This Sunday 8th March is International Women’s Day (IWD) – the annual global awareness day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. This year’s theme is about how “An equal world is an enabled world.” The movement asks to think about how we can all help forge a gender equal world – whether its through raising awareness against bias; taking action for equality; and by celebrating women’s achievement.

So, today we’re going to celebrate the achievements of Bruntwood’s women by sharing a series of their own, personal stories. We spoke to some of our female colleagues about their experiences of work, life, finding that all important balance and everything else in between!

A member of the Air Training Corps, Andrea George originally had aspirations to be a fighter pilot. But at the time the RAF didn’t accept female fighter pilots, so following a flick through Which’s Careers Guide, she settled on Chartered Surveying after being drawn to a role description that included being on the ground, meeting different people and most importantly having the ability to influence a city/townscape.

Before joining Buntwood, and after completing a surveying degree at Sheffield Hallam, she built up experience with some considerable projects over the years including Spinningfields, Old Granada Studios, Deansgate Locks, The Printworks, One Piccadilly Gardens, The Circus, and several shopping centres including Liverpool One, The Mailbox in Birmingham and The Met Quarter in Liverpool. After a brief stint as co founder of a restaurant, she landed at Bruntwood where she was attracted by our ambition to become the one of the UK’s leading retail and leisure suppliers with a sizeable portfolio that includes our operational businesses Afflecks and Hatch but also a mix of prime, high footfall locations and of course the recently purchased Stamford Quarter in Altrincham and Stretford Mall.

Along with that ambition, it was also the family ethos, the feeling of being valued, the size of Bruntwood’s portfolio, and the ability to shape cities, towns and places that piqued her interest. That, and “…because Bruntwood really are nice people to do business with externally and internally!”

Now as Retail & Leisure Director, Andrea strategically links our assets, making the ground floors of our buildings interesting places to go, use and stay in. And what keeps her interested and motivated is working with best in class operators, supporting independent retailers and new concept businesses to bring about change and interest and ultimately reshaping our high streets and creating thriving cities. Having established herself in the role, Andrea has seen how the business and the wider industry has changed.

“There are more women in the industry now than when I joined. There were a couple of influential women, but for a time I was the only female retail agent in Manchester! Now there has been a shift change in the industry with businesses like Bruntwood leading the way in recognising the importance in offering flexible working to help both female and male colleagues develop their careers whilst maintaining a healthy balance with home life,” Andrea says. “You can do your share of the school drop off, homework and picking up from activities! In the main, it’s that balance which is to be successful.”

Playing an increasingly influential role in the wider retail and leisure sector, Andrea is also keen to share the perspective of a senior female leader in the business to support others. “I sit on the Works Exec Board. I think being a female brings a different dimension to the meetings with more rounded views but I’ve only been one of a few females around the board table all of my career. I hope to provide inspiration to other women – and men that you can have a career and have children. You’ll never have any time to yourself but you can have it all!”

And Andrea’s final bit of advice… “Work hard, play hard. Immerse yourself in your chosen career. You get out of it what you put in. Be prepared to learn, if you try to run before you can walk you’ll trip yourself up. Ask questions, read, go and visit places to broaden your horizons. I’ve had a number of roles and learned various skills that have shaped me and ultimately made me better at what I do.”

After completing university and going on to complete a doctorate in pharmacology, Kath Mackay was keen to work in the life sciences industry but not necessarily “at the bench” so quickly moved into a commercial role and is now Managing Director of Alderley Park.

Kath talks about working in the competitive science & technology industry, the importance of strong female leadership representation and finding that work-life balance. And while, as a whole, we’ve taken great strides towards a gender equal world, she also explains how much more can and must be done.

After joining a growing life science company to establish their North American business development team (where she supported the company going public through investments and IPO) she then went onto to Innovate UK leading a £700m portfolio of capital infrastructure and investments and delivering new initiatives such as new government funded network of AI centres for imaging and UK wide genome sequencing projects.

Keen to move back into a commercial role, Kath joined Bruntwood in November 2019, as Managing Director of the world renowned innovation campus at Alderley Park. The role Bruntwood SciTech was establishing in the knowledge economy and the investment it was putting in, Kath was quick to see the potential of Alderley Park and the business in general – driven especially by the culture and the people to join.

