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Embracing equity, within and beyond gender – an interview with Toni Riddiford of Women in Property

In celebration of International Women’s Day, we had the privilege of speaking to Toni Riddiford, the newly appointed chair of Women in Property’s South West branch. In this interview, Toni shares her plans for her new role and how the organisation is working to #EmbraceEquity.

What is Women in Property?

Women in Property is a not-for-profit organisation that creates opportunities and networks for those working in the property and construction industry. It was founded in 1987 to support women in a male-dominated industry, and now covers regions across the UK. It supports people from diverse backgrounds at all stages of their careers.

What does Women in Property offer?

Women in Property aims to promote connection, communication and mutual support to achieve true equality for all. We want to give people with different perspectives and backgrounds the opportunity to connect and empower each other. We offer numerous networking events with professionals from across the property sector, including architects, surveyors, engineers, lawyers and others. The cross-disciplinary aspect of our work is particularly fruitful, as members have the opportunity to connect with role models and experts who are not available to them within their own workplace.

It’s essentially a really approachable network of people helping and supporting each other in any way that we can.

Toni Riddiford, chair of Women in Property’s South West branch

Each branch of Women in Property runs events and builds networks based on the needs of their community, and we are always open to suggestions from members and the wider property industry about what we can offer. A highlight of last year was a ‘Sweatworking Series’ organised by one of our committee members, which included weightlifting, boxing and a ‘no lycra’ non-competitive bike ride.

As part of our membership, we offer an interdisciplinary mentoring programme which is hugely popular. We also run outreach programmes to encourage young people of all genders into the industry and we host our own National Student Awards. Women in Property also contributes to the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Women and Work.

What are your plans for your year as chair of Women in Property’s South West branch?

Last year we did a lot of work to bring people back together after the pandemic and as a branch we held over 70 events. This year, I am looking for ways to bring people together in a broader sense. Although we are an organisation defined by gender, equality is about much more than that. Women in Property is about opportunity and inclusion for all and about enabling positive change for everyone, and not just women. We aim to work with other initiatives in the region to extend our reach to LGBTQ+, BAME, disability and other diversity and inclusion issues in the property sector, starting with our International Women’s Day event.

How does inequality continue to show up within the property sector?

Although we have come a long way since Women in Property was founded, inequality is still prevalent, as seen for example in the lack of diversity among those holding leadership positions. One of our main goals is to support individuals through the industry into these leadership positions. Bringing people who represent many different lives and backgrounds into leadership roles is the only way to ensure that all perspectives are heard in decision making, including decision making around Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

Do you have any advice for someone facing the challenges we have discussed?

Do not be afraid of who you are – be your true self. It’s not you who needs to change or minimise your attributes to fit the industry, it’s others who need to appreciate and adapt to you.

What advice would you offer to someone who finds networking daunting?

If you know one or two faces, and they in turn know one or two faces, your network will grow very quickly. If someone is planning to attend their first Women in Property event, we would encourage them to contact us beforehand so we can put them in touch with a member of our committee who can act as a familiar face. Also remember that networking is not for everyone – play to your strengths and do what works best for you.

Any book recommendations?

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez – it is eye-opening and I would really recommend it. It shows how not considering different perspectives can have such far-reaching and long-lasting effects. The only way to make change happen is making sure those perspectives are heard in all aspects of business and decision making.

Women in Property National Conference

Our National Conference will be held on 20 April at the Bristol Marriott Royal. It is open to members and non-members of all genders, and we would love to welcome some new faces. Discussion topics will include:

  • Inclusive design and public realm
  • Social anthropology and social value
  • The psychology of business
  • Mentoring

We will close the day with a panel discussion. There will then be a dinner with a keynote speaker and live music, and the next morning delegates can take part in site studies in the area. The conference and site studies are all CPD accredited, so you can enjoy meeting great people and earn CPD points at the same time.

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