Supporting gender diversity – Interview with Kelly Bream, Navana Property Group / VervLife

Kelly Bream, Navana Property Group (NPG) / VervLife | BTR News
Kelly Bream, Navana Property Group (NPG) / VervLife.
Women in Leadership facilitated by David Phillips | BTR News

Kelly originally planned to work as a property lawyer but instead moved into surveying, property asset management, estate agency and then development and construction. After 10 years at Berkeley Group she co-founded Navana, which offers services from consultancy through to management. More recently, she co-founded BTR consultancy and Operator VervLife. Kelly is also a Non-Exec Director to Stonewest UK (Stone Façade and Restoration) and Ashville Holdings (Concrete, Aggregate & Haulage) businesses.

Have you ever struggled to progress in your career?

Unfortunately, yes. When I started 18 years ago it was a very male-dominated industry, not just in terms of role models, leaders and colleagues, but there was physical exclusion to also contend with particularly on construction sites, for example no female toilets or the right-sized boots available, this made it difficult to be ‘included’. Not to mention the type of client entertaining available, football, golf, rugby etc – not that this is necessarily an issue as sport is or should be inclusive, however it was the commentary that usually followed ‘do you even like football’, ‘can you actually play golf’, those types of comments impacted the decision to attend as it was heavily implied ‘this event is not for you’.

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

I’ve had a mixed experience. On the one hand, women typically have to work that much harder and do more extra-curricular work to be noticed. My experience in managing women also sees that we don’t push as hard as men for pay rises and promotions. On the other hand, when we do push, historically there has been less competition because there are fewer people who can provide the diversity that employers are looking for.

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

Natural drive and ambition are gender neutral. I got traction when I became more confident in my ability and felt able to step outside of the ‘herd mentality’ and not be afraid to voice my views. Here’s an example: I was admiring an en-suite bathroom with 12 male colleagues who thought the position of a shower was perfect: I said it should be on the opposite wall so people could admire the view. The revelation was that men and women shower facing in opposite directions – and therefore that apartments have been designed with male influence for years. This was a ‘lightbulb’ moment that kicked off a conversation about what we could do to accommodate the female perspective.

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?

Gender stereotyping starts early, so we should be changing the narrative as early as pre-schools. This can be through the history we are taught to the role models in diverse industries we are exposed to. Industry wide there has been a move to ensure panels, debates, and speaker events are diverse although this needs to shift beyond just gender.

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?

We need to go further in terms of networking, which is the key to success, especially for male colleagues. There are lots of women’s networking groups now, but we don’t make opportunities happen as much as we could. Ultimately, for the next generation of female leaders, I’d say: show up, be seen, be heard.

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

I’ve always been inspired by strong women who have made achievements in male-dominated areas, whether it’s business, politics or the arts. As a business owner I can surround myself with great people and that’s what I’m doing now with the board and the team at Navana Property Group (NPG) and VervLife.

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.