International Women’s Day, Tuesday 8th March, takes place annually, globally pushing for gender parity and celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. According to the latest figures from a government-commissioned review, more than 140,000 companies were established by all-women teams in 2021, and the figure is growing by a third each year, with particularly strong growth in female-led start-ups among those aged 16 to 25.
In a traditionally male-dominated industry, we are proud to have so many determined and inspiring females at Fine & Country. The Financial Times reports that in the UK a woman earns 87p for every £1 a man earns and worldwide the pay gap is even larger. They say that while the number of women in senior roles is increasing, there is much more work to be done. Studies show that having more women in top roles leads to better performance, less risk and greater productivity in business.
Gender parity at Fine & Country
International Women’s Day sees a number of missions to help forge a gender-equal world. Celebrating women's achievements and increasing visibility, while calling out inequality, is key. Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and activist once explained, "The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organisation but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights." So, we at Fine & Country are looking to do what we can, to truly make a positive difference for women around the world with our small contribution to the day.
With this data in mind, we wanted to celebrate some of our wonderful female business leaders, entrepreneurs, partners and directors within the Fine & Country network and thank them for their continued contribution to ensuring our brand is inclusive and supportive of, not just women, but everyone.
International Women's Day at Fine & Country
Nicky Stevenson, Managing Director at Fine & Country UK, kicked International Women’s Day off by encouraging other women in the industry to have confidence in their ability; “It is important for women to believe in themselves. One of the best lessons I have learnt in my career is to have self-belief and a positive mindset. There are a lot of examples of times when a mentor has encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone and push myself in my career because they believed in me and what I was capable of, even when I wasn’t sure. It is that encouragement and belief that has kept me moving forward. I am very grateful to have had amazing women who I would class as mentors in my career, people who have shaped and helped my career to develop over the past 18 years in the property industry. One of my first jobs in the industry was with Davis Tate and my manager was a young woman named Claire, who was an inspiration to me. She was a very supportive boss who encouraged me to achieve things I may not have thought possible.
“As a woman in a male-dominate industry, I want to be an example and encourage other woman to achieve things they might not have thought they could, helping to instil both confidence and a positive mindset. If I can help them progress their career within the property sector, then I am delighted to do so. Hopefully, we will see more women breaking into the upper ranks of the industry in the future. It is important for younger woman coming into the industry to have strong female role models.”
When Alex Strafford, Partner Agent at Fine & Country Bedford, first started in property she had just had her first child and was struggling to balance childcare and work; “I thought this meant I could only go back part time and had limited opportunities, but six years later, months after having baby number two, I discovered the self-employed model at Fine & Country. It changed everything for me and I can now work around my commitments and go as far as I want in the industry with uncapped earning potential. I feel some people still have a stigma about young women in the industry but most clients are open-minded and look for an agent who shows knowledge, passion and is personable.
“I feel that women, including myself, more often create personal relationships with their clients, which makes the process so much smoother for everyone. It makes it more than just taking on a listing and earning commission, it’s about helping those clients from valuation to completion and beyond. In my opinion, women, and Fine & Country in general, are changing the perception of estate agents for the better.”
Elaine Penhaul from Fine & Country Property Staging grew up in the 70s, and says that women were expected to marry and have children. The equal pay act had not come into force and women of Elaine's generation did not really expect to have fulfilling careers as business leaders back then.
“Thank goodness attitudes have changed! These days it is relatively rare to come across patronising and misogynistic attitudes in business and when it does happen, post-#MeToo we have a far more direct route to challenge. I am proud to run a business where not only are all my heads of department female, but we put a lot of time and effort into developing the leadership skills of a new generation. Property staging is an industry which attracts a heavily female population and, having run businesses all my life, I feel a big responsibility to help as many women succeed as possible. Mentorship is a key element of female-led businesses thriving.
“Increasingly, the estate agents with whom we work so closely are as likely to be women as men and even our property developer clients are about 40 percent female now. I think it is a really exciting and positive time to be running a business in any industry as a woman - times and attitudes have definitely changed for the better!”
