Women Making Waves in Real Estate: Insights from Talented Athletes & Leaders

Fri 24th Nov 2023

Firms boasting gender diversity in leadership often outperform, highlighting the value women bring to Real Estate.

Partnering with the latest innovative PropTech start-ups to the largest commercial Real Estate services firm, we at add-victor, directly witness how sportswomen positively contribute to reshaping industry. In this industry insight piece, we bring you three compelling stories from three talented women who have made their mark in the sector. 


Pioneering Change: Women's Impact on Real Estate and Community

Phyllis Agbo is a former GB Heptathlete turned Real Estate trailblazer! She seamlessly transitioned from the world of athletics to a thriving career starting from Graduate Surveyor at CBRE in 2014 to leading development projects since then.

For more on the transition from sport into Investment Properties at CBRE, see our interview with ex-rugby player James Harris.

Now Senior Development Manager at Stories, an outcomes-led property developer committed to creating long-term sustainable value, Phyllis emphasises how "the built environment is very powerful in being able to positively impact and help people and communities. She sees her role as a facilitator of positive change: “particularly for those often forgotten or underrepresented communities, ensuring that everyone benefits from Real Estate development”.

Sian Tunney is the Head of Leisure Division & Gender Group at Savills, and one of the women leading its UK Board. Her initial interest in Real Estate was sparked during a school day work experience.  Sian finds the industry fascinating because it deals with the tangible, with real buildings and spaces that impact people's lives.

"One of the great things about working in property is that it's not confined to a desk job behind a screen”, she notes. “Our roles are diverse and often require us to be out in the field, visiting properties, meeting clients. It's about connecting with people and places, which makes this profession dynamic and far from mundane”.


When Sports Meet Property – a Perfect Match

Liv Thomas, international GB & England Lacrosse player and Graduate Surveyor in the Oxford Commercial Agency team at Savills, discovered the dynamic and people-centric nature of Real Estate through work experience. Liv thrives in both the sports field and real estate, where success results from preparation, relentless hard work, and learning from adversity; “the determination and tenacity have become a driving force in achieving results for my clients within the high-stakes, performance-driven environment of commercial agency”. Moreover, Liv maintains her commitment to Lacrosse, playing international level for GB and England; a testament to her passion for the sport, dedication, and effective time management.

Phyllis shed light on the synergy between sport and property. Her experience as a heptathlete perfectly prepared her for her career; the multifaceted nature of Real Estate aligns with the diverse skill set she developed from athletics; those skills are transferable and highly sought after. She highlights the significance of relationships in property and how sport became the perfect introduction: "the built environment is big on relationships, which is a great way to connect with people. My sport has played a big part in fitting into the industry and has been very beneficial".

She acknowledges the role of add-victor in helping her tailor her CV to highlight her “transferable skills that make a viable and desirable candidate for Real Estate”.

Sian echoes this sentiment and underlines the value of certain skills developed in sport. As a mother of two sporty sons who played rugby at a high level while also studying at University, she understands the skills and determination developed through sport. "There are a lot of transferable skills, and it's a people industry; when you're playing a sport, you're constantly talking to people—teammates, coaches—and having the skills to be able to do that in sport and then transferring it into the workplace is beneficial", she explains.


Championing Diversity & Gender Equality

Throughout her career, Sian has witnessed progress in gender dynamics within the industry. Alongside overseeing a team of 60+ personnel, she also leads the Gender Group at Savills, actively influencing company policies and advocating for diversity and inclusion: "we are catering to the whole population, we need to be representative of that population".

Empowering Women & Demystifying Motherhood 

Sian's commitment to promoting gender equality and encouraging flexibility in the workplace is rooted in her own experiences as a dedicated mother and professional. She firmly believes in the importance of allowing individuals to define the type of parents they wish to be and facilitating a balance that works for both family and career, creating a win-win situation. Sian found support from male colleagues who encouraged her every step of the way, even working part-time as a mother, which was unconventional at the time.

Sian stresses the importance of clear communication about personal and professional goals. She believes that being clear about one's priorities and communicating with employers can lead to a satisfying work-life balance. Sian emphasises the need to encourage young men to take an active role in parenting to support women in their careers. Savills has initiated enhanced paternity policies to facilitate this.

Empowering Perspectives & Leveraging Diversity

A 2017 study by the European Public Real Estate Association (EPRA) revealed that the proportion of women at board and senior management level of Europe’s listed real estate companies was a mere 25%. Unfortunately, this figure grew marginally to 26% in 2019, but as Real Estate Balance’s former MD Kaela Fenn-Smith (now at CBRE) stated “Our aim is to see women in 33% of the senior positions in property in the very near future, with an ultimate goal of 50%”. 

Phyllis has not let the current imbalance deter her, instead, she used her unique perspective and heritage to her advantage; "if anything, I have probably turned it into a positive. The fact that I am a black woman in this industry with a sporting background means that I find it easy to be visible". 

She views her gender and background as assets that make her more visible and memorable. She actively advocates for increased representation of black women in the industry. She is on the committee of Black Women in Real Estate (BWRE), a movement and space thta enables Black Women to be seen, heard, and grow in the Real Estate industry. 

Liv is also an advocate for positive change. She acknowledges the changing demographics in Real Estate and suggests removing barriers to entry, such as degree prerequisites, to attract a wider range of talent.

Recognising that existing networking events primarily target senior figures in the industry, leaving a gap for junior professionals like herself, she founded OxProp NextGen, a networking group providing a platform for the next generation of property professionals in Oxford. By establishing OxProp NextGen, Liv shows her commitment to nurturing relationships and knowledge-sharing amongst young professionals in Real Estate underscores her dedication to creating a more diverse and inclusive industry. "Diversity is not just a moral imperative; it's a strategic advantage. Having a mix of perspectives and experiences leads to more innovative solutions and better outcomes”, she shares.


Real Estate's Commitment to Sustainability Practices

Sustainability and ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) considerations have become increasingly integral to the Real Estate industry.

Sian’s love for the countryside fuels her desire to contribute positively. She notes, "Working in Real Estate means we have the power to make sustainable choices that affect not just our clients but also the environment”. She adds that "investors and occupiers are all focused on the ESG credentials of their building, how socially helpful is the building to their environment". There is a growing importance of the "social value of building" and how it necessitates a proactive approach to ensuring that projects align with the principles of sustainability and community benefit.

Both Liv and Phyllis believe in the pivotal role of ESG in property and its broader societal implications. "It’s more than just a trend; it's a necessity", Liv remarks. "By promoting diversity and being more inclusive, we're ensuring that the Real Estate decisions made today are sustainable for future generations. It's not just about short-term profit; it's about long-term impact", asserts Phyllis.



The stories of Phyllis Agbo, Sian Tunney, and Liv Thomas demonstrate their commitment to champion diversity, gender equality, long-term positive impact and increased social value within the built environment. With their resilience and determination, these three women are paving the way for a more inclusive and innovative future in Real Estate, ensuring that positive change continues to shape the industry for generations to come.