Even though women are seen to be highly perceptive and disciplined -- just the right attributes required to bring about order in the real estate sector -- the women who are associated with it have traditionally been those who may have inherited the real estate business from their fathers. Many women realtors have spoken about those working in the sector being accustomed to female labourers at the construction site, but not used to seeing women in the boardroom.
On the occasion of Women’s Day on March 8, Moneycontrol met up with a few women leaders across segments – residential real estate, sales and valuation and retail to understand if they did have to overcome challenges to make it to the position that they are in today, their achievements and message to thousands of women aspiring to join the sector.
“Innovation, mitigated risk and foresight have proven to be the driving forces in my professional and personal life,” says Fatima Saidi, City Lead, Luxury Residential Services (West), ANAROCK Property Consultants.
It’s hard to establish commonalities between photography and real estate, if any exist. However, that wasn’t going to deter fine arts and photography student Fatima Saidi from taking up a sales job with a global property firm a decade ago.
Born into a conservative, traditional Muslim family, Fatima, the youngest of three siblings carved out her own path in life fearlessly and knowing exactly what she wanted. She says, “I was forced to develop, at a very young age, the ability to successfully negotiate various languages, cultures, environments, situations and people. I think, these are great life and business skills, and I was in a way lucky that I had the opportunity to develop them at an early age.”
After spending close to a decade in Canada for higher studies, Fatima returned to India and decided to pursue a career in the rapidly growing residential real estate industry.
“I saw tremendous opportunity in this segment and wanted to explore a career in this field. I wrote to all major IPCs and was interviewed by all of them, but the interviews did not result in a job offer as I had no real estate experience.
Fortunately, a few months later I got my first break with Panchshil Developers in Pune, marketing ultra-premium residential apartments. This opportunity helped me gain an insight into the developer mindset, which proves invaluable in my role today as City Lead—Luxury Residential Services (West) ANAROCK Property Consultants."
She reminisces about what made her click with her profession:
“I am extremely energetic and love challenges. I was always keen to get into the residential broking industry, which involves working with diverse clients and housing products. After gaining enough experience, I approached ANAROCK Property Consultants for a job and was hired. I finally got a foot in the door to where I wanted to be, and that’s how my journey in the broking industry started,” she says.
Mumbai is an ocean and it can be daunting at first, but if you have the drive and the passion, there is nothing that you cannot achieve. She adds that as a real estate consultant, you need to do your homework, know your product and be totally client-centric.
Ask her about what worked in her favour, and she tells you that convincing clients is an art and an acquired skill - but the most important thing is to be transparent, honest, and upfront.
Talking about the nature of her work, she says, “I am not a 9 to 6 work kind of person. In residential broking, weekends can be extremely busy, and my family understands this.”
She adds that this profession is demanding but also gives her the opportunity to design her own life in many ways and work the way and the amount she wants. "In fact, this is one the most valuable aspects of ANAROCK's work culture," she adds
"Empowering employees to act like entrepreneurs and encouraging freedom and responsibility,” she says.
She encourages more women to join the field. Her advice (to all genders) - “You need to have soft skills, the right attitude. I also strongly believe in power dressing. You should be sharp and earn your credibility, so people/ clients take your advice seriously,” she says.
She adds, “I believe that women are becoming an increasingly important component of our country’s economy, its productivity, its growth, and its struggle against poverty. I want to urge more women to explore career opportunities in this profession. The emotional quotient and diversity of thought and perspective women bring to the table are not only appreciated but also essential.”
Talking about the pandemic and its impact on the profession, she says, “COVID-19 is a grave adversity and one of the largest crises we have seen anywhere in the world. However, the peak of the pandemic and the lockdown gave us a chance to pause and reflect, and also made housing a greater focus and priority for many. This opened the door to many client conversations."
"I did what is most important - namely stay safe and get back to work. We all need to do our bit in contributing to the revival and growth of the economy,” she added.
Women should not be averse to taking risks, says Tanvi Kale of Skapa Homes which is into tiny, lift and shift homes
After Tanvi Kale completed her MBA, she decided to join her microbiologist-turned-real estate developer father in Pune and Goa and help him with ‘serious construction work’.
Thirty-year-old Kale was brought up in an extremely liberal environment where her father’s sister, a structural designer from IIT, played an active role in the real estate business. Her brother is into finance and is a "great pianist".
“I’ve never had my parents telling us what we should be doing. If I was not a realtor, any other profession would have been just as accepted,” she says.
While she did start with doing villa properties on small plots near Baga Beach in Goa, she always wanted to do something innovative and the concept of tiny, lift and shift homes hit her after she decided to do up a plot of land she owned near Pune.
“Initially, I was open to any location, something that was good and workable. I found a plot of land that belonged to my dad’s architect, bought it and started to build on it. I did a four-villa project when I was barely 25 years old in Arapora near Baga beach and there’s been no looking back,” she says.
She has recently ventured into tiny homes and lift and shift houses. These are houses of sizes ranging from 160 sq ft to 1,000 sq ft carpet area. The idea came to her when she decided to do up a plot near Pune for her 1.5 year-old-son.
