Supporting gender diversity – Interview with Claire Ezekwe, Apache Capital

Supporting gender diversity and encouraging conversations to support the growth of women across the industry, David Phillips talks to Claire Ezekwe, Senior Associate Director, Transactions & Structuring at Apache Capital.

Claire Ezekwe, Senior Associate Director, Transactions & Structuring at Apache Capital | BTR News
Claire Ezekwe, Senior Associate Director, Transactions & Structuring at Apache Capital.
Women in Leadership facilitated by David Phillips | BTR News

Claire’s career started in the legal sector as a general banking and finance lawyer, acting for national and international clients across industries including defence, automotive and transport infrastructure, before transitioning to focus on real estate finance in the public and private sectors. After over ten years in private practice, leading a range of real estate backed transactions including prime Build to Rent developments across the UK, Claire is in her first year at Apache Capital as a senior member of the Transactions and Structuring team, providing legal expertise to support the company’s growing platform of multi and single-family housing assets.

Have you ever struggled to progress in your career?

Having started out in the legal sector, fortunately, my gender was not a barrier to entry given the relatively high proportion of females that enter the profession (although this becomes more disparate as careers progress).

That said, I have faced challenges in getting my foot in the door at pivotal stages of my career, the underlying theme of which was being seen beyond tick box credentials and instead for the added value that could be gained from my experience and perspective where on the face of it, that appeared different to what people were looking for.   

Coupled with this, career progression is as much about who you know and who can advocate for you; this was not something I understood the importance of until later in my career. This is doubly important in less diverse industries such as real estate where, consciously, or unconsciously, you may be faced with dispelling people’s preconceptions about whether you are the right fit.

Through my career I have been fortunate to land in environments and work with people who have actively engaged with diversity, celebrated individuality, and supported my progression. 

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

As one of only a few women (and almost always the only black woman in a lot of professional settings), I am hyper visible which can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. On the one hand, this can create an opportunity to make an impact and be remembered for it, but conversely, can feel as if there is little room for error and that any negative perception or reception may affect the next woman coming after me.

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

It goes without saying that hard work is essential, but this is only part of the equation; I think it’s important to be adaptable and innovative, and you have to have the confidence to promote yourself and your abilities. These traits have not historically been encouraged in women (or celebrated for those that display them) in the same way they are for men, but can make the difference in turning that hard work into progress. 

It’s also important to be strategic, if your environment is no longer serving you, seek out a different opportunity and don’t be afraid to take a more winding or alternative path to your version of success. Most importantly, be your authentic self. We are moving away from a time when being a successful senior woman meant doing as men do or emulating (without adaptation) those traits that make men successful, but are not always celebrated in women. It’s the differences in approach and thought that add value and that is only sustainable if it is done in a way that suits the individual.

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?

The change for future generations must start from a young age – it means changing the narrative of what is expected of, and possible, for young women and girls. It’s about challenging stereotypes early on so that women and girls do not take themselves out of the running before they’ve even started.  

Representation can play a really important role here and at different stages in my career, I have been inspired and encouraged when I see women (particularly women of colour) in positions of leadership in places that may seem out of reach, or that I have never even contemplated would be for people like me. By showing girls and women that the industry is open to them and has a place for them, this will have a cumulative effect for the generations to come.

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?

The future is positive; things are beginning to change and the conversations about diversity have only grown and become more embedded in society at large. My advice for the next generation is, know your subject, be engaged and don’t be afraid to take risks. 

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

I have been inspired by a range of people; men and women, colleagues, acquaintances, and even people I have never met but admired from afar. I am drawn to individuals who break the mould, who are ambitious and creative and are prepared to put in the work. Role modelling and inspiration can come from junior as well as senior people; mentoring has taught me to reflect on my experiences in a way that is humbling and constructive for me as well as my mentee. I’m a firm believer in paying it forward where possible and if everyone does their little bit, the impact can be huge.

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.