How Two Successful Women Balance Work & Home Life | sheerluxe.com
Some of us will struggle to maintain a healthy work/life balance at various stages of our careers. Throw children into the mix and the push and pull between home and the office becomes an even bigger challenge. Two high-powered colleagues – Co-Heads of Prime Central London for Savills Claire Reynolds and Phillippa Dalby-Welsh – tell us how they make it work…
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Claire Reynolds, Co-Head of Prime Central London (North)

From a young age, I was fascinated by property. Whenever we went on holiday, I’d always want to flick through the local property magazines in the supermarket and pick out which I thought were the most interesting houses. It probably helped that my dad was in to it too – property was a hobby of his and he’d always be renovating our family home and doing it up around us, so I grew up seeing the transformations and understanding what a project entailed. When I started to think about careers at school, I was still set on becoming an estate agent and had ambitions to work for one of the big firms. I never gave up on wanting to enter the industry and every day I’m still so pleased that I chose to follow this path as I love it.

I was really determined to learn more about the industry and knew work experience was the logical step. When Savills opened an office near where I grew up in Esher, I ended up doing work experience throughout my university holidays there and loved it. I did all kinds of tasks and simply threw myself into it. I developed really good relationships with the team and when I graduated, I was offered a position as a negotiator. I spent five years in Esher and learnt an awful lot. From there I moved to a very different role in Prime Central London, joining the Mayfair office to help grow market share. In 2013, I set up Savills’ Marylebone office and then at the beginning of this year, I was also made Co-Head of Prime Central London Residential overseeing offices in Marylebone, Mayfair, Westminster, St John’s Wood, Maida Vale, Hampstead and Primrose Hill. 

No one day is the same. As Head of the Marylebone office, I run the sales team and oversee the office – that aspect of my job is about delivering sales and ensuring the best possible customer service for our clients. I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved since opening, we’re a very tight team and it’s as a result of that teamwork that we’ve sold more properties than any other agent across our patch for the second consecutive year. On the regional side I have seven offices, some of which are still in their infancy so part of my focus with them is about helping those offices deliver growth in terms of market share and revenue. I also sit on the UK Residential Operations Board and the London ExCo Board so I’m often running from meeting to meeting. It can be very busy so I do have to be extremely organised. That said I absolutely love it and feel extremely fortunate to have the two sides of my role: the sales aspect of it and then the operational and business development element too. They’re both areas I hugely enjoy.  

Looking ahead I hope to see that flexibility continues so women feel they don’t have to make a choice.

I’ve stayed true to myself and that’s meant at times I haven’t always taken the straightforward option. I’ve taken risks too and I believe it’s so important to do that in your career, as ultimately you’ll get much further and get far more out of things. Swapping Esher for Mayfair was a whole new world – I enjoyed what I was doing in Esher and knew the market intricately but I also knew that I had to push myself to get to the next stage so I swapped six years of granular local market knowledge for a new place where I had to start all over again.

Jo Malone is an inspiration. A few years ago I was nominated for the Property Advisor of the Year at Spear’s Young Turk Awards. At the awards lunch, Jo was the guest speaker. She was incredibly impressive and very humble about the business decisions she had made. She touched on the good but, importantly, she touched on the mistakes she had made too. That openness really struck a chord with me; too often you hear only the inspirational tales but the reality is that things don’t always go to plan.

Savills definitely recognises the importance of family and has various practices and processes in place to support its staff. One of those is that there is an element of flexibility. The company is brilliant at recognising that we all work really hard and in turn Savills is really good to its people. I returned from eight months of maternity leave this January and took up the new role as Co-Head of Prime Central London. The fact that Savills continued to believe in me and my career when pressures outside of work become harder in terms of managing family life is a testament to the confidence and belief they have in us. 

The hardest part about being a working mother is the lack of time to fully commit to everything you want to. I think all working mums will relate to that – it’s a constant balancing act and a juggle but we do get there. I try to take my eldest to school a few times a week and then get home in the evening to see both my daughters and do the evening routine with them. Sometimes I might have to work but generally I feel I’ve managed to get a pretty good balance and above all the most important thing is that both of them are really happy. 

I always knew that I wanted to have a career and be a mother too. Personally, I didn’t want to be a ‘stay at home mum’; working is a big part of my identity – it gives me satisfaction and independence but equally my family defines who I am too. I do think you can have and do both, and I want my daughters to grow up to see that.

I’ve always stuck to my personal values. I feel proud of my achievements and where I’ve got to in my career – I don’t think my ten-year-old self had any idea that looking through those property magazines all those years ago would get me to where I am now.

When it comes to women working and having a family, it’s amazing to see the progress that’s been made and how businesses have adapted to accommodate. Looking ahead I hope to see that flexibility expand so women feel they don’t have to make a choice. There do still seem to be instances where mothers want to be able to re-enter the workplace but find that after nursery fees it’s not financially justifiable, so for that not to be a barrier would be a huge step in the right direction. Seeing a new wave of women coming through who are working and efficient in adapting their personal and professional lives helps pave the way for the next generation to be able to think in that way too.

Phillippa Dalby-Welsh, Co-Head of Prime Central London (West)

I got into property by accident. There was no ‘lightbulb moment’. I met Emma Stead, Head of Savills in Fulham, while watching a cricket match and during the conversation I explained I was taking a year out before starting a place at law school. She mentioned she was recruiting for a negotiator. In my interview, I thought the office was the best thing I’d ever seen, the buzz of the team was palpable and the beauty of the area they worked in was enchanting, so I phoned her every other day for about a fortnight until she gave me the job.

Returning to work after maternity leave has been the most challenging part of my career.

I love working with people. I get huge satisfaction from working with clients and helping them with the significant life event or investment decision that is selling or buying a property. I’m also fascinated by market analytics (yes, I’m bit of a nerd), looking at trends and market cycles and using that knowledge to inform people. Both my client work and internal roles are people-centric and every day brings something different. The client work is important as it helps me to keep my finger on the pulse of market movement and trends, plus it is probably the bit I enjoy most. I now look after seven offices across central London so my role has an element of strategy, business development, marketing, PR and people management and development. I also chair a number of working groups focused on improving our business and service to our clients. 

I grew into my career and I would encourage anyone who likes working with people, has enthusiasm and energy and doesn’t want to sit at a desk all day to consider estate agency as a career.

Returning to work after maternity leave has been the most challenging part of my career. I am a rather different person to the one I was before I had my daughter, with a new set of priorities. I really battled with the separation from my daughter and, having had both parents at home when I was little (as they were self-employed), I felt a deep sense of inadequacy as a parent and guilt about going back to work full time. Thankfully, I am fortunate to have been able to adjust my week so that there is a balance between home and work but inevitably there are still compromises on both sides. My husband is incredibly supportive and has taken a greater proportion of the responsibilities at home. Teamwork is very important.

The hardest part about being a working mother is not sitting down. Ever.

I’ve never job shared, but I have set up a form of job share to accommodate the needs of two of our superb female agents who have returned to work post-maternity.

I wanted to be a working mother as I want my daughter to have similar role models in me and my husband to those I have in my parents. It is also true though that there wasn’t a huge amount of choice in the matter either.

There’s a level playing field for the next generation of women. I just hope that we can all (men and women) promote the advantages of property as a career so that the talent pool grows further and industry standards as a whole continue to improve.

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