After watching the hit 1990s US TV series Ally McBeal, Angela had ambitions to be a lawyer when she was younger. This was despite family and friends, who were lawyers and solicitors, discouraging her from that career path. During her law degree, the land law side stood out to Angela, sowing a seed in her mind. Her interest triggered a passion for the built environment - particularly buildings steeped in history.
Angela Partner - Property and Asset Management at Gerald Eve
It was Angela’s career advisor who suggested surveying. Initially, she thought a surveyor valued houses and ticked a few boxes; then she learned how scientific and involved the profession is.
Angela had never met a surveyor before, nor been connected to anyone who looked like her in that profession. But she took the advice and booked a master’s degree, despite protests from her father. He had supported her through other degree choices, which she had completed, and his friends agreed that this was a terrible idea.
Despite the discouragement, she took out the loan, paid for the degree, packed her bags, and moved to Nottingham in her car. There she started her master's degree in property management and development.
Angela went through a series of jobs where she didn’t feel her potential was recognised. Even after passing her APC, she was still viewed as a graduate. But in her mind, she was a professional. “They were always going to see her that way”, she thought, so she moved to a bigger firm. But while this solved one problem, it created another: she didn’t fit in.
Third time lucky, Helix Property Advisers was finally where her career propelled, and she was given the space to get the best out of her professional development in her role. This was the place where Angela felt she could flourish. There were no bad ideas, and anything she wanted to try, her boss would support. She felt confident to push herself and she asked, ‘what can I do to improve this process?’
Meanwhile, there were rumblings amongst colleagues about starting their own firm. At that point they decided their skill set meant that they could build something together. From that, they decided to create their own company, a Ladies’ Club that featured £7 bottles of wine on a Wednesday. This was the only place they knew their male bosses wouldn’t see them. The issue came when they looked at the set-up costs and decided that perhaps it was a bigger financial risk than they had initially considered.
The next best thing was to set up the Property and Asset Management team in a company that did not already have one. In 2017, a deal was struck over a stale croissant in Cannes and Gerald Eve decided to take a chance on the three of them. The firm confirmed their confidence by bringing them in as Partners. That became one of Angela’s career highlights. She describes it as a bold move for a woman who is risk averse.
The most important thing to her had been to work somewhere where the boss ‘got’ her - they understood that her motivations brought out the best in her. “That, too, is how you can find your allies - and they don’t always need to be Black”, advised Angela. If you’re only looking for other Black people, it will be lonely. “There aren’t enough Black women, so you’ve got to choose people who align with you for any other reason. Then what happens is that you change the people around you a little bit.”
Angela shares that the best part about having allies from within the industry is that they start challenging behaviour on your behalf. “Share your experience with those outside your industry too”, Angela suggests reminding us that they have the same issues. “Does this happen to you too, does someone speak over you at work?”, is just one example.
There are so few women, and particularly so few Black women, across the top section of any sector. Angela recommends making fast friends with them. No matter whether you like each other! “When there’s only two of you in the same room, you have that in common…Make friends sooner rather than later, there’s no harm in that”. Angela will readily add connections on LinkedIn or invite them for a coffee.
This industry has, for the most part, been really kind, Angela shares, but it has struggled to retain women, to most of us women it’s very obvious why. She advises that sometimes workplaces, or people, won’t change. If it’s a place that doesn’t suit you, it’s best to leave: the business may have changed since you started, or perhaps you've changed. It’s ok to be a different person to who you were even two weeks ago.
Heading up one of the most diverse teams at Gerald Eve, Angela advises that a career can take many forms - it’s not a straight road.
The one thing she reflects on is leaving jobs in situations where she didn’t speak up. Angela advises, "If you’re being undervalued financially, ask the questions: 'Can I find out what the ratio of bonuses was to salaries, to make sure I’m on the right track? Did everyone else get the same feedback?'” Even if it doesn’t help you, it might help the next person.
But most importantly, don’t waste too much energy watching what everybody else is doing. Keep pushing forward with what you’re doing. Be bold.
Angela Duru’s podcast episode will be released in September 2023 as part of Black Women in Real Estate’s Phenomenal Women campaign.
The Phenomenal Women campaign is sponsored by the RICS