Celebrating our female experts
As an asset manager with Charter Hall, Elena Seymour is responsible for a $800 million portfolio of prime logistics property spread over 280,000sqm and 20 tenant customers in Queensland. Elena is also a member of the Property Council’s Industrial Committee in Queensland. Prior to working with Charter Hall, Elena managed Brookfield Office Properties’ Queensland commercial portfolio, which consisted of multiple A-Grade office towers.
Elena is currently completing a Bachelor of Business (Finance Major) with Swinburne University, and holds a Diploma of Property & Asset Management from the Property Council Academy.
“After graduating from high school, I wasn’t sure what career path to head down. I deferred from university and picked up the first full time job I could find, which happened to be in residential property management with Lendlease Communities.
“By the time I turned 22, I was a senior residential property manager and had started to think about how far I could take my career.”
Identifying commercial property as a promising long-term career, Elena began looking for a suitable role.
“I knew it was going to be challenging without a degree or commercial property experience, but I was willing to take a role in administration to get my foot in the door.”
Elena “jumped” at the chance of a three-month contract role with Brookfield Office Properties, “even though I knew I was taking a risk”. The risk paid off, and she was to spend almost seven years with Brookfield.
“On transferring from residential to commercial, I found my ability to learn quickly and contribute on the job played a big part in my career progression. But I was also given a massive opportunity only a month into the role when a property manager went on leave. I jumped into the deep end to show I was a team player and could contribute.
“By the time I left I was managing A-Grade assets in Brisbane’s CBD,” Elena adds.
Moving on to Charter Hall, Elena was steadily promoted from senior property manager to asset manager, a position she holds today.
“A lot of my career progression has come from mentorships with my manager,” Elena explains.
“I’ve been in commercial real estate for 11 years, and in that time I’ve had three really strong relationships with managers that turned into informal mentorships.
“The first was Greg Hefferan at Brookfield, who was a great champion. He showed me that I was more than capable of taking on roles. I really looked up to him and still value him as a great industry colleague.
“Anna Patterson at Charter Hall really rallied behind me and understood the pressures of the job that came with being female.
“And my new manager, Ben Butler, has also been fantastic. I think I’ve been really lucky, because not everyone has positive experiences, but these three people invested time in developing me, optimising my abilities and giving me the confidence to seize opportunities.”
Property’s potential for women
“A career in property, particularly in asset management, is dynamic and never dull. It changes from day to day, involves quick thinking and formulating strategies.
“In addition to men, women have a lot of important qualities to offer these roles, as they are often highly organised, pay attention to detail, and are good at forming strong relationships.
“Stereotypes are starting to break down and more women are able to forge careers as the industry embraces diversity. It’s a really exciting time for women in this dynamic industry.”
Driving the diversity agenda
“I was sometimes surprised by the lack of diversity in commercial real estate when I first moved across from residential,” Elena says.
“It was jarring to walk into boardroom meetings to find I was the only female. The gender gap did surprise me, as most women held junior or administration roles and there were few females in senior leadership roles.”
This is changing, and Elena says leaders – both male and female – play a central role in helping younger women find their paths in property.
“The industry sees that we need diverse opinions and skills to develop innovative strategies. Now that I’m a manager, diversity is at the forefront of my mind.
“I do think it’s important for managers to encourage women to have a voice and participate rather than being passengers in meetings. I’ve noticed, more often than not, that males have no issue speaking up, while females sometimes sit on the sidelines. This was me when I was starting out, until my manager at the time raised it. I realised I was genuinely concerned I’d be seen as too opinionated or bossy because I’d heard other females labelled that. This made me reluctant to throw my ideas around in a room full of men.
“Some people may think it comes down to lack of confidence, but I think for me it was driven by the culture in the industry at the time, which fortunately is changing.”
Looking to the future
“I’ve had such a positive experience in property and I can’t see myself moving away from the industry. I don’t know where the next step will be as I am really enjoying my current role, but I want to continue to grow and to grab opportunities that come my way.”
- Speak up. “It’s really important to be an active participant, not a passenger. Nothing will change if we just sit in these rooms and we don’t add value – our opinions – to the discussion.”
- Be prepared to take a risk. “Look at a role for its opportunity to develop new skills versus a job title or where it sits in the organisational hierarchy. An admin role might not be your dream role, but it will help you build up your core knowledge base. Sometimes career opportunities are not well defined and you never know where that role may take you if you do it well.”
- Set yourself goals. “I often set myself goals to learn new skills. I take a strategic approach and look at where my skills gaps lie. In the past, I would actively sit with my manager and ask them to run me through lease proposals and analysis, for example, so I could gain a holistic overview of how things connect across the portfolio. Now that I’m at the next stage of my career, I’ve looked at where I feel most challenged – presenting and public speaking – and I throw myself into that, even if it makes me uncomfortable.”
- Get the piece of paper. “You don’t necessarily need a degree to work in property – I’m proof of that. But I do think as you rise up into leadership roles, formal qualifications become more important. I put it off so long, because I thought I didn’t have the time, but I got into a rhythm and routine. My choice of study has built up my business communication and financial analysis skillset.”
- Look beyond university. Elena’s first course was in property management through the Property Council Academy. “It was a really great networking opportunity and gave me a more strategic overview of how the industry works,” she says.
This article was taken from the Property Council of Australia, Grow the talent pool 2018 report.