Following several years working in the banking sector, Caroline Johnstone decided to follow her passion and peruse a new career in the property industry that she enjoys to this day.
Caroline (32) is now Group Sustainability Manager at Galliford Try, the parent company of award-winning national housebuilder Linden Homes.
For one-and-a-half years she’s been based in Abingdon with wide-ranging responsibilities in her field including defining sustainability policies and strategy, ensuring legislative compliance, sharing best practice and running improvement initiatives.
Her route there wasn’t straightforward. She studied psychology at the University of Sheffield and, through the Mountbatten Institute, secured an internship in New York with investment bank UBS. She impressed, was offered a position there, and over the next five years worked in cities including London and Hong Kong.
“But it wasn’t something I was passionate about,” remembers Caroline. “I fell into it, really, and when the recession hit it made me question if it was the career I wanted. There were job losses at UBS and, although I kept mine, in the end I decided to leave.”
After six months travelling in Africa she returned to Oxford, where she still lives with her husband, this time with her sights refocussed on a fresh career in project management.
A master’s degree at Oxford Brookes University followed, in Project Management in the Built Environment, which included delivering a dissertation with the topic of sustainability at its heart.
Caroline explained: “I found a job on a construction and housebuilding company’s graduate scheme and although it was going back to being a graduate, it was a foot in the door. I discovered I preferred office-based work to site-based work and when the scheme was finished I was promoted to Sustainability Manager.”
Caroline’s story is the kind of achievement Linden Homes is trying to reproduce around the country through sponsoring the National Student Awards 2016: a search by the Association of Women in Property for the industry’s most promising student.
Being a woman in what is still a male-dominated industry hasn’t fazed Caroline. She said: “I honestly have had no issues with it. Instead, it’s just been important to have the right skills, work hard, and engage in teamwork – just like any good employee. I feel that when I’ve performed well and pushed myself it’s been recognised.”
She points to comments by Sheryl Sandberg, now the chief operating officer at Facebook, who argued that women often underestimate their abilities, with the result that there are fewer female business leaders.
In fact, Caroline believes that the property industry, with its culture of continual skills development by learning on the job, is well suited to women by providing opportunities to learn and gain the confidence to take on fresh opportunities.
“There’s a supportive network among women too,” she adds. “I am quite passionate about the whole diversity agenda myself; we all have to work together. It gives you different outlooks, which add value to any organisation.
“There is the need for technical skills in property, but a lot of it is also around the softer skills, like communications and teamwork. Women have a massive amount to offer.”
Andrew Richards, Linden Homes Group managing director, said: “Caroline came to Linden Homes from a very different industry but has learned her skills and now plays an important professional role in our organisation.
“I think Caroline shows the opportunities that are open to women; not just the jobs that are available but also the training, development and range of choices. Women have a huge amount to offer the property industry and we can’t afford to miss out.”
Media can contact Tracy Mannion, Claire Cathersides, Emma Cox or Kelly Ward at Remarkable Content on 01962 893893 for more information, images and interviews with Linden Homes.
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