Sunday 17 December 2017

CBRE's Stanley leading the way for women on the way up in property

The right moves...

Florence Stanley
Florence Stanley

Paul McNeive

"In Ireland, there might be approximately 200 professional fee earners at the very top of the business, but, less than 10pc of them are women." So says Florence Stanley, deputy managing director at CBRE, and one of those women who has risen to the top of a commercial market dominated by men."Things are changing, but it's very slow," Stanley told me over coffee in the CBRE boardroom, as she offered strong advice on diversity in the business.

Florence Stanley started as an apprentice at Morgan Scales & Company and then studied at the College of Commerce in Rathmines. She then completed a three-year correspondence course with Reading University, while working, leading to qualification as a chartered surveyor.

She joined the then Dublin Corporation's Valuation Office, where she worked with the late Bill Murphy, the chief valuer, and this period saw her realise that she wanted to specialise in commercial property "which was very unusual for women at the time". She then worked for three years with Tony Brook's & Co., doing rating, valuation and compulsory purchase work, and married aged 23.

Stanley's next move was a five-year spell with The Phelan Partnership, where she was involved with GRE in the development of The Square shopping centre in Tallaght and general commercial work. However, she then lost a year out of her career after suffering serious injuries in a car crash. She pays tribute to The National Rehabilitation Hospital for getting her back to work - initially in a wheelchair and then on crutches.

In 1995, whilst on maternity leave, she was headhunted by the late Fintan Gunne and joined the Gunne valuation department. However, she was finding it difficult to combine her career with spending enough time with her children and she decided to leave Gunne in 1998 to work from home. A chance meeting with Tom Dunne (head of Surveying and Construction at DIT Bolton Street) saw her filling in for a lecturer on leave, which led to five years lecturing on the property economics course.

During this period she continued to do some consultancy work, including all of Vodafone's acquisitions, reviews and valuations. "You're very torn, between your kids and not wanting to give up your career," Stanley told me, adding that "you have to try and find a balance."

She was then approached by Enda Luddy, now managing director with CBRE, who asked her to return to the professional services department. Stanley agreed, but on the proviso that she would be working 'school hours'. "If the kids weren't at school, I wasn't working," she said. Stanley ended up running that department before being asked to head up CBRE's global corporate services (office acquisitions). Stanley progressed through director levels and was appointed deputy managing director in 2013. She oversees a team of 40 people in the retail, valuations and professional services areas and sits on the executive committee that runs the firm.

Stanley advises her younger colleagues to "spend as much time with your kids as possible - don't put your career first." She says that different people have different ways of finding a work-life balance. She feels that firms in the industry can do more to accommodate women. "CBRE have been at the forefront in promoting women" she said, pointing to the company's 'working from home' and 'remote working' options, which are availed of by a lot of its female and male employees.

"But it can still be more difficult for women having children," she said. "I still see a lot of women, especially fee earners, getting to a certain level, and then they disappear."

A lot of this, she said, is because "to be a top fee earner, means lots of networking and entertaining, and a lot of that is outside business hours. But you just have to do it to bring in the work."

"In the commercial markets, a lot of the meetings I go to are all men. Most of the top decision makers are men, particularly in property, but that's changing as more women get top positions in client firms. For example, Vodafone, Microsoft, Facebook and Bank of Ireland all have women CEOs."

In an effort to accelerate change, Florence Stanley is one of the founders of a female-leadership initiative called WOW. It recently completed a pilot programme where 27 high-potential women were mentored by senior female leaders and supported by sponsors (both men and women) from within employer organisations. It will be interesting to see where this leads.

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