Property management, no longer just a man’s world.
In celebration of the upcoming three year anniversary of Somerset Estates and a year after the publication of her piece Striking Gold in Female-Led Businesses, I sat down with Rachel Milliams, Property Account Manager at Somerset Estates, to talk about confidently breaking into a traditionally male-dominated field, and the challenges and opportunities it entails.
When first meeting Rachel Milliams, you might find it hard to believe that she is still in the early stages of her career. Exuding competence and approachability alike, Rachel’s expertise – that she would argue is still growing – comes from working in a fast-paced industry, and learning to be simultaneously proficient and quick. “We need to react quickly to situations, resolve complex construction issues and meet short deadlines; getting things resolved quickly and efficiently is important, but having an understanding of difficult issues is pivotal,” she says, having personally handled a number of complex mechanical and electrical issues.
Most recently, in February, Rachel tackled a serious issue with no heating or hot water at one of Somerset Estates’ properties. The issue was multi-layered, with faults on a magnitude of equipment that occurred following an energy surge in the area. The repairs necessitated a number of tradesmen to be employed from a variety of sectors. It was imperative that Rachel had a broad understanding of how the mechanical and electrical systems work in a property, to help ascertain what could have gone wrong in order to manage and coordinate the best engineers for the works. Without this knowledge, there would have been no positive or quick end result.
This very aspect brings me to Rachel’s key pointers for other young women aspiring to enter the industry. Confidence, according to Rachel, is of utmost importance. “A lot of people can overlook young women in the construction industry, assuming that our knowledge is limited,” she tells me. This includes not only making your own capabilities known, but also being unafraid to ask for help and assistance. “It’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Rachel reminds me; if anything, asking questions shows an eagerness to learn.
On the subject of learning, Rachel’s education combines a perfect balance of possessing a hands-on approach together with knowledge acquired both in the classroom, and through her family. Rachel grew up with an awareness of the construction and property industry, with her father being the MD of a successful mechanical and electrical building services company. In a typical childhood rebellion, Rachel was set on steering her career as far away from the industry as possible before following in her family’s footsteps.
Today, Rachel is setting her own path, and has big plans not only for herself, but for the industry’s development. “At the moment, it still seems unusual for a woman to work in the Property and Construction industry,” she admits. “Long-term, I’d like to see more female involvement in the industry and further innovations with digitisation.” Always keen to further her education, once joining Somerset Estates Rachel enrolled on a marketing programme to enhance her communication skills and deliver alongside the hands-on experience she was already gaining.
Rachel’s role models go beyond her father: her commitment to learning from female colleagues in order to succeed in a traditionally male-dominated industry is acute. “I really struck gold with Philippa,” says Rachel of the Somerset Estates’ director. “Having her as a line manager has been fantastic for my career progression because she has taught me the most proactive ways to approach issues, and has provided me with support that continuously improves my confidence.”
In an industry with no shortage of challenges, often unexpected, Rachel has learned how to overcome roadblocks and above all what to take from them. “I learned early on that it is easy to be overlooked and have your opinions drowned out in Property and Construction – whether that’s down to my gender, my age, or how new I am to the industry, I couldn’t say.
On numerous occasions I have had thoughts or opinions glossed over, until other colleagues have reiterated my same point. This is exactly why confidence in my own abilities is essential, and not being afraid to push to be heard.”
Rachel is the first to admit that being a female property manager for a female-led company has allowed her to grow in unique ways. Whilst the collective focus remains ensuring that client needs are met, Rachel sees being female-led as an additional asset in presenting the team at Somerset Estates as approachable and trustworthy.
A balanced team is not a bonus but a shared value – of both Rachel and Philippa’s – and having a female boss has made all the difference, including making conversations easier. “I have definitely been given more room to grow and taken on more responsibility quicker than I might have done at other companies,” Rachel says, in recognition of her own personal competence and confidence. With an unwavering focus on growth, I look forward to seeing Rachel making strides in an industry where equality within its workforce is becoming more the norm..
Written by Mark Howarth, Marketing Director