Supporting gender diversity – Interview with Rachel Hanniquet-Brooking, Apo

Supporting gender diversity and conversations to support the growth of women, David Phillips talks to Rachel Hanniquet-Brooking, Group Operations Director, Apo.

Rachel Hanniquet-Brooking, Group Operations Director, Apo | BTR News
Rachel Hanniquet-Brooking, Group Operations Director, Apo.

How did you get to where you are today?

As the daughter of a ship’s captain, I had a multinational upbringing in Singapore, America, and Australia, where I finished my schooling and joined the hotel industry. On moving back to the UK, I moved into the property industry as a marketing manager for a developer before heading back overseas with holiday operator TUI. In 2003 I then worked for the UK’s largest landed estate to set up a property management and leasing function for both commercial and residential properties. Before I ultimately joined the Build to Rent sector with a council-led borough builder entering the sector and needing operations in-house, followed by heading up Build to Rent operations for Grainger PLC, before joining Apo Group to steer growth in early 2023.

What were the key factors to your success? And what has been the biggest challenge you’ve had to overcome?  

As I moved around a lot as a child (I went to 16 different schools and lived in many homes), I’m very adaptable to change and have the ability to work with a wide variety of people. I get started quickly, and I love to keep learning and challenging myself daily. My biggest challenge? – Being made redundant once, it was difficult to pick myself up and get my confidence back, which now gives me a close allegiance to looking after my employee’s mental health, whatever the circumstances.

Have you felt that your gender has given you an advantage (or disadvantage) in the industry and career? 

I sometimes wonder whether as a gay senior female leader, I could be seen to ‘tick a box’, I would never accept a job unless I know I am considered on merit. I am lucky to have worked for some fantastic senior female leaders who have set an example for the businesses I worked in and gave us an advantage. However, as a woman in property, I have also seen and heard behaviour that’s unacceptable. From day-to-day comments on appearance, and feeling excluded, to only women in meetings being asked to make drinks. We’re light years behind the service and hospitality industry in relation to inclusion, diversity and equality but we are working on it.

Do you feel diversity has improved within the industry in the past few years? If so, what has attributed to this? Is there anything holding the industry back? 

It’s talked about and recognised more these days but there’s still a long way to go. As a member of the gay community myself, I feel there’s a lot we can still do within the workforce to encourage people to feel comfortable regardless of colour, race or sexuality. The Lionesses women’s football team are a recent great example of how to bring women into a traditionally male-dominated sphere, but you can see the challenges still around with recent comments in the media about whether it’s acceptable for women to commentate on a men’s game on TV. It’s not dissimilar to the workplace and we need change to be driven when raising our children.

How can the industry continue to attract young talent into the industry?  

Property and a surveyor career path are well represented in universities and a degree normally ends with enrolment on a RICS APC pathway. I was on the graduate interview panel recently for a business, and I noted few candidates expressed interest into the operational side of the industry because it’s not seen as a career path – and you see this with high street residential agency, too. It’s unlikely we go through school thinking we want to be a letting agent, a property manager or in resident concierge. We need to attract more people into the operational and service side of the business, by creating an attractive professional pathway with recognised increased remuneration to make it as recognised as other routes. Regulation of the industry will also assist us with consumer awareness and credibility.

Do you have any advice for young people hoping to join the sector?

Get to know the sector and its culture, reach out to people in the industry on LinkedIn or local connections for weekend roles. Ask questions, visit sites and schemes. Look for job roles where you will be trained and developed by a business. Also, don’t wait for your employer: invest in yourself. I paid for my own training and education for many years to be the most qualified I could for a role. Read up on the sector and keep up to date, whatever level you work at, and join a professional body, so many offer young people networking opportunities.

Who inspired you/are your role models and/or mentor(s), and who do you admire in the industry? 

I am really inspired by the change in women’s football recently and they really are a great example of performance excellence whilst fighting for rights, recognition and equality. I’ve never had an individual mentor myself, but I have admired many leaders, what interests me is how people tackle challenges and achieve something different – like Jeff Bezos, who transformed Amazon from an online bookstore to a retailer where I can get anything, even my favourite hard to find Singaporean curry sauce in a matter of hours.

What prediction(s) do you have about the property market in the next 10 years?

Homes are needed and we can’t build enough and quick enough, the industry will only get bigger and better, albeit, with new legislative challenges to adapt to. Technology will also be key, I saw a poignant slide from a conference recently, which said you will not have your job taken over by AI, but you’ll lose it if you don’t use it. We all need to embrace technology and make our customers’ and teams’ lives more comfortable and effective. Overall, there remains the challenge that an investment at the moment is not as attractive as it was. Operating models therefore continue to be pushed to be as cost-effective for investors and owners – but we need to be more people-oriented and not just focused on ROI.

If you had to sum yourself up in three words, what words would they be?  

Genuine – I love the property industry, at the heart of what I do is developing other people and I deliver on what I say, I make decisions fairly, and I’m open to why.

Entrepreneurial – Seeking out opportunities and trying something different drives me, and it comes across in how I contribute to businesses.

Driven – I need to learn daily. I’ve not reached the top of where I want to be yet, and I will drive myself forward to do that.

What would you like to ask our next Women in Leadership participant? 

Who will be the biggest provider of Build to Rent within 10 years in the world, excluding America multifamily.

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 women. Since 2022, we’ve conducted interviews with some of the industry’s influential women 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 of women. 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 our Women in Leadership 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.