Alice Watson-Smith, Sales Director, Fine & Country Cannes says; “I truly believe in the words and the concept of “Daring Greatly” - which is a Roosevelt quote on which I based my speech at the F&C conference in 2019. Every one of us has our own battle to fight; it may be in the past, you may be fighting it right now, and it may be still to come… What’s important is to stay the course, to believe in yourself, and to be a part of a team who is in the same arena as you; fighting for the same values, and for the same principals. With a business based on those strong foundations, you will then be comfortable in the knowledge that your hard work and perseverance will pay off.
“I love the connectedness of Fine & Country. There are a lot of international real estate brands, but I challenge any of them to have the same “connection” and family feeling as we have at Fine & Country. We know each other’s names; we care about what’s going on with our colleagues in other countries; we communicate regularly. F&C is a family – everyone supports each other, everyone works together and ultimately, for me as a business owner, it’s what sets the brand apart from all other real estate brands.”
Heather Cook, Partner at Fine & Country in Abergavenny, joined a large corporate company in the late 1980s, working in the financial services sector and subsequently estate agency. “At the time, the business was very male dominated with just a few females in senior positions. I was promoted to a senior management role in my late twenties and, more often than not, was the only female present in meetings or on training courses. I was incredibly fortunate to have some fantastic role models who helped me believe that I could achieve whatever I set out to do. I won’t pretend it was easy. I worked hard to prove I was as capable as my male counterpart. Having run my own business for circa 18 years, I try and be a positive role model for my team. International Women’s Day is a celebration of all women and a day to show support - the women of Ukraine are in the forefront of my mind.”
Emilie Despois, Head of Brand Marketing, Fine & Country Head Office said; “I feel privileged to have been born, raised and now working in part of the world where women can have the same career as men. Women before me have fought hard to give women equal rights to men. There are still some inequalities and there will always be things that will set men and women apart. But these challenges can be overcome if you have integrity and believe in yourself and your abilities. I have been raised by strong women in my family who taught me that nothing is impossible, and I believe this to be true. If you set your mind to it, you can achieve anything. But I am one of the lucky ones who can speak their mind in a safe environment.
“International Women’s Day for me is a day to celebrate the women who have fought to give women a voice and support the women who are still fighting for equal rights. To these women, you are allowing the next generation to live a better life and I will forever admire you.”
Within European Tour Destinations, and the Fine & Country Golf division, Sandra Ruttle focuses on golf real estate services and has first-hand experience of the power of women when it comes to managing their world-class resorts. “The owners/CEOs at a number of our resorts are female, such as at Pirin Golf and Lighthouse Resort, both in Bulgaria, whilst Annika Sörenstam is the golf course designer for a new course at Estonian Golf and Country Club. Golf is enjoying a resurgence in demand with a growing awareness of the health benefits associated with playing the sport. The story gets even better as up to 35 percent of golfers starting to play and joining clubs are female, well ahead of pre-covid numbers. Female participation was always higher on the continent but now the UK is catching up fast.
“Coupled with this is a rising demand for golf properties as buyers looking for privacy, open space, own front door etc. and here also, we see women as the key deciders when it comes to sealing the deal. The golf industry is very supportive of equal opportunities. From the start of my career, I have sought to give more than I take and when my children came along, my employers were very supportive, affording me flexible working conditions whilst trusting in me to deliver.”
Sinéad Conlon, Lettings Director at Fine & Country Notting Hill, Chelsea and Kensington, says that she feels valued as part of the Fine & Country network; “I find that my opinions count here, Fine & Country works hard to break the bias and rips up stereotypical representations of women in the estate agency Industry. I am empowered to be the best I can be – there really are no glass ceilings here! As a working mother I am included FULLY, in the South Kensington and Knightsbridge team I am part of a renowned group of fantastic women, who work hard to find our clients their ideal homes. I am also proud to have been asked to be a part of a webinar for #WomeninResidentialProperty, where I will be speaking alongside an incredible panel, giving our thoughts on Net Zero and the opportunities and challenges within the residential property market.” Prior to joining the Network at the end of 2021, Sinéad had been in the property industry for around 15 years, starting as a negotiator in Park Lane and working her way up the ladder to be the top lettings broker, running a team and working on some amazing sites in Battersea Power Station and Nova Building, Victoria.
