Tackling diversity and unveiling female talent: In conversation with Women in PropTech (WiPT)
Posted May 2, 2019
Women in PropTech (WiPT) is fast becoming one of the most prominent organisations in global PropTech. Founded in New York, with chapters in London and Toronto, the group is “dedicated to promoting female thought leadership, tackling diversity issues, and connecting women working in the sector”.
When you go to networking events or conferences, you can use your own two eyes and see there’s not a lot of women.
Ahead of the WiPT London launch event, taking place on 9th May at Nuveen Real Estate, I spoke to the organisation’s Founder, Nikki, to learn more. (You can book you place at the launch event, here. If it's sold out, be sure to add your name to the waiting list).
I can’t seem to find it; it doesn’t seem to exist
“I fell in love with PropTech when I moved to New York,” Nikki tells me. “I’m an architect by trade but, when I finished business school, I pivoted into real estate development. New York is at the forefront of PropTech, and PropTech is easily the most exciting part of real estate. Now, it’s the most exciting part of my job, too.”
Once she realised that she was falling hard for PropTech, Nikki went looking for a women’s PropTech group to join. She didn’t have much luck.
We’re interested in technology and real estate. That’s what we discuss, that’s what we debate. This is not man-hating or exclusionary - we just ensure there is a constant underlying theme of increasing the exposure of women during the process of discussing a broad array of industry issues.”
“What I found was, there might be a one-off panel, a one-off meeting, or a one-off day, but there was nothing recurring and there certainly didn’t seem to be a formal group.
“I started reaching out to a few women in the industry, saying, hey, I’m looking for this group but I can’t seem to find it; it doesn’t seem to exist - what are your thoughts about actually forming a group?
“The response was so overwhelmingly positive that I figured, okay, I have to do this.”
From the moment of conception, Nikki knew that WiPT needed to be a global organisation, unfettered by geographical restraint.
“It made sense to launch in three markets simultaneously,” she says. “We chose New York, London, and Toronto because these are the three PropTech capitals.Technology is location agnostic, so we should always want to know what’s happening in different markets around the world.
“As a global organisation, there’s an awful lot of learnings that can happen.”
The New York chapter held its launch event on the 27th of March, 2019; attendance was extraordinary; entirely sold out. The waiting list had built up weeks in advance, so those who couldn’t make it were pleading with to give notice, relieving their spot for someone new.
Often, women are finding that job descriptions aren’t written for them. Or... they have the transferable skills required, but, when they send out their resumes, they’re not being picked up.
“Our purpose was to go big, go loud, and get the message out there: We’re Women in PropTech, if you’re a woman in PropTech, come to us!
“We had a fantastic crowd of very intelligent, very enthusiastic women form a myriad of companies from across real estate and wider technology.”
Nikki hopes that this success will continue with the London chapter’s launch event on the 9th of May.
“There’s been a huge response!” she says, excitedly, understating the fact that the event is already oversubscribed. “This is just step-one for the UK’s WiPT community, and trust me, you’re going to see some really exciting things coming from that chapter.”
The three launch events - Toronto’s will take place at the end of May - take the form of networking evenings, informal gatherings for drinks, introductions, and the exchange of business cards. The ensuing programming, however, will be dictated by each chapter’s members.
“Each chapter will be responsive to what people are calling for in that region,” says Nikki. “And we will soon be expanding WiPT into as many cities and countries as we can.”
Since founding the organisation posting about it online, Nikki has been inundated with messages from around the globe asking, when are you bringing WiPT to my city?
You can use your own two eyes and see
What do you think is motivating the huge response you’ve already received?, I ask What’s driving so many people to join WiPT?
“I think it’s two-fold,” says Nikki. “First and foremost, PropTech is so damn exciting! It’s going through a growth phase at the moment, accelerating fast. It’s a marketplace and everybody is interested in seeing what everybody else is up to because people want to meet other people.
“Companies are looking talent, founders are looking for finance, VCs are looking for the next up-and-coming thing. It’s all about networks.
“But, when you go to networking events or conferences, you can use your own two eyes and see there’s not a lot of women. It’s obvious that women are missing out. Meanwhile, in real estate at large, there’s a lot of women. There’s a lot of women in architecture, in engineering; everywhere. There is an obvious disconnect and this needs addressing.”
We’re always looking for sponsors: venue sponsors, financial sponsors, sponsorship-in-kind. Any law firms, PR firms, web design firms, and so on: anyone who wants to offer their help, we’d love to meet them.
In terms of what people are actually looking for from their WiPT membership, Nikki says it varies greatly between regions and professions.