“I wanted him to enjoy the outdoors away from the city. I started with researching on materials and considered container homes, wooden cottages and finally settled for UPVC considering that it suits all weather conditions. Ever since the house was readied almost two years ago, it has withstood rains, storms and what say you. I am thoroughly enjoying my stay there,” she said.
It was after this “successful personal experiment” that Kale decided to go in for tiny homes. “All our houses start from Rs 6.5 lakh to all the way upwards for a fully furnished 200 sq ft tiny home. The project is coming up in Goa. Some of them are lift and shift houses which means you can move them from one place to another. The size of these lift and shift units can be up to 8 ft by 40 ft which is enough to fit them in a trailer,” she explains.
Sharing her experience of the lockdown, she says that these homes really made sense when everybody was moving towards things that were more meaningful, and seriously considering minimalism.
What’s more is that these prefab tiny homes can take just about a month to complete. “It takes about 10 days for manufacturing the unit, five days for installation and another seven days to do the interiors and in just about a month the entire house is ready,” she says.
What is her message for other women wanting to join the real estate field?
She wants that more women enter the real estate business because it is ultimately all about “making homes”. But she laments the fact that women lack the “risk-taking ability”.
“While women are process oriented, much more organised than men, they are averse to taking risks,” she says, adding that as more standardisation starts coming into the real estate sector, it would become a lot easier for them to consider this line of business too.
Persist and never give up, says Charu Thapar, executive director, Property and Asset Management - Asia Pacific.
After she completed her hotel management course and joined the Taj Group in 1995, the real estate sector was just about beginning to open up in the country. After a friend in the hotel sales team suggested she join real estate consultancy that was setting up shop in the country, there has been no looking back for Charu Thapar, executive director, Property and Asset Management - Asia Pacific.
“They were looking for professionals who understood client servicing and were ready to teach them real estate. I took the leap of faith at that time. My family thought I was crazy as the only connotation of real estate that existed those days was brokerage and brokers were typified in Bollywood as men in white pants and a white shirt,” she says.
So, what’s real estate broking for her? “It is all about clients, servicing and about relationships, not to mention preempting needs. I have been in the industry since 1995-96 and the industry has all along been supportive and respectful. I never felt unsafe or threatened in any way. The only challenge came from two fronts – one was that I was young and my job was to convince clients to take decisions worth crores of rupees. Eventually, homework and persistence paid off.”
Thapar did have to face her share of challenges though. Learning the ropes was not easy. “I was from Chandigarh and did not know Mumbai too well. My success mantra all along has been to prepare in advance. Know the clients’ needs. Every time prior to the actual site visit, I would go and inspect each and every property myself and that helped. It pays to do your homework and give you the confidence and is the first step towards building confidence among clients.”
She also did have ‘humorous’ encounters with clients who, instead of having a ‘male’ broker attend the meeting would have to do with a ‘woman’ broker. “The name Charu does not give away who you are, it could be both male or female. Often clients waiting at the reception would ask me to inform them when my boss ‘Charu’ showed up and the look on their face on being told that I was Charu was extremely hilarious,” she says.
Humour did break the ice for Thapar on several occasions. “Never did I feel disrespected or not fitting into the role I was assigned. In early 2000, I moved into an asset management role which is completely dominated by men. But ultimately I feel it is the work you do and the knowledge you bring to the table that helps,” she says.
Her message to women wanting to enter the real estate sector is to ‘never give up’ and ‘persist in whatever your passion is.’ "Never give up," she says, adding "don’t quit without having that crucial conversation."
“Giving up is the easy way out and for girls and women it does become challenging. Plan your work as well as your personal life. Always have a support group outside of work. Don’t give up on friends. Ensure that the social l fabric is equipped to assist you and aid you so that you can continue to do what you are doing,” she says.
Ikea employs 46 percent women at the country level and 60 percent of the country’s management comprises women.
Parineeta Cecil Lakra, Country People and Culture Manager, IKEA India, joined the retail sector from the IT/ITeS space almost a decade ago. She is of the opinion that the retail sector bridges the gap between manufacturing and the consumer.
“Irrespective of the company in which you are working, retail is all about understanding your customers, their likes and dislikes. In the case of Indian customers, it is all about the need to be affordable. However, what is important is that your background, experience and your qualifications do not limit you from entering the retail industry,” she said.
It was Lakra’s "crazy love for home and home furnishing" that steered her towards Ikea when it decided to set foot in the country back in 2014.
The company today has 46 percent women co-workers overall at the country level and 60 percent of the country’s management in the country comprises women.
“Before joining Ikea being the only woman in the room was the norm. I think that was a challenge. But setting up a team in Ikea meant ensuring that we find the talented women across different markets across the board to bring in the 50-50 gender balance commitment,” she said, adding today there are women in the logistics teams, they are lift operators, restaurants store managers and sale leaders.
“Our store managers, CFO, logistics head, sales head - all of them are women,” she said, pointing out that the company plans to hire close to 6,000 women co-workers in the country by 2030 out of which 50 percent are women.