Last week, Women in Property with Cushman & Wakefield LLP played host to a seminar on Property Week’s Open Plan campaign to increase diversity and create a Diversity Charter.  Liz Hamson (editor of Property Week) chaired a panel of three leading figures who have been instrumental in the campaign including John Forrester of Cushman & Wakefield, Jackie Newstead of Hogan Lovells LLP and Emma Cariaga of British Land.

The audience was in for a real treat as the event kicked off with keynote speaker Lady Judge CBE, the first female Chairman of The Institute of Directors (among many other accolades). Lady Judge was introduced by John Forrester who made the point that the room we were sitting in was once home to a very different group of people, mainly ‘male and pale’. 125 Old Broad Street, Cushman & Wakefield’s London office, was formerly known as Stock Exchange Tower and the home of the London Stock Exchange for 30 years. The room we were sitting in was the former trading floor and very few women would have been present among the loud and harried traders – an ironic but apt platform for Lady Judge to deliver her talk.

Lady Judge strikes an imposing and immaculately dressed figure. A lawyer and American-British businesswoman, she spoke of her long and highly impressive career: currently Chairman of The Institute of Directors; Chairman Emeritus of the UK Atomic Energy Authority; Chairman of the Pension Protection Fund; and UK Ambassador on behalf of UK Trade & Investment. It is nothing short of inspiring.

As a child, her mother asked her ‘when you grow up, what would you like to be?’ This was in the 1950s, and her unsurprising reply was, ‘an actress’. Her mother was quick to put paid to this idea and said there would be no ‘poor, unemployed actresses’ in her family. Instead, she suggested the young Barbara should consider becoming a lawyer. Lady Judge noted that much of her drive comes from her mother who taught her that women should work, not because they are poor or alone, but because they have a brain and they should use it and earn their own money, because money is independence. Her mother was, by all accounts, a formidable woman. She devised and taught a course entitled “The World of Work for Women”, which advised women to ‘wear white gloves’ – (in other words dress correctly), write a CV and apply for jobs even when advertised ‘men wanted’.

Lady Judge recounted how, having worked very hard at university and achieving top grades, she applied to a number of law firms for her first position. Each interview went something like this:

Male (white and clean shaven) interviewer: “Well Barbara, you are very lucky. We have to take on one female employee this year and you have the grades. But, it says on your form you want to be a corporate lawyer. That won’t do, that’s a job for men.”

Barbara Singer (as she then was): “Oh, well how about litigation? I would enjoy that.”

Male (white and clean shaven) interviewer: “Oh no, that’s a job for tough men! You should consider family law. And, as we haven’t had a woman lawyer here before, we’ll put flowers on your desk every Monday to make you feel welcome.”

Barbara Singer (as she then was): “I don’t think we’re talking about the same job.”

Barbara Singer went on to become an M&A lawyer. A major point in her career came in 1980 when Jimmy Carter’s administration was looking to appoint a woman as commissioner to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Lady Judge was in California closing a deal when she got a call. It was the senior partner of her firm who told her she’d been nominated for the post but that he had told the White House she wouldn’t be interested because she had just been made a partner. Her reply was: “You call them back and tell them I’ll be there on Wednesday!” As a busy corporate lawyer who spent most of her time chained to her desk, Lady Judge couldn’t work out how anyone had heard of her, let alone put her forward. It emerged that she had in fact been recommended by the then most senior female broker on Wall Street, whom she had met and befriended (in spite of this woman being a ‘complainer’) on a coach tour of China the year before.  “The moral,” she told us, “is to always be nice to single women – especially on a bus.”

Lady Judge spoke of how she had been approached for the role of chairman for William Hill just as the company was preparing to float. She turned the job down without a second thought. She told herself, “I don’t believe in gambling. I’m American. Good Americans don’t gamble”. After her decision, she spoke to several friends and her son who all told her she was crazy not to have discussed the offer with them first. As one friend pointed out, she would have been the first woman chairman of a FTSE 100 company. Her son also reminded her that betting is acceptable in England –  everyone bets, even the Queen! Lady Judge felt the lesson to take from this is that everyone needs their own board of directors, people they can turn to for advice, even if they don’t take it.

After Lady Judge’s inspiring speech, Liz Hamson chaired a lively debate on whether ‘diversity is on the agenda’ for companies within the property world. The panel discussed initiatives within their own companies and current trends. It concluded that, whilst many companies still have a long way to go to attract, and more importantly retain, good people from all backgrounds, genders and ethnicities, diversity is most definitely on the agenda and we should expect to see improvements across the industry in the next twelve months and certainly within the next five years.

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