce the idea to younger females of working in the industry.

For me, it’s about getting the right balance across all departments, as some areas seem to be more male-dominated than others. For example, I see a good level of gender balance across the finance and legal teams, but not such much in on-site or construction roles.

This isn’t due to the lack of opportunities though – it’s down the messaging being passed onto younger women about roles within this part of housebuilding. It needs to be portrayed that the construction aspect of housebuilding isn’t just laying bricks. Instead, focus needs to be placed on opportunities for women in procurement, technical and architectural roles.   

Q: What tips would you offer any female looking to start a career in housebuilding?

FTC: The best piece of advice I could give would be to choose a career path that you’re passionate and interested in. Through being in an area or field you want to be in, it will make even the most challenging of days easier. Be prepared to explore all aspects of the housebuilding sector too – from financial roles like mine, to technical on-site jobs, there are huge array of opportunities available to women within the industry.

A top tip would be to also get the right support from other women within the sector. The challenges women have faced over the years have been well documented, so having an experienced female mentor to lean on for advice, guidance and insights is a great way to develop and progress within the housebuilding sector. Your mentor may have had the same worries, issues and fears as you, so speaking within a fellow female can help appease any concerns.

 

Image (L-R): Kathryn Galtress, head of HR; Julia Pitt, group marketing director; Jo Massey, general counsel;  Alison Taylor-Shaw, sales and marketing director - Yorkshire; Frances Taylor-Cook, finance controller; Lindsay Ramsden, strategic land director; and Rachel Goldthorpe, COINS manager 

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