In the spirit of International Women’s History Month, we’re putting women in property in the spotlight to learn more about their experiences, how they got into the industry and what advice they would give to others looking to grow in their career. We wanted to hear from one of our own agent clients – a true female role model in the property industry – An Deckers, Co-Founder and Director of base property specialists & The Depositary. For years, she has climbed the ladder of success and provides a showcase example of women owning their important role in the industry.
Here’s what she had to say:
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your experience in property. How did you start your career?
I started my career in property back in 1999 – having been made redundant from a sales position by a telecom company in 1998 and having burned through my redundancy check – I needed a new job. I loved life in London and felt the only real thing missing from my life was a car. Up until I ended up on my own in London I’d always had the freedom of a car, and I missed it. Realising I could not afford a car in London by any means I decided to look for a job that would offer me a company car. Combine this with a love for sales and it didn’t take a genius to figure out that it would be in Estate Agency. I felt like I sent out hundreds of CVs and walked through most doors of my local agents (don’t forget this was all before the internet really made its entrance). I got turned down over and over again because, at 26, I was deemed too old and too overqualified for a trainee negotiator position; add to that being female which, in most agencies I worked in at first, was still a minority.
At the start of 1999 I finally landed myself a position in a North London agency who offered me a position based on a basic salary (that would not even cover my living costs), shared office commission and a pool car. Although clearly not what I had dreamt of, I knew that if I could prove I could beat the top rental agent in the company, I would be in a solid position to renegotiate. It took me 3 months of long hours and hard work to get the pool car to be my company car (a “fantastic” Fiat Punto no less!) and it took me a further 2 months before I got headhunted by a different company who offered me a manager’s position. The basic doubled, the company car got upgraded to a “pristine” Peugeot 306 and my first bosses tried all they could to keep me by even offering a higher salary, a personal commission and a better car.
I still turned down my first bosses’ offer, as the one thing they couldn’t beat was that the new job was literally round the corner from where I lived, which offered me an extra 10 hours without commuting per week. And so it went on; each time I would set myself a target of what I wanted to achieve – either more responsibility, better working hours, or recognition for a job well done, etc. Eventually the challenge meant starting up our own agency, base property specialists, in Shoreditch with my trusted business partner Kristjan whom I had met in the last company we worked for. The rest, as they say, is history (or rather her-story). That was nearly 17 years ago.
What challenges have you overcome in your professional journey? Who supported you along the way?
I was very lucky in my journey to have met some amazing people along the way, plenty of which I am still in touch with either in a professional manner or who became lifelong friends. The biggest challenges we have had to overcome have also had the biggest impact: making the change from simply being a negotiator to becoming a manager and then a business owner; learning how to define the framework you want to work in and be able to say no; and how to value your own worth but also your business, whilst maintaining the highest service levels. And through it all, the biggest support I have had has always been my trusted business partner, the one and only property Viking, Mr Kristjan Byfield.
What do you think about the state of women in property today and why is it important for women to be in the agency profession?
More and more women are rising up in the ranks and where before I often felt I had to be ‘one of the boys’ starting in the 90s and noughties, I am proud to say that we can see a much more balanced playing field in the industry. Plenty of young women who started as negotiators and worked themselves up, are now juggling careers and families, whilst at the same time it has become more acceptable in the industry to expect a better work-life balance. If 2020 is to bring at least some positives, I do believe that it made a rapid change in our attitude towards realising what is important in life. That is: not working all hours but instead being present in your own life, be that with family or close friends, or even just taking care of yourself.
As in life, our profession should have diversity; we all have a place in the property industry, in every role you can imagine. I personally believe we have come to a time where there should be no limitation on what you can do or be simply because of your gender. And so I hope as the amount of female entrepreneurs, managers and agents in our sector increases, that more young girls will realise that a job in the property sector is well worth pursuing. No one day is ever the same, you get to meet so many interesting people, and – let’s face it – you get to be nosy by seeing people’s homes.
Is there a female figure who inspires you?
It is hard to pick out just one female figure who inspires me. There have been, there are and there still will be so many more amazing women who have all brought their best to the world. We stand on the shoulders of those that came before us, and we can only hope and keep on working so that we can raise the next generations of women even higher.
Personally I have always tried to make a difference, whether that be a simply rebellious act such as addressing my female tenants first before their male partners in an email or letter, by not agreeing to the glass ceiling people kept talking about for us women, and by turning down sales calls who refuse to talk to me as a director but insist on talking to my male business partner. It is the little things we change in our day-to-day actions that eventually will make a difference.
What piece of advice would you give to young women to help them grow their career?
My piece of advice to any woman starting up in our industry, or be that any career: I strongly believe that as long as you are the best candidate for the job, regardless of your gender, that brings the most value to an employer or a company, you will have a seat at that table. And if they don’t give you a seat, build the table yourself! Don’t expect anything to be given to you in life; you want it, you go after it.
Do you have a professional motto?
As for a professional motto: just do it!