Priya Shah

Priya Shah

Founder of BAME in Property

"If the role of planning is to create diverse and inclusive communities, the sector should be representative of this."

Tell us about the venture/ business/ initiative you have started...

BAME in Property is a forum to help bring more ethnicity to property, from recruitment to planning delivery perspectives. We hold networking events, workshops and roundtables to have the crucial conversation about why there is a lack of diversity in the property and planning sectors and what can individuals and companies do to help change that.

What is your definition of success? What advice would you give to your younger self about "success"?

Success is ‘giving back’. Let me share a story…

I remember at school my economics teacher said to my class move to excellence like a pine tree and enrich the world through your giving like a mango tree. When I was travelling through South Africa, the Deputy Principle of a primary school in Shallcross Township, Kwa-Zulu Natal invited me to their awards ceremony to give a speech about the importance of education and the huge role my parents played in this, I was delighted and humbled to accept.

Little did they know that it was a great honour for me to be talking about a topic that was so important to me. They felt empowered by my words but I felt so inspired to be in the company of such enthusiastic children, hungry to learn. I will always remember this day, the kindness of the staff and the excitement of the children – beautiful memories created in the most humble of places.

When I was younger I always thought success was being promoted to higher positions as quickly as possible, but actually everyone grows and develops at their own pace. Your career is a journey, not a race, and reminding myself to stop competing and start enjoying has been an important learning curve.

What challenges have you encountered on your journey and how have you overcome them? Is this a common challenge in your industry? How can we tackle it?

Starting a social enterprise/forum can be difficult in the beginning as you’re relying on sponsorship and funding for something people haven’t yet seen. Your passion and drive is what you are relying on to secure that sponsorship and admittedly this was tough – companies were not always prepared to get involved. After a few events, the sponsorship has been coming a lot easier because the industry has seen what can be achieved and diversity and inclusion are coming to the forefront of the agenda.

With the actual purpose of the forum, I think in the beginning there was some naivety to the extent of how uniform the industry is and many companies are still questioning the value of diversity. It’s not necessarily a challenge to overcome but it’s important for companies and individuals to come on this journey with us and be open to asking questions and understanding the benefits of a more diverse workforce.

Have you ever experienced imposter syndrome? If so, are there any examples you can give and tips you can share with other women on how to overcome it?

I’ve sometimes attended networking events where I have so much to say but always feel embarrassed to ask a question. Ironic because now I have my own networking forum and I’m leading the conversation most of the time! When people doubt themselves, it’s usually because others have planted that idea in themselves or other people make you feel intimidated. But I’ve found that being surrounded by people who support your growth and development is key – they encourage you to believe in yourself and are your greatest champions. They really help you raise your voice.

Are there women you look up to? Who are they and why are they inspirational to you?

Sounds cheesy, but my mother is the most inspirational woman in my life. She left her life in Kenya and then India and came to England in the 1980s. She has since worked so hard, raised three children and has never stopped supporting them. My mother encouraged me to read from a young age and it’s where my passion for learning and seeking more knowledge comes from. Even now, she is my biggest champion and there’s nothing that makes me happier than making her proud.

On a professional level, women like Karen Brady and Michelle Obama inspire me – they are so raw and authentic.

What are your thoughts on work-life balance? Do you apply any techniques to achieve work-life balance?

I work on BAME in Property in conjunction with my day job as a Public Affairs Consultant in the property and planning sectors. I enjoy the collaborative nature of both roles but sometimes it will feed in to evenings and weekends. I’ve never seen this as an issue as I enjoy working on BAME in Property but managing my time has been key. I’ve become better as multi-tasking and prioritising tasks.

Having time for my friends and socialising is key – it keeps me insane and regularly meeting friends is an opportunity to share ideas and learn more from them. Having time to myself is also important and I try to make time to go the gym. My real solace is backpacking around a new country every few months, where I am officially ‘out of office’, and it gives me an opportunity to develop my ideas further.

How did you know it was the right time to start your own venture/ initiative? How would you advise someone who is just starting out with a project outside of their regular 9-5 job?

If you have an idea and a passion, just go for it. I like to describe myself as an ‘intrepreneur’, someone who has an entrepreneurial mind but is working ‘inside’ a larger company. This is fine, as sometimes you need this space and the resources to develop an idea. I was very fortunate to have backing by the company I was working in (Built Environment Communications Group) to start BAME in Property and that helped significantly. Having those around you who can help and support you is key – without this, it may be difficult to balance the side hustle with the main one.

What have you learned about leadership, entrepreneurship and mentoring others?

Be fun but firm – balance is key. No one wants to be working with someone who is set in their ways, so being open to ideas is important. My mum always says that ‘no five fingers are the same’, and I never really realised this until I was leading a group of different personalities. I’ve embraced this, as bouncing ideas of colleagues has been a testament to BAME in Property’s success. There is no right way of being a leader, as everyone has their own style, but for me, a relaxed approach works.

What mistakes do you see people make when they first start their own venture/ intiative/ business and what advice would you give to women so that they can avoid making these mistakes?

The most common mistake is rushing. Sometimes we have an idea we are so excited to share with the world, that in the process we forget that there are logistics, finances and people to think about. Taking a bit more time and planting the seeds properly is important and will be more beneficial in the long-run.

Are there any resources/ books you would like to recommend for the women who read your #AspiringWomen article?

I’ve not really been someone who reads ‘motivational’ books, rather, I recommend reading in general – not trash of course, but good, wholesome novels and books about anything that interests you. For me, this is history, politics and travel and this helps with the development of my ideas. It broadens my mind and gives context to what I am trying to achieve.

Is there anything else you would like to share with other women on their journey to success?

"The greatest investment you can make is in the continuous expansion of your knowledge." – never stop learning.

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