There can be little doubt that today the proptech industry is a male dominated sector. To bring you something a little bit different we've teamed up with the team at PRODA to bring you the perspective of some powerful women in the industry. If you missed last week's edition with Business Analyst So Young Ann, it's available here.
This week Manisha Veja of PRODA spoke to Louisa Dickins who is the Director and Co-Founder of LMRE - One of the largest specialist recruitment firms for the PropTech industry. To get her thoughts about Women in the industry as well as the perspective of someone involved in recruitment in proptech and much in between:
MV: Can you tell us a little bit about your professional journey, having started your career as an estate agent, to now being the Director and Co-founder of LMRE.
LD: So, I started my professional journey as a surveyor, I worked at a notorious estate agency chain, but I went there mainly to get some sales training and to get my foot in the door in the real estate world. A year later, I met Richard Lloyd, who was looking to launch an executive search firm with a focus on real estate. The thought of joining a start-up business really excited me, so after various interviews, I joined. During this time, I built a great network and we became a market leading brand in real estate. After 4 years, I saw a huge shift the real estate world and the convergence of tech was clearly gathering pace.
I started going to lots of events, speaking to investors and Co-Founders in the PropTech space and saw that there was a real lack of communication between the real estate and tech worlds, and this opened up mass opportunity for us to bridge that gap. Luckily for me, this is when Brad, my Co-Founder, and me began talking. He brought a real unique understanding and insight into the challenges of an early stage PropTech business, which I didn’t have at the time. So, in the beginning of 2019 we launched LMRE together in the UK, and then Europe, and we recently set up our North America office, which is based in New York. It’s been an epic journey and its only just begun, it will be interesting to see how this year will unfold.
MV: What does a ‘typical’ day look like for you, as Co-Founder and Director?
LD: There’s really no such thing as a typical day, like with any start up, you can get pulled into a million different directions, which I personally love. Often, I’m at an early morning event which may be hosted by our clients, followed by a team meeting to make sure everyone is working together. This is a big thing in any industry or at any start up, where everyone is working towards the same objectives and goals and moving forward together. Communication is everything!
I also make sure candidates and clients are up to date, and that we’re delivering on schedule, for example that Co-Founder we’re working with who wants to hire a BD person, wanted this done yesterday, so urgency is key. I would then have Business Development consultancy calls for Europe in the morning. Past 2pm, its pretty much the same schedule but with a focus on the US market, when they all wake up. Following this, I may have another event or roundtable, or even a quick catch up drink with a client.
MV: As leaders in PropTech recruitment sector, have you seen a significant difference in the number of female candidates who are successfully placed into positions, in comparison to male candidates? And if so, why do you believe this is?
LD: There is an obvious gap between male and female candidates placed but each month we have seen a 5% increase in the women candidates being placed, which I’m pretty happy with. We appreciate that nothing is going to change overnight but we are constantly championing women. We also educate our clients on how to make the workplace a more attractive environment for women. We consult them on what trends we are seeing in the wider market and what may be working for their competition. Afterall, we have eyes on many companies on different parts of the market and we can share these insights for free. So we’re providing a kind of consultancy, which also helps us place the best people into roles, and if we can provide this service why wouldn’t we?
But also, when you think of tech you typically think of 'deep-tech', I don’t think of roles which may be more attractive to women and require a softer skill set like management, where women may be able to emphasize more, for example. I had no idea of these roles existing until around 2-3 years ago.
To make another point, I think it also comes down to female candidates putting their hands up for a role. Whenever I post a role I look at how many men and women have put themselves forward for it and around 80% are men. Men are more likely to put themselves forward for a role, with the thinking that they tick 6 or 7 of the boxes required for the role but I think it’s important for women to recognise that for a role in a start-up, a Co-Founder is really looking for personality, and most likely want someone who has a strong ability to develop in that role and that’s the most important thing, people want ambition. Men support themselves more than women support themselves and this is something we can change. Employers can also create a working environment which is more attractive to women.
MV: Do you feel any pressure as a female leader in the PropTech industry, particularly where there is such a small number of females in similar senior positions?
