There can be little doubt that today the proptech industry is a male dominated sector. To give our readers 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.
This week Manisha Veja spoke to Helen Cave-Penney, Senior Sales Manager at commercial property software firm Coyote. Helen gave her thoughts on being a woman in the proptech world as well as how selling viagra was a fantastic introduction to the world of sales.
MV: Can you tell us a little bit about your professional journey, having interestingly started your career in pharmaceuticals, to now being the Senior Sales Manager at Coyote?
HCP: My journey into PropTech is possibly slightly different to most, as I started my career as a sales rep for Pfizer selling Viagra among other products, following a Neuroscience degree. This of course has nothing to do with Real Estate or Tech but was a fantastic introduction to sales.
Pharmaceuticals hit a downturn which slowed my career progression somewhat, so I made the move into finance as a broker in midcap equities at ABN AMRO. It became apparent very quickly that this was not the industry for me; and following a stint in crisis management at a corporate communications consultancy, I started to focus on the Real Estate sector. I moved to CBRE over a decade ago, and worked in a business development role on their consultancy side, and subsequently their global occupier team. I then moved to BNP Paribas Real Estate to head up their UK business development team.
During my 2nd maternity leave, I had a desire for something new, away from the large corporate world, so I started to investigate the unknown world of PropTech. This was an area that had always fascinated me, coming from 2 industries that are renowned for being very forward thinking by way of Technology, so I had always found technology solutions in Real Estate fascinating. Through my research, I found a great group called ‘Women in PropTech’ and they kindly invited me to their first ever networking meet-up where I met Louisa Dickins from LMRE who then introduced me to Coyote.
MV: What does a ‘typical’ day look like for you, as Senior Sales Manager at Coyote?
HCP: In a pre-Covid world, my day starts very early in the morning! Usually with the gym, followed by getting the kids up, dropping them to nursery and then heading into the office. The majority of my day consists of meeting and/or phoning clients, to provide demonstrations of Coyote as well as working with existing clients, through active account management. This is great for me as I love to be out and about, engaging with different people. When I’m not out of the office meeting clients, I work very closely with the other teams across the business.
As a sales team, we need to engage with all parts of the business from Marketing to Client Services and the Development team, so there’s always an opportunity to learn something new. This can include discussions around new features in development, onboarding of new clients, and of course the collaborations between Marketing and Sales.
MV: Having been in the real estate industry for a few years and now in the PropTech industry, have you seen any difference in the number of females in both Real Estate and PropTech, when compared to the number of males? And if so, why do you believe this is?
HCP: I was first introduced to PropTech at a Women in PropTech meet up, and I was absolutely amazed at the number of women there, there was fantastic representation from all parts of Real Estate, which I found this very inspiring. In Real Estate, you definitely notice the lack of women although, I do think there is real progress being made to try and change this, and I have certainly come across some very inspiring female leaders over the years.
I do think, however, that the more senior you get, the less women there are. From my career in Real Estate, I saw a lot of women drop out of the industry, especially at the higher levels. I don’t feel I’ve been in PropTech long enough to comment on the number of women across the industry but we do have a great female presence at Coyote. I have come across some fascinating inspiring leaders/ founders in PropTech, so currently my experiences have been positive. I would say PropTech is very versatile in it’s approach to a workday structure.
It’s a young industry but also a lot of the companies are still on the smaller scale which I think makes it easier to be more fluid with recruitment. Most of the jobs I came across in PropTech were so flexible, and with Coyote especially, they have just made it very easy to get the work life balance in. Most PropTech companies have the technology and set up to allow you to get the work done from anywhere, and at any time. I realise I’m coming at it from a mum’s perspective, which may be different for some other women, but I do think everyone, men and women alike, want a degree of flexibility these days, and when an industry makes this easy, you will attract more talent, not just 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?
HCP: Personally I don’t, and if anything I have seen more opportunity as a female. I think there is a real collaboration between women in the PropTech industry. Women, by nature, support each other in a different way than men, as we form different bonds, and when you are in a minority I believe you work to help each other out more. In that sense, it creates more opportunities.
I do recognise that this lack of pressure could be down my role and the company that I work for. I know there are female founders out there who say they have to work a lot harder to get equity and funding for their businesses. However, for me personally, I haven’t felt much pressure by way of being a female.
MV: What is the biggest challenge that you have faced, if any, as a female in the PropTech industry?
HCP: I have only seen opportunity as a whole. The Women in PropTech group is very collaborative and supportive of each other and I know that within Coyote we’re also great at supporting each other too. We are a larger organisation compared to some PropTechs out there, and we also have a large female group which makes up a good proportion of the organisation.
We have a female Slack group set up, and this is not to exclude men, as they are more than welcome to join, but it’s just our space to share things with each other. If anything, it has created opportunity for me and I haven’t seen any challenges in PropTech, In the 9 months that I’ve been in the 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?
HCP: I think there will be a lot of consolidation, and I think the industry needs it. There will be some companies that may have struggled through Covid which is really sad, and I think it would either be because the product wasn’t quite at the right stage when we went into this environment or, they focus on areas that weren’t pertinent to everyone focussed on working from home. I do think regardless of the current situation, there will be a lot of consolidation in the future.
A lot of clients I speak to are wanting one solution, they don’t want to be buying 10. At Coyote, we have a lot of partnerships with many other PropTech companies to collaborate, which means we integrate into other solutions to bring a wider offering together. This prevents clients logging onto multiple sources, and I think we are seeing more of this in other areas. This could mean companies may merge together in the future, but we don’t yet know how, and when this could happen.
MV: What excites you the most when you think of the new future of PropTech that we are heading towards?
HCP: Everything happening now is accelerating processes for a lot of companies. There has been a slowdown in the number of deals happening during lockdown, so a lot of companies are looking at their data and processes and looking to adopt new technologies during this time, even if they’ve never had a desire to do so before.
I think it’s fair to say that all industries around the world – including Real Estate, have seen profound change in the way that business is done and with it, new opportunities have arisen. Real estate will become a lot more effective and this is exciting. Generally, Real Estate has been slow to adopt technology so the change is definitely needed.
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 preconceived notions regarding gender?
HCP: I don’t personally think there are many barriers. I have had quite a few people contact me for advice on Linked In, these have been people who are more junior and come from a Real Estate, Consulting or even a Tech background. They’ve all asked for advice on moving into this world, but I think organisations and companies are very receptive to having more women in their companies and the opportunity is definitely there. I don’t believe there should be any pre-conceived notions.
PropTech is generally an agile industry. From what I’ve experienced it is forward thinking, and I don’t think gender stereotypes are in mind when hiring. I have personally not come across any barriers in PropTech, whereas I did in real estate. PropTech to me is quite refreshing because, and maybe this is due to organisations being much smaller, it’s just about hiring the right people for the job. When I was interviewing for new roles both in traditional Real Estate and PropTech, the main thing for me was flexibility. I know I’m dedicated to my role and will get the work done without the need to be sat at my desk for set hours/days a week.
You can tell an organisation's perception to flexibility by asking questions about their flexibility/part time policy during an interview. Instead of answering an interviewer’s question, you can also take the lead and ask the employer questions around their flexibility/PT policy. If they are genuinely open to it that should be reflected in their responses.