Supporting gender diversity – Interview with Tracey Hartley, Cortland

Supporting gender diversity and conversations to support the growth of women, David Phillips talks to Tracey Hartley, Chief Operating Officer, Cortland.

Tracey Hartley, Chief Operating Officer, Cortland | David Phillips | BTR News
Tracey Hartley, Chief Operating Officer, Cortland.

How did you get to where you are today?

Tracey took an ‘unplanned’ route into property. After dropping out of sixth form, she worked for a travel company as a reservations office junior, and moved to the local government ombudsman before switching career and taking a vocational route into law. While juggling Open University study with part-time work and motherhood, Tracey saw a sign for a job in local estate agent. Realising she loved residential property, she became a chartered surveyor, spending 10 years at Grainger, then managed heritage portfolios at Howard de Walden and JLL before being asked to join Cortland as Chief Operating Officer.

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

Professional curiosity has really helped, as has the fact that I’ve come up through the ranks,  so I’m confident I don’t ask people to do things I wouldn’t do myself. Working for the local government ombudsman taught me a lot about process improvement, too. I also learned how to deal with complaints properly, which I think is very important in any career and especially in residential property.

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

Law firms can be brutal places to work. And I’ve had jobs that wouldn’t pay sick leave, which is very difficult to manage especially when you have kids: once when I was ill as a single mum my boss threatened to give my job to the temp who was covering for me if I didn’t get back to work. And early on in the property sector I definitely didn’t feel like part of the ‘club’ – I was brought up in social housing and felt the divide due to socioeconomic discrimination.

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? 

When I think of all the raw talent in state schools, to which 93% of people go, I see independent schools massively over-represented in the industry. Tapping into that talent from the state sector is critical to improving diversity in property. While there may be broader representation in roles such as property management, as you move to more rarefied areas like dealmaking, there’s still work to do on both gender and social diversity.

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

There are some good examples, like the Urban Land Institute’s work with schools to capture ‘prospects’ who are thinking about a first career. When I worked with Northumbria University, I discovered that new joiners to the real estate industry were a self-selecting cohort that see themselves as belonging to the sector. We ran a sixth-form project locally that took students through the whole property process and showed them that there were many different career avenues available to them and that property was not a remote, posh and unattainable place. Also I think unpaid internships should be discouraged, because they automatically exclude all the many people who can’t fund themselves. We need to reach out to all potential talent, not just people with a foot in the door.  

Do you have any advice for young people hoping to join the sector? Any recommendations of books/podcasts/online courses etc. for both soft/hard skills.  

I’ve seen that candidates from independent schools have a polish and confidence that sometimes even colleagues don’t have! So, it’s important for young people to be comfortable with how to present themselves, to be ready with the dreaded elevator pitch. One of my most important lessons was being told that the first three letters of confidence are ‘con’. So, looking confident (even if you don’t feel it) is so important.

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

Eliza Pattinson at Grainger, who was my boss when I first joined, was tough but fair and made sure I really learned. Watching her navigate a male-dominated world was amazing. Grainger’s then CEO Andrew Cunningham gave me every opportunity and made me feel like I was always pushing on an open door. And my career fairy godmother was Eileen Scott, head of HR at Grainger. She fought tooth and nail to get me the same salary as the previous (male) incumbent in a role I moved into.

What prediction(s) do you have about the property market in the next 10 years? Use of AI, importance of ESG, gender/diversity balance etc. 

Housing is a basic need. We need more homes – otherwise, we could disenfranchise a generation, who could switch off from capitalism or even democracy as a whole. Property ownership is now a huge mountain to climb for young people – it was much simpler for my parents’ generation. I’d like to see a growing awareness that we have to get the basics right with housing.

If you had to sum yourself up in 3 words, what words would they be?

Older, Wiser and Menopausal.

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

What are you doing to level the playing field for the next generation of talent?

Who will be the biggest BTR provider in the next 10 years?

There’s only one answer to that – clearly, it’s got to be Cortland in the UK!

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.