There can’t be many of us who’ve not sat avidly watching Kevin McCloud’s “Grand Designs” on Channel Four and wondered if we could ever imagine being brave enough to build our own home. They make it seem relatively easy despite having relatively little project management experience and frequently manage the build themselves with often comparatively small budgets and yet always seem to end up with amazing homes.
With property remaining very much still a sound investment, it appears to be something that more and more of us are prepared to get involved with. Further to our earlier article on architect, Liz Gibney’s design philosophy on why we need to think outside of the box when it comes to designing houses and housing estates, the following article from Dr. Steffie Broer for KWIB magazine very much echoes and reinforces the call that the housing industry is in need of female entrepreneurs to lead the charge for better, sustainable homes. Steffie is the founder of Bright Green Futures, a company which puts people and planet at the core of housing. The company offers people the opportunity to build their own home as part of a sustainable housing community.
The Entrepreneurial Revolution
We are at the start of an “Entrepreneurial Revolution”, a golden age for entrepreneurship, where it is easier than ever to start a business, find funding, create virtual teams and connect with stakeholders and clients across the globe – all at the click of a button. This is due to advancements in technology that allow us to access free information, low cost services and online networking and knowledge-sharing platforms. We now have access to tools and services that offer cheaper and faster alternatives to meeting in person or doing business abroad.
As a result of this technological progress, a wave of new start-ups has arisen. More “start-up” businesses have set up shop in the last two years than there have been in the last ten! With often free, fast and targeted learning available online, and the educational establishment still largely focused on rote learning and passing exams, the attitudes towards conventional education and the value of hands-on experience are changing. Bright young people no longer consider university as the default route to success and the concept of the “20-year-old company founder” has emerged.
Many women have joined the entrepreneurial revolution, seeing it as a way to have it all: to successfully pursue a career and raise children, whilst breaking through the “glass ceiling” present at senior level in some industries.
Although there are still significantly fewer female entrepreneurs than male, the number of female entrepreneurs in the UK is rising (more than twice as fast as male ones), and similar trends are found globally. Plus, more millennial women aspire to lead an organisation (34%) than their male peers (24%).
More SMEs needed in UK Property
Innovation is needed in the housing industry. Most UK homes are built by national volume house-builders who tend to build homes to a standard design and specification all over the country. They offer little consideration to the bespoke needs of future residents or the local surrounding area and community. Decisions in these organisations are largely driven by delivering shareholders profits rather than how property development can deliver social, environmental and economic assets. In 1988 small house builders were responsible for 4 in 10 new build homes compared with just 12% today. The number of national house-builders has also reduced over the same period, with the surviving house-builders getting larger and larger. This has contributed to insufficient housing supply, reduced local economic prosperity and a shrinking number of bespoke homes designed and built by local people for local people.
A shift towards property as a force for good
The built environment contributes around 40% of the UK’s total carbon footprint. The way property developments are designed and built make a huge difference to the quality of life of the future residents, as well as what they can add to the local economy and neighbourhood.
Thus, property development, done right, has huge potential to significantly contribute toward solving social and global environmental problems.
At the moment, I can count the housing initiatives which put social or environmental benefits first on one hand. They still make up less than 1% of the new housing stock. If that could shift, then the property sector has the opportunity to become a significant force for good.
Women in Property
Setting up a property business from my kitchen table started more or less as a necessity to me. Initially it enabled me to provide a home for my children and myself. I was also able to earn a good income without huge childcare costs. Boutique property developers often state their wish to be their own boss and having more spare time and freedom as the reason for why they decided to build a property business. It is easy to conceive why it would make more sense for a parent to work in property rather than a 9-to-5 or 8-to-7 career job.
Female entrepreneurs have been found to be more sensitive when it comes to non-financial issues. Women are more likely to seek to make a social contribution and want to ensure the quality of their products. Good relationships with employees are more important to women.
On this basis it is easy to perceive that having more women running businesses in property may drive social innovation in the sector and may contribute to a rising culture in the property sector which puts purpose first.
“Why?”, you may ask. “Why are there so few female property developers?”. One of the main aspects of someone becoming an entrepreneur is to have role models and mentors in their lives. Many have grown up with them. Historically, women have had little representation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and property. As a result, such female role models are few and far between. Young women may be less encouraged to study finance, management or STEM subjects, purely due to tradition. Yet, by the time they reach their thirties, many women seek financial independence, purpose in their careers and some would like to have children too.
We need more role models and mentors, property developers who do property with a conscience, and innovative female entrepreneurs who want to empower other women to follow suit. And we need a cultural shift in home life, in which more men and women share the responsibility for their children equally and find ways to combine their careers and passions with parenting.
We also need policy mechanisms that allow businesses focused on driving social and environmental change to compete on equal terms with those who don’t: policy mechanisms which internalise external costs, and thus provide incentives for businesses which make a societal contribution.
I see some exciting and promising shifts and grassroots activity:
- Aspirational high-profile female property entrepreneurs such as Nicole Bremner and Lafina Diamandis.
- We see more and more courageous female change makers such as Malala not feeling limited by age or cultural rules. We are able to spend time with them and learn from them, all at the click of a button on our electronic devices.
- Property developments springing up which focus primarily on social benefit.
- Entrepreneurs wishing to give back, who can easily use the internet to offer training and mentoring, and to provide free learning resources online.
- Millennials believe less and less in the traditional stereotypical gender roles, and many men take pride in their partners’ success and have the confidence to support their partners with devotion and pride.
- Policy mechanisms have come into place to drive the self-build sector. Self-building can serve as a starting point for a property career, especially when assisted with workshops and training, and through the mutual support and learning provided when building as a community.
We are seeing the beginnings of a movement in the property sector. Pioneering developers and innovators in self-build, co-housing and modular design are once again putting the users at the core of house building. With sustainable business models, small developers are proving that housing can deliver social and environmental value without compromising on quality. There is a growing need for housing in the UK and the big house builders have not been able to keep up. The conditions are perfect for female, innovative and value-led entrepreneurs to reinvigorate the property sector and join the trailblazers bringing fresh ideas to the fore. To drive this property revolution towards better housing we need more and more men and women working together, making the sector become a force for good.
Dr. Steffie Broer
Steffie is the founder of Bright Green Futures, a company which puts people and planet at the core of housing. The company offers people the opportunity to build their own home as part of a sustainable housing community.
 Boyd, L. “From the Kitchen Table”, The BoB Journal Issue 3
Brush, C.G. (1992) Research on women business owners: Past trends, a new perspective and future directions. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice 16: 5-30.
Rosa, P., Carter, S. and Hamilton, D. (1996) Gender as a Determinant of Small Business Performance. Small Business Economics 8: 463-478.
 Broer, S. (2018) How local authorities can deliver their targets without spending the Earth: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/put-love-back-housing-steffie-broer/
 Bristol Community Land Trust: http://www.bristolclt.co.uk/, RUSS: https://www.theruss.org/, BGF: www.brightgreenfutures.co.uk, AVAG: http://www.wildgoosespace.org.uk/avag/, Lilac: https://www.lilac.coop/, We Can Make: https://kwmc.org.uk/projects/wecanmake/, LaunchPad: https://www.unitedcommunities.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/5034-Public-Consultation-Boards.pdf, LivShare: https://www.commonwealhousing.org.uk/static/uploads/2018/06/11640_LivShare_A4_Full_Document_June_2018.pdf
 All local authorities must now have a self-build register and are required to take action to meet the demand for self and custom build housing: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/self-build-and-custom-housebuilding