LD: I’m not sure if I feel pressure, but I definitely feel passionate about hiring more female leaders, and this change will happen over time which I’m very confident in. We have some real incredible female co-founders out there, including Bronny (Wilson) who is also going to be a part of this series. For me, it’s really frustrating when I speak to someone whether that’s someone I’m headhunting or just a friend in the industry, and I know they’re the perfect fit for a job, but they don’t want to join a business due to a perceived lack of diversity within in an organisation.
This seems to be happening on a regular basis and seems more common in the larger companies. This is why, when I meet people forming an early-stage start up, I stress the importance of getting the right gender balance early on, because it will inhibit their ability to balance things out further down the line. It is really important to get some senior management who are women, who will be able to create that environment. Involve them in the interview process, and find that balance early on in the business.
MV: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced, as a female in the PropTech industry?
LD: Like any human being I felt so many challenges, but my biggest challenge has been and will be, confidence in the environment. My job predominantly is listening and speaking to people, so whenever I go to an event in a different city or a different country which I’ve done a lot of on my own, it’s always a little nerve racking. However, since I’ve been doing it over and over again (I go to 4-5 events a week) I have become much more comfortable.
In the beginning, in the US, I didn’t know anyone out there, but doing it multiple times you begin to build your confidence and you realise that no matter your gender, you’re all there for the same reason. You’re there to do business and to move forward together in the space of PropTech and why should anyone be afraid of that? Since doing this and getting over this barrier, my teams constantly encourage me, but if I had not put myself out there, I would not have these connections. I really think life is all about taking yourself out of your comfort zone in order to achieve things. You get noticed when you stand out in a crowd and it’s a great opportunity when you do.
I also recognise my age, and my gender, when looking around at all these men. You do need to hold yourself and prepare beforehand, get people to take you seriously, and if you do all of that why wouldn’t they? Connections that you make are important, there’s a few people who have been such a great support within the industry, like David (PRODA) of course, or Oli Farago (Coyote) but also being part of the UKPA, that association has been incredible. The board there are people who I can also always look to, and we’re lucky to have a proper community in the PropTech industry.
MV: The power of PropTech is undeniable and the industry is considered one of the fastest growing in the world, when the world overcomes the current uncertainties we are all facing together, what do you believe the future will look like for PropTech?
LD: I think it will be interesting to see what consolidation happens. You can see big businesses completing acquisitions since the lockdown, and sadly we have seen some verticals and some early stage start-ups that have also been hit harder than others, for example, in the vacation rental space. Investment is being pulled in some areas, not necessarily pulled for good, however investment is fundamental to an early stage business’s growth.
It will be interesting to see how services of office space adapt, there will be a huge swing to remote working, obviously with an increase in people going into that area and with people going into smaller offices, so there will be some money to be made off the back of that. I still believe that there is a massive place for all of them. The businesses that have a product which solves a problem within real estate; makes the process more cost efficient, and allows remote access will thrive, that’s what everyone is looking for right now.
MV: What excites you the most when you think of the new future of PropTech that we are heading towards?
LD: It's definitely the new urgency that has created a push for the real estate world, towards digitalisation. Quick adaptation means further expansion. The world’s largest asset class will be operating entirely differently in a matter of years from now, whereas before, it might have taken a few more years for this to happen and that’s a definite positive thing we will take from this.
Another point to make is that a lot of people are scared of digitalisation, so some of the traditional roles in real estate will cease to exist. Many people are being furloughed, but how many of these will have their jobs when they come back? I believe these will be taken over by a whole raft of new positions. Also, who would have thought that the world’s oldest brands would have hired a data scientist a few years ago? It will definitely be interesting to see, and I’m sure new roles will come up from this.
MV: Finally, what advice would you give to any young women or women in general who may be considering a career in PropTech, but feel there may be a barrier due to pre-conceived notions regarding gender?
LD: I’d say back yourself and be confident, ask for advice from anyone in the industry because everyone is always more than happy to give it. Put yourself forward for things and step out of your comfort zone, because at the end of the day, what is the worst that can happen?