Jacqueline Hara, Marketing Manager of Fine & Country Costa Blanca North, is deeply grateful for the women who had the courage to fight for our basic rights to vote, and to be able to study and to work. She said, “Alice Paul, Mary Wollstonecraft or Emmeline Pankhurst, are just some examples of women who fought for equality. They achieved unimaginable things and I believe our mission as women should be to get the best of what they have done for us and continue to support each other and work hard so that one day we, the world, will be a place where there will be balance between the feminine and the masculine and a woman’s place in the world will not be something we will have to be fighting for, but will be recognised as something natural.”
Louise Lawrence started with the Manning Stainton family as a typist some 30 years ago. She progressed, over time, to the role of Fine & Country West Yorkshire Branch Manager, a position she is proud to hold. She said; “I've seen so many changes and developments within the industry over the years, but one thing remains and that is the people are key, and we certainly pride ourselves on exceptional customer service.
“I started working at Manning Stainton in 1992 and have spent 30 years working really hard to get to where I am now. When I started at the company, the whole industry was male dominated, but over the years it has been fantastic to see more women entering the sector and go on to achieve successful careers. The industry now has a much more balanced workforce, and it’s great to see more and more women breaking down barriers in the property sector.”
Lesley Saunders, Marketing Manager at Fine & Country South Africa, was born and bred in South Africa during the height of the struggle to overthrow the apartheid. She says; “I have certainly witnessed bias on a grand scale in my country and indeed the African continent – where many countries still lag far behind in terms of bias, be it towards a person’s gender, religion and/or culture. My early years were littered with violence on TV news as our country bucked and writhed to shake off the shackles of bias, racism and marginalisation. As a nation at the time, we never gave up hope of achieving our freedom, of realising our equality and all of us (regardless of the colour of our skin) taking our place on the world stage. Collectively, humanity can be a very powerful animal with the ability and - I believe - the responsibility to understand and address bias where we may find it and work towards evolving perceptions to where we can bravely be our unique selves and be celebrated not shunned or judged for this – in other words let’s celebrate our differences.
“I grew up with some incredibly powerful women including Margret Thatcher, Mother Theresa and Princess Diana – all of whom were very inspiring role models for showing a young girl that even if you dressed in funny clothes and danced to weird music – to own it, you have the right to be you in this world, your own your special place in society and it is the duty of others to respect this and respect you, regardless of differences. They also showed the value of hard work and having to make hard decisions for the greater good. In my professional life I absolutely love the corporate culture of Fine & Country internationally but especially in South Africa. We have this melting pot of minds, tastes and personalities that create this diverse culture nationwide, and the genuine relationships and care we all have for each other is truly a welcoming work atmosphere. This International Women’s Day, I believe should pay homage to the fearless grandmothers, mothers and daughters who have been displaced by the current situation in the Ukraine. Those who have had to make some really hard choices in the face of bias and judgement. We, the women of the world, are watching and working collectively to secure your safety in the efforts to restore your rights and your homes.”
Sandra Fernandes, Marketing Manager at Fine & Country Portugal, said her advice for women is: “The only person who can truly stand in your way is you. There will be blockers, stereotypes, difficulties, but don’t let anything stop you. Fuel your own ambition, be yourself, not who other people want you to be. You are unique and will always have a different perspective to bring to the table. Foster relationships, learn from others and above all, help others on your journey, because if you fall or stumble, they will likely help to pick you up and dust you off.”
Bénédicte Duvivier, Branch Manager at Fine & Country Mauritius says; "Detaining the role of a leader at Fine & Country is an honour, the dynamism and reactivity of the team help us to drive our day-to-day activities with passion and enthusiasm! Given the opportunity to share our ideas and experiences to improve the business in the real estate sector with our international and UK colleagues, shows that there is absolute equality of gender rights within Fine & Country! Never give up, nothing is impossible and follow your dreams."
Margaret Thompson, CEO, Fine & Country Jersey believes that one of the challenges females face today is allowing others to undermine their abilities, she also says that the world would not exist without women. "I think having women in estate agency ensures the job gets done effortlessly. At Fine & Country, I love the enthusiasm, a fresh approach and the commitment to be the best of the best. My advice to women today is believe you can do whatever you desire, and it will happen. Instead of seeing your glass as half full or half empty, let it overflow!"
Discover more about International Women's Day including global missions and how to get involved here.
We’re proud of the female leaders of Fine & Country who push for parity, work together and inspire others in estate agency. To find your local agent, whether male or female, in the UK or overseas, click here. If you want to find out more about how we value the people in our network, click the button below.