Supporting gender diversity: Interview with Annabel Turbutt-Day, Greystar

Supporting gender diversity and encouraging conversations to support the growth of women across the industry, David Phillips talks to Annabel Turbutt-Day, Director of Communications - Europe, Greystar.

Annabel Turbutt-Day, Director of Communications - Europe, Greystar discussing gender diversity and women in leadership | BTR News
Annabel Turbutt-Day, Director of Communications - Europe, Greystar.

Annabel’s career started out in PR, where she was involved in setting up FTI’s Mumbai office before moving to Edelman, where her work covered prestigious FMCG accounts and sporting events as well as real estate. Now with over 13 years in the industry and in her first year at Greystar, she is the company’s first European communications lead.

Have you ever struggled to progress in your career?

I was lucky to make fast progress in PR: I had good mentors and the qualifications and experience that my employers were looking for. After this fast start, I did find that my career reached a plateau for a while, which was natural but nonetheless felt a little humbling. It did, however, give me time to reflect on my progress and explore where I needed to develop. I deliberately put my hand up for projects that would broaden my skillset and position me to be a good in-house communications lead. So, when the right role came up, I was ready.

Have you felt that being a woman has given you an advantage in the industry?

Anything that can make you stand out can be an advantage. In my career I’ve often been the only woman and in the early days the only 20-something, which made me conspicuous –  senior people couldn’t help but notice me. This level of scrutiny does place some pressure on you, so I made sure I went to meetings prepared and with something to say. And as soon as you add value, people give you a chance. You can quickly make yourself indispensable.

Given the industry’s gender gap in leadership, how did you reach your level of success?

I think you need to love the industry and your role in it. Natural passion for the business can take you a long way and keep you on the right path, even in difficult times. Also, I have always had great support from leaders: I’ve purposely sought out people that I respect and want to work with. It’s important to note that this has not just been women helping other women. Anyone trying to break through can give you a leg up and we all have to take responsibility for this. 

My first boss Sue Brown was a fierce supporter of women and is doing great work at Real Estate Balance. I will always remember that she said women tend to mark themselves down in appraisals. This stuck with me and it’s always important to consider whether you’re being modest or whether there’s a real weakness that you should be working on. I think diversity of thought gained in other roles is helpful, too. Real estate used to be insular but it’s now bringing people in from other sectors, and I think this is paying dividends as the industry grows and matures because they are challenging the status quo.

What needs to change to inform the next generation of female leaders about the industry and the roles available to them? Do we need more support for women at school level to understand the opportunity?

We need to start at the source, telling school leavers and graduates about the industry and the diversity of roles it can offer. If they are interested in the sector, there will be a job for them: it’s not just for architects and estate agents! My experience at (grammar) school was probably typical for the times: we were presented with classic professions like teaching, medicine, accountancy and law, and if you didn’t fit into one of those categories you felt a little lost. If young people had a clearer understanding of just how much the real estate industry touches everyone’s lives and how tangible the product we create is, they could be inspired to choose it as a sector to base their career in.

The Urban Land Institute’s Urban Plan Initiative, which Greystar supports, is another good example of what the industry is doing to engage school children with real estate. I think as a whole the industry could learn from how STEM has been marketed to girls, making the subject area exciting and accessible, and offering career paths and mentors.

What does the future look like for women in property and what advice would you give the next generation of female leaders joining the industry?

In the past few years, the industry has shown commitment to diversity and I think the future for women in real estate is bright. There have been some notable female pioneers who have built exemplary careers in the industry, which shows other women what’s possible – it’s inspiring!

As to advice, I’d say two things. First, read everything you can get your hands on, so you know who’s who in the industry and what’s happening in the news. Watch corporate videos, follow senior leaders on social media and read reports. Knowledge makes the case for why you’re in the room and it opens the door to more conversations. (And as you get more senior you have less time to read)! Second, network. It’s not easy during the pandemic but it’s always valuable. It’s a small industry so you can soon get on good terms with good people, and if you’re not a natural networker focus on making relationships with your peers who are also starting out.

Who inspired you/are your role models and who do you admire in the industry?

I like straight shooters who are graceful under pressure: Kamala Harris obviously comes to mind. If I can have a fictional character, I would have to pick Leslie Nope from Parks and Rec: she is a busy body with a heart of gold, but critically is passionate about what she does and always puts others first. 

At Greystar we have exceptional female (and male) senior leaders who have gone out of their way to make me feel welcome despite spending most of my first year in lockdown: Angela Russell, Bella Peacock, Michaela Hancock and Jennifer Smith to name a few. Mark Allnutt has an ability to cut to the heart of the matter and I could definitely learn to be more incisive from him. CBRE was one of my first clients, so really shaped my formative years – the account lead Kieron Smith was a fantastic mentor, but I also have to mention Jennet Siebrits, Nick Jopling, Andrew Pratt and Mark Collins who took me under their wing and built my confidence. 

David Phillips – supporting gender diversity in the property industry

At David Philips, we’re committed to gender equality. We strive to create a workplace that reflects the communities we serve, where everyone feels empowered and part of an inclusive workplace culture. 

Whilst female representation in the property market has improved markedly in recent years, there is still work to be done, with only 30% of senior management positions in property occupied by woman. Over the next 12 months we’ll be conducting interviews with some of the industry’s influential woman to share their career stories, the challenges they have overcome and their views on how to address gender gaps within management and senior roles across our industry.  

We continue to push for better representation and recognition for woman. Creating a culture of equality isn’t just the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing, research shows that diverse companies are more innovative and more profitable. With this series we aim to shine a light on some of the industry’s leading talent and encourage a conversation that continues the drive towards gender equality.