Simon Carter

CEO, British Land

27 March 2023

Simon Carter


Accountability and Targets

Simon Carter

What does British Land look like in terms of its senior women?

Tara, thank you very much for having me here today. Today, across our board and our senior management team, we’re about 40% female—we do want to do better in that regard. Across our whole company, we’re 50% male/female. So, you can see we’ve got work to do at a senior team level, but we’re pleased with the progress we’ve made and there’s been no one particular route to the success we’ve had.

I think it’s been a combination of things, but setting a strategic framework’s been really helpful. We’re doing that right across all of DE&I. So, it’s about the culture of the organisation and I think my predecessor, Chris [Grigg], created the right organisation that was attractive to women to join, and they could see their careers could move forward within the business.

It’s then about career progression within the company. We’ve had success in different areas there. It’s about having good career plans, but also being pragmatic. We’re quite a small business, we’re 600 employees, even though we’re a FTSE 100 company. So, at times, it’s not always possible to find that immediate promotion. So, where we have been successful, it’s been where women have come into the business, they’ve broadened their skillset by moving to different departments, and then when there has been an opportunity to move forward, they’ve been very well placed to take it.

So, if you look at our executive committee today, we have three women on the executive committee. One of those joined the executive committee externally. She was a GC by background. That’s Brona [McKeown]. And then more recently, she’s become our Head of HR, so she’s broadened her skillset. And then, similarly, Emma [Cariaga] and Kelly [Cleveland] joined as Head of Residential and into our corporate finance department respectively, and have moved on and broadened their career through time.

Do role models matter?

Absolutely. I was on a panel yesterday and it was a big topic that came up, we were talking about women in real estate, and having those role models makes it so much easier for women to see that there’s a route to the top of the organization.

So, I joined Real Estate Balance about a year ago. Its roots were promoting women in real estate and ensuring that they had a route to succeed. It’s now broadened out to the wider diversity area.

And one of the reasons I joined was at British Land, we care about this topic. I think it’s important not just from a moral perspective, but businesses that are more diverse, they definitely make better decisions. I think they can be more innovative. And when you look at our customers, we have a retail business, we have an office business, and our customers are completely diverse. And so, if we’re more diverse as a business, that really helps us.

But also, and I think this is very much [true] for 25×25: joining these organisations, you just get practical tips. You know, we’re trying initiatives on the ground—often they don’t work, often they do work. And so also learning from other CEOs as they go through what is quite a difficult problem to fix. Finding out what works, what doesn’t work, will mean that we get there a bit quicker. So that was my rationale.

What the major challenges for British Land in terms of bringing women through?

We still have a gender pay gap and we have that gender pay gap because we have more men than women in senior positions. We’re doing reasonably well, but we could do better. We’re not at 50/50, we’re 35-40% depending on when you measure it. And one of the challenges we face is when we drill down into our individual departments, we’ve got more women in some departments than others.

So, when it comes to finance, legal—professions that traditionally have been quite gender-balanced—we’re doing well.

But when we look at real estate and development, it’s harder. And I found out yesterday, which was quite a surprise to me, that when you look at the chartered surveyor body, the RICS [Royal Institute for Chartered Surveyors], their female proportion of members is 18% today. It has increased, but it’s only 18% today. And when you look at their fellows, which is people that I think have been chartered surveyors for at least ten years, it’s 4%.

So that’s the challenge we face. And to tackle that, we will work with the industry to ensure more women come into it. But that will take time. But also, we’ll have to look at hiring in at more senior positions and also taking people with [a] broader skillset. But that’s diversity, anyway. You know, British Land will be a better business if it has more diverse experiences.

Are there measures in place to accelerate progress at British Land?

Absolutely. And when you think about that pathway through, you need to unlock it. And so, what we try and do is have career development plans. We have career development plans for everyone in the business. But we’re being particularly focused on some of our high potential employees, both male and female, making sure that they’ve got a plan for this year and maybe also thinking about three years hence.

Coaching has been really important and something that we’ve brought in more recently is mentoring. And that can be mentoring by our Exco, it can be mentoring by our board, but also reverse mentoring’s been really powerful, to understand, so that I understand some of the blockers that women face in their career. You know, that helps me think about it and how we try to unlock those.

But being able to plot a course, it’s not always the case that we can do that precisely upfront. The needs of the business change over time. We’re a relatively small organisation, so there has to be a bit of fluidity about that plan. And I do think we’ve been reasonably successful in meeting the business requirements, but also giving great opportunities for people to expand maybe from some of those more functional roles into some of those P&L centre roles that you described.

Do you think ESG and a sense of purpose matters to talent thinking about joining British Land?

Massively. And it’s a real opportunity for us. We’ve traditionally struggled to get people from diverse backgrounds into real estate. Sometimes people talk about it being a secret industry, but when people come into this industry, they love it and they rarely move, which I think is a really good sign. People enter and then they don’t go off to other industries, but it’s getting people in.

And one of the real hooks now, I think, is the sustainability agenda, particularly when it comes to the environment. Buildings are quite a big part of carbon emissions and we’ve got a big challenge in making them more energy efficient. And I think that really appeals to the younger generations. And then also when you just look at the big picture, where else do you get to change the skyline of a city? Real estate’s a pretty special industry.


What are your reasons for joining 25×25?

We’re delighted to join. I think there’s very clearly the moral case. British Land believes in fairness. And from that perspective, it’s something we really want to do. But it’s also about a more diverse business making those better decisions, being more innovative. And then when you look at our customers. So, our customers come right across the board. We have retail customers, we have office customers, and their staff. So, it seems completely appropriate that we should be 50/50 in our business.

Can you tell us about your personal story?

So, I’m someone who went to a state school by background. I went to my local primary school. I was lucky enough to get into the grammar school, which was a real privilege and, and then off to university. I suppose when I entered the workforce, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I knew I liked numbers, wanted to work in finance, so ended up being a chartered accountant. So, I tried to qualify as a chartered accountant, kept my options open. And probably that’s something I see when I look at people plotting careers through British Land and through other businesses, you know, you sometimes make these moves. You’re not quite sure where they will lead. But often it’s about opening doors and trying not to close too many doors. And when we think about the career progress of our women through the business, we’ve done that.

I think I’ve really benefited from great mentors in my career, both here at British Land and elsewhere. And that’s something we feel that has really benefitted our women employees, is when they have had good mentoring, good coaching. You can learn a lot from people, can’t you, as they go through business?

What three pieces of advice would you give a senior woman?

One is to take ownership of your career. People will help you in your career, but it’s your career and you have to take ownership for it. I think also in most businesses you’ve got really supportive HR teams—push them to invest in you. Whether that’s coaching, mentoring, make the most of that. And then the third piece of advice is be prepared to be a bit flexible with your career. It can feel quite scary at times, but someone might suggest to you, “What about this move to another department?” and you might not see the immediate relevance of that. And it might be, “Actually, today I want to take that next step, that leap forward."

But sometimes just collecting experience, broadening your knowledge of the business, the industry, then prepares you really well. Because I do think careers go in a non-linear way.

They have phases where they’re a bit flatter and then they have big leaps forward. So, don’t be afraid to go and try something different, even if it isn’t immediately obvious that it’s going to give you that next move on.