The George F. White Group is a fully serviced property, land and business consultancy that advises and informs clients on issues ranging from agricultural, residential and architectural matters to planning, commercial, and energy development.
The Group provides residential services in the buying, selling and letting of property across the North East via its residential team that sits within the Group and also its letting agency, GFW Letting, which operates as a separate entity.
Here, we sit down with Sheryl Sowden, Head of Residential at George F. White, and Donna Cheney, GFW Letting’s Regional Operations Manager, to discuss their thoughts on the role of women in business, reflecting on their own career paths and success.
You both hold senior positions in the business which is a fantastic achievement. Can you tell us how you got to this stage in your career?
Donna: To be honest, establishing a career in the lettings industry was accidental. When I graduated, I joined a recruitment firm and was actually offered the job I was recruiting for (!) which was a lettings negotiator for a national lettings firm. Within two and a half years, I was promoted to branch manager and, after running that successfully, I was given a further two branches to manage that were under performing. In total, I spent 13 years at the company, before joining GFW Letting as Regional Operations Manager.
Sheryl: My experience is quite similar actually, I never thought I would end up in the role I am in today! I came into the industry a decade ago, as a sales negotiator for George F. White, and was starting from scratch as I had no previous experience in the sector. Five years later, I was running my own branch, partly down to my tenacious attitude, but also down to the people I work with and the training opportunities I’ve been given.
As women in business, do you feel you’ve been given an equal opportunity to succeed and progress your career?
Sheryl: I have never felt like my gender has affected my career development and our industry is pretty female dominated, so I think that speaks volumes. Not once have I thought I would have progressed quicker, or succeeded, if I was male. What has been key to my success is working in a business that provides genuine opportunity for development. George F. White has given me access to such opportunities because of the people focused ethos and nature of the business, where leaders want its people to grow and continue to evolve to reach their potential.
Donna: I totally agree, achievement throughout my career and getting to the position I hold today is completely down to me, and my work ethic and determination as an individual, not a woman. Gender doesn’t define your success, a strong skill set and ambition does.
What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your career and what has this taught you?
Sheryl: For me, it’s been a lack of belief in myself. I have, at times, doubted my ability and the best medicine for this has been to overcome hurdles and prove my self-doubt wrong! You need to remember that you have to make choices and decisions, some good and some bad, and you learn from these. Self-belief is vital, you can do anything if you really want to. I have also learnt that everyone is different and has their own story. You need to get to know this story and build a relationship with individuals based on this.
Donna: Becoming a branch manager was a huge challenge. I went from being a colleague to managing colleagues overnight and my relationship with them had to change, which was tough. I had to believe in myself and believe that the people around me trusted that I was right for the job. It made me realise that a team is everything. Leading by example and treating everyone as equals, male or female, with mutual support and respect is so important. Without that, you simply can’t move forward and be effective.
What is the best advice you’ve been given and would like to pass on?
Donna: A manager once said something to me that has always stuck: “You have 24 hours in a day. For eight hours, you sleep (so have a good mattress), for another eight (balancing out weekends) you spend with your friends and family so love them unconditionally, and the rest, you work, so do something you love!”
Sheryl: I agree, doing something you love is vital. I often tell my daughter that you work for at least two thirds of your life, so you must do something you’re passionate about. Don’t be afraid to change career paths and start over if it’s something you genuinely would love to do!
For more information about George F. White’s residential services, please contact Sheryl Sowden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 01833 690390. If you’d like to find out more about our letting service, get in touch with Donna Cheney at email@example.com or 0191 284 7171.