“A lot of women I speak to are early and mid-career. Given the nature of New York’s economy, most of those I speak to here are currently working in traditional real estate. When I speak to women in San Francisco, however, the conversation is very different because they’re more likely to be coming from a wider tech background. As such, when we launch in San Francisco, our programming will be very different.”
Whatever their backstory, Nikki tells me, the women she speaks to all want to be more involved with PropTech but can’t.
“They’re seeing the opportunity,” she says, “they just don’t know how to get in, and it’s not for lack of trying.
“Often, they’re finding that job descriptions aren’t written for them. Or, they know that they have the transferable skills required, but, when they send out their resumes, they’re not being picked up.
“The other side of this is the companies who are struggling to find female talent. Again, not for lack of trying. Some tell me that the recruiters they use are failing to send any women their at all, lazily sending a parade of men.”
This, explains Nikki, leads to a vicious cycle: women are looking to step into PropTech, but recruiters are always looking for people with PropTech experience - there aren’t many women in PropTech so no women are being found. And so it goes on.
“The answer”, she says, “is to look elsewhere, look in other areas of real estate, other areas of technology - we must actively help highlight more women and transition them into PropTech.”
It’s not only women, however, who are engaging with WiPT. A lot of men are registering for membership and signing up for events.
“Because, at the end of the day, it’s in everyone’s interest,” says Nikki. “If we can’t see these women, there’s a lot of opportunity being missed for everybody. WiPT will work to unveil the talent and show where the women are because, at the moment, they’re not visible.”
Technology is location agnostic, so we should always want to know what’s happening in different markets around the world.
One problem that women’s organisations often experience is outsiders assuming their programming to be concerned with little more than ‘women’s issues’. How does WiPT overcome this?
“Yeah,” says Nikki with a chuckle, “we’re far more interested in technology and real estate. That’s what we discuss, that’s what we debate. This is not man-hating or exclusionary - we just ensure there is a constant underlying theme of increasing the exposure of women during the process of discussing a broad array of industry issues.”
The London Chapter
“She’s absolutely incredible!” says Nikki, referring to her colleague, Charlotte McCarthy, head of WiPT’s London chapter. “I was in London last November and I reached out to her having found her profile on LinkedIn. We grabbed coffee and hit it off.
“When it came to setting up WiPT, I gave her a call and asked if she’d be interested in heading up the UK chapter, she said 100%, I’m in! She’s a fantastic ambassador and I’m delighted that she’s heading the charge.”
Sadly, I wasn’t able to speak to Charlotte, who is also Marketing & Communications Lead at StreetDots, in time for publication. We have, however, sent a couple of emails back and forth:
“I am delighted to be able to utilise my extensive international network for such a great cause,” she writes. “I have experienced the negative effects of businesses which have no respect for diversity or inclusion and am excited to help show the industry just how much women bring to the table.
“I have seen an overwhelming response here in the UK alone. We have over 80 people on our UK and Ireland WhatsApp group, and we are expecting 120+ at our London Launch: let this be the start of some amazing friendships and lessons! We are inclusive and open to all. We believe that, with these groups, it is important for people of all levels to learn from one another.“
Featured Femmes - engaging with WiPT
At the end of the day, it’s in everyone’s interest. If we can’t see these women, there’s a lot of opportunity being missed for everybody.
Alongside its core programme of regional events, there are various ways to get involved with WiPT, and the organisation is looking to expand on its avenues towards industry education and spotlighting the work of women in PropTech. The newest of these avenues is a series of profiles called Featured Femmes.
“Featured Femmes will be a series of profiles on women in PropTech,” says Nikki. “People can nominate individuals to be featured - if you like, you can nominate yourself. They will be featured in our newsletter, and there’s a dedicated section on our website.
“We are also hosting a happy hour in London on the last Friday of every month at The Kitty Hawk, in Finsbury. The first one is on the 31st of May, and I’ll be coming over for it! Absolutely anyone who wants to come, please do.
“Also, before I forget, we’re going to be filming many of our events, so those will soon be available online for everyone to watch.
“We’re always looking for sponsors: venue sponsors, financial sponsors, sponsorship-in-kind. Any law firms, PR firms, web design firms, and so on: anyone who wants to offer their help, we’d love to meet them.”
As our conversation comes to a close, I ask Nikki what hopes she has for the future of gender equality in real estate and WiPT.
“Essentially, I want more visibility for women, for 50% representation in the industry to become the norm. The progress made here is already helping us to unveil more and more talented women.
“I hope, also, that we see more women being mentioned in general; seems simple but that will be a real success. And when we see more women finding us at WiPT, when our events are constantly well-attended and our programming is resonating, that’s how we’ll know we’re getting it right.”
Originally posted by Ruth Maguire at Unissu