I chose to challenge, and so can you!

Victoria Prior

Today marks International Women’s Day and this year’s theme to choose to challenge really resonated with me. For me, every day is an opportunity to challenge and I truly believe there are no boundaries irrespective of your gender, ethnicity, religious beliefs, sexual orientation or education and background. In a way, that is what I have done throughout my career.

With a background in natural sciences, my foray into the working world was in finance, a traditionally male dominated industry. However, for me I have found throughout my career I have focused less on gender bias and more on challenging yourself. I remained focused and worked hard, before deciding to take a role within a new industry and that is when I made the move to the construction and property industry. Honestly, I had no previous experience in the sector, however, I felt confident that I could transfer my skills whilst continuing to learn as I went along. Having initially taken on the role of investor relations at Countryside, I have taken up any opportunity to continue to develop my skills throughout my time here, and last year, I was privileged to have been appointed onto the Executive Management Team – now overseeing corporate affairs including investor relations, group communications and sustainability. Many would think that’s somewhat of a leap away of traditional work in finance but if you remain focused on what you want to achieve, it is amazing what path you could end up on..

Crucially, this reinforces the fact that it’s not who is delivering a role but how somebody is delivering on their responsibilities. One thing the pandemic has taught us all, is the importance of work/life balance. With the enforced situation of working from home, it has highlighted how flexible working can have its benefits, and there is no longer that requirement to be sat at your desk to be ‘seen’ to be working. Since my appointment to the Executive Management Team, I am thrilled to have Jo Jamieson, Chief Executive, Partnerships North and Sian Myers, Chief People and Culture Officer recently join me. I not only chose to challenge myself, but encourage others around me, and would urge any of my peers and those striving to reach those senior roles, to continue to work hard and stay focused.  

For me, this day is not just about women though – but about different voices. As a leader within a growing business, I think it is important to always take the time to listen, recognise different voices and understand the varying priorities for people across the business. This is why I am so proud of the strides we have made and will continue to do so. By listening to the most important people in our business – our talented workforce – we are implementing some of the most fundamental changes in the 60-year history of the business. Our roles in society are changing and it’s clear that we don’t have to sacrifice our careers for our families. Through flexible working, we can be efficient both at home and at work, and balance being great parents and deliver communities fit for our children.

The attitude towards the property and construction sectors are changing; albeit slowly but we are starting to see a steady shift. Teams on construction sites are no longer only men and this year, our 40-year graduate scheme has attracted more women join the scheme than men. This is a significant step in the right direction, but I am under no illusion; this is only the beginning. It’s great to have a reason to talk about the importance of diversity and inclusion in our business but this is an evolving process, and I’d encourage you all to continue the dialogue, collaborate, listen and crucially, learn.