The role has afforded her much personal development opportunity and with the support of Bruntwood’s SciTech CEO, Kath is continuing to build her non-exec career in parallel. Representing female colleagues, not just in Bruntwood but across the wider science and technology sector, is hugely important to Kath. “Former bosses and colleagues have rewarded me based on my own merits and promoted me based on performance – gender never came into it,” says Kath. 

Kath has been fortunate to work for organisations where she is able to manage her own time to attend parents’ evenings, school plays; and having a supportive partner has been key, which has been crucial to finding that work / life balance. “My husband has taken the lead several times with the family to allow me to have an executive career,” she explains. 

Equally, Kath wants to support others by being a visible female leader across Alderley Park, SciTech and Bruntwood. Though she readily admits that life sciences and technology is not diverse at a senior level with attrition at every stage – this is starting to change whether its through mandating a percentage of women on boards or publishing gender pay gap data – it is starting to bring diversity into the limelight where Boards and senior teams can often feel like a bit of a club.

To maintain that momentum, Kath advises that even more needs to be done. “Keep diversity initiatives high profile and provide practical support to managers who want to create a diverse culture. For example ensure gender balanced recruitment processes and panels are in place. Also, ensuring that female role models are visible – everything from senior management positions to speaker slots at conferences. And starting right at the beginning, there should be no such thing as gender based careers (or even boys or girls toys) – anyone can be a scientist or an engineer,” she states. 

Kath’s final piece of advice – “Know your worth and find a mentor”

What’s it like working at Bruntwood as a woman? Our Graduate, Kerri-Ann tells all..

What attracted you to Bruntwood’s graduate scheme?

The passion Bruntwood has to truly create a positive impact both internally and our wider communities. Bruntwood has a true desire to deliver the promise of creating thriving cities and I loved the idea of being able to have a positive impact on those around me while still developing my career ambitions and challenging myself.

So far, how has Bruntwood helped support your career ambitions?

As a graduate, being exposed to so many areas of the business can be overwhelming but, Bruntwood has always made sure we are given the best training and development to cope with change and embrace every opportunity we are given. There is always support if we need it, and we are given a good amount of responsibility to ensure we work well in our teams and on our own.

How would you describe being a new graduate in Bruntwood, especially a female one in what is traditionally a male dominated industry?

When I applied for Bruntwood, it didn’t cross my mind that I would be entering a male dominated industry. I am very passionate about equality in the workplace, so I overlooked the dominant gender in the industry and applied feeling as though I was equal. Since starting, everyone within the company has been very welcoming and always willing to help, and I have really enjoyed working with so many hard working and inspiring people. I have not at any point felt inferior to any of the male colleagues, and have enjoyed working with a diverse and equal workforce. I hope that I can continue to work hard at delivering Bruntwood’s purpose and values and make a difference in each department and team I work within. I would love to bring all of my past experiences and knowledge forward to help the company grow and I hope I can have a positive impact on the company and the people I work with along the way.

Of all the benefits and opportunity we offer colleagues – which ones have had the most impact on you at home and on your work / life balance?

Agile working, definitely. Since starting to train competitively in Olympic weightlifting, I generally go to the gym twice a day. Having the ability to work at different offices or at home has helped organise my training and I am able to continue to focus on my goals outside of work.

What more could be to improve opportunities for women in general and address issues such gender pay gap?

I think the topic needs to be widely discussed and open so that women feel as though they are not inferior in any way. Everyone deserves equal opportunity and no one should ever be made to feel they deserve less. The gender pay gap reporting has been excellent in making people aware and challenging the differences, but it’s up to everyone to ensure the topic is discussed and tackled accordingly. This means that the topic needs to be transparent within business,as many women may not be aware that their pay is not equal.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out on their career as you are?

Embrace change and welcome new opportunities. Finishing university can be daunting, but set yourself goals and work hard to achieve them. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes along the way, in fact, welcome them because your mistakes will always turn into a lesson for the future. Your career won’t always be straightforward, but enjoy the opportunities you are given and make the most of the support you are offered along the way.