Supporting gender diversity – Interview with Stephanie Smith, Hubbl

Supporting gender diversity and conversations to support the growth of women, David Phillips talks to Stephanie Smith, Head of Living Sector Operations at Hubbl.

Stephanie Smith, Head of Living Sector Operations at Hubbl, interviewed as part of the Women in Leadership diversity series | BTR News
Stephanie Smith, Head of Living Sector Operations, Hubbl.

Stephanie started her property career in the late 1990s in the US multifamily market, working on behalf of high-profile institutional clients. Her career began as a leasing consultant in Denver, progressing through to community manager and area manager, then national director for IT and operational training. She moved to the UK as the Build to Rent market was taking off ten years ago, providing consultancy and marketing for prop-tech supplier Yardi. Stephanie made the move back into her long-time passion of living sector operations and asset management, launching the Atlas Residential portfolio before moving to Invesco, where her pan-European role as Director of Residential Operations spanned the UK and Europe with over 30 assets across seven countries.

Stephanie is a founding member of the Research and Policy Committee in the UKAA, where she advocates for EDI, education and mentoring in the industry, and is part of the joint TPI/UKAA Education Working Group, and, most recently, has joined Hubbl as Head of Living Sector Operations.

Have you ever struggled to progress in your career?

Struggling is a relative term. In this context, for me, struggling would mean not being able to develop. For instance, in the US it’s sometimes hard to move up in title once you hit a certain career level, but it comes down to mindset about how you want to grow and often this is more than just a title. When I felt I hit a snag, I looked at other ways to progress myself. One example was achieving further education for a health and safety licence and pool certification, which opened new doors for me, as did tapping into mentorship throughout my career.

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

I would hope not! I think it’s important that we are seen for our talents and what we each bring to the table, regardless of gender. In many ways, I recognise that I’m lucky in that the glass ceiling has been shattered by many before me but am not so blind to think there isn’t gender bias at times, an element of stereotyping, around how women get into this industry – often it’s via leasing, marketing or accounting – but those roles have great career growth, so it’s not a disadvantage.

There were occasions in interviews early in my career when I’ve had the question about starting a family and how that might impact my career. I would like to think that more companies are realising that most women tend to work even harder both before and after maternity leave (in my experience!).

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

While I tend to be self-motivated, in general, I think motherhood gave me an edge, both in terms of developing time management and nurturing skills. It also gave me confidence, pushed me to take smart risks, teaching me not to be afraid to step into an opportunity and get outside my comfort zone. I always have the ‘yet’ in my mind: if there’s something I don’t know how to do yet, I’ll learn. If I fail, I’ll learn from the experience of trying and find another way to make it work. Being both a mentee and a mentor has also been important to my success, helping me to learn from both constructive criticism and positive feedback.

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?

I’m a firm advocate of internships and apprenticeship programmes, which we’ve talked about at the UKAA, as a way of getting more talent into the industry. There are some fantastic initiatives out there, like Project Destined and I2020, which look to attract young people from very diverse backgrounds. Diversity will only add value to our market from a social and financial perspective – in the long run it benefits residents, teams and the local community. Outside of schools and training, it’s really important that we open networking events to a broader range of people.

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?

Onward and upward from here, is how I see it. The Build to Rent market has brought a great deal of knowledge from the US, and from European countries where there is more gender balance. It’s great to see the progress that has happened here in the UK, but it needs to go further across all avenues to promote equity and diversity. As for advice, I’d say find a mentor- and be a mentor- that’s pivotal. Share ideas, learn as much as you can, be willing to listen and bring your whole self to work.

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

I have been blessed with some of the best mentors in the US market, including Carol Levey, Terri Fritz and Mary Wessler, to name a few – I was surrounded by truly dynamic women who believe in lifting one another up.

Here in the UK, I am inspired by Audra Lamoon (Livewire), Jo Green (HomeMade), Tracey Hartley (Cortland) and Jennie Fojtik (Quintain), as well as, Richard Berridge and Steve Edge. They are all great advocates and trusted peers within the market. While at Invesco, I also had the pleasure of learning from an informal mentor in Doris Pittlinger, Head of Fund Management, and find joy in seeing my mentee, Alex Baxter, in the global Invesco marketing team, challenging herself as she grows in her career.

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