Supporting gender diversity – Interview with Sarah Tonkinson, Foxtons

Supporting gender diversity and encouraging conversations to support the growth of women across the industry, David Phillips talks to Sarah Tonkinson, Managing Director - Institutional PRS and Build to Rent, Foxtons.

Sarah Tonkinson, Managing Director - Institutional PRS and Build to Rent, Foxtons | BTR News
Sarah Tonkinson, Managing Director - Institutional PRS and Build to Rent, Foxtons.
Women in Leadership facilitated by David Phillips | BTR News

Sarah has worked at Foxtons since joining as a sales negotiator at Notting Hill Gate in 2000. She moved to the company’s Chiswick Park head office in 2002, where she set up its corporate services team for lettings. Much of her career has been spent running Foxtons’ short- and long-term lettings businesses. However in 2016, Sarah set up the Build to Rent team at Foxtons, which she runs to this day. 

Have you ever struggled to progress in your career?

Yes, but who hasn’t. There have been challenging times where I didn’t necessarily get what I wanted – however these are the moments that make you stronger, that you can learn from. How you deal with not achieving something is a defining moment that you can use as a springboard to improve.

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

100%. Being in a minority can be a good thing, and women tend to look out for one other. We’re good communicators with strong networks and mutual support, and this gives us an advantage. I was also the first woman at director level in sales, and that can make you memorable. Women can get away with saying things in a way that men can’t, because of our strengths in empathy and emotional intelligence. We’re inclusive and nurturing and can run great teams.

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

Hard work, enthusiasm and by grabbing every opportunity with both hands. In my experience, listening and watching have been important ways to learn how successful people operate and behave. And you need to ask for feedback, because if you get used to it, that’s how you grow and learn. I also think it’s important to go the extra mile, give things more thought, support others and be open to doing new things.

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?

Property doesn’t market itself as well as industries like technology, banking or insurance. It’s not a school leaver’s choice. Lots of people fall into the industry and end up staying. Also, it doesn’t promote its career paths enough – and there are lots of these today particularly in Build to Rent. Property is not just about selling houses, there are so many interesting career paths. Hopefully the industry is starting to market itself more efficiently now.

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?

I think the future for women is very bright. Back in 2000, property was very male dominated, like other industries, but that’s changed now. There are many successful women in property who have been able to combine a good career with raising a family. I would advise women to put themselves forward more: we’re notoriously bad at doing this. Overall, though, I think the future is all about balance: getting the right mix, not just of gender but also ethnicity and educational background.

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

There’s a very long list but I would single out Mary Beeton from Hamptons, who I met over 20 years ago when I first arrived at Foxtons. My colleague Fran Giltinan, who I’ve worked with for many years: I admire her honesty, opinions, work ethic and tenacity. Liza-Jane Kelly from Savills has always been a force in Central London property and is always very welcoming, and finally Debora Yudolph has been a friend and mentor since I moved into the Build to Rent space.