Women Making Waves in Real Estate: Insights from Phyllis Agbo, Sian Tunney, and Liv Thomas

Fri 24th Nov 2023

In the dynamic world of Real Estate, where bricks and mortar meet the ambitions and aspirations of individuals and communities, an unexpected and powerful connection exists with the world of sport.

Partnering with various organisations, from the latest innovative PropTech start-ups to the largest commercial Real Estate services firm, we at add-victor, directly witness how sportspeople positively contribute to reshaping the industry.  

In this industry insight piece, we bring you three compelling stories and valuable perspectives from three remarkable women who have made their mark in the industry. You will discover the profound influence of sport on Real Estate careers and the voices of accomplished women who have carved out their paths in a traditionally male-dominated sector. From balancing motherhood to breaking down barriers, they exemplify the resilience and tenacity they bring to the built environment.

 

Real Estate: The Tangible Power to Create Positive Change

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.

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, and understanding the physical spaces we're dealing with. 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 incredible 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, and she believes that it is essential to embrace diverse perspectives and remain true to oneself. 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

Diversity imbalance in Real Estate continues to see room for improvement. However, Phyllis has not let this 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". Her visibility allows her to enter rooms, engage with people, and leave a lasting impression.

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 among 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.

 

Conclusion

The stories of Phyllis Agbo, Sian Tunney, and Liv Thomas demonstrate their unwavering commitment to champion diversity, gender equality, long-term positive impact and increased social value within the built environment. Phyllis and Liv are the perfect examples of the potential for individuals with sports backgrounds to excel in Real Estate, while Sian shows the importance of perseverance and questioning the status quo. These remarkable three women with their resilience and determination pave 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.