One on One with Sarah Davis
One on One with UDIA NSW Diversity and Inclusion Committee Member and General Manager-Marketing and Customer, AVID Property Group Linda Walsh and Sarah Davis, Project Manager for Construction Assignments.
LW: When you were starting out in property, is there the kind of role you knew you wanted?
SD: The role I thought I wanted to do was to be an architect and by being an architect I thought I could change the world and my culture, American Culture at that time is when you leave school you choose what you want to do for the rest of your life and you do everything in your power to make that happen and at that time I didn’t realise that what I was choosing wasn’t going to be my ultimate goal and rather that road to be coming and finding a role that suits my strengths, so architecture was my first job in a studio and with a leader that supported me in whatever I set my mind to so from creating new business strategies and endeavors and also I kind of got my hands dirty on the construction side and so half the week I was creating in the office and half the week I was out with this rough and tumble builder using tools and he was telling me everything I could have done better in the office basically, at that time it gave me an amazing perspective of our industry and the many hands that it takes to get the job done.
From there I carried that experience through I wanted to keep going in architecture and become registered, and in the States we have a architecture registration exam much like Australia it is comprised of 7 different exams and one of the most gruelling things I have every undertaken, you were doing that while working full time and I actually failed 4 out of the 7 exams, I finally passed all of them but I remember one day I was on to the exam and the metro stopped in the middle of the tunnel and the lights went out and we sat there for 30 minutes at the time it didn’t really sync with me, Sarah maybe you shouldn’t be doing this I had in my head that I had to be architect and I was going to everything in my power to make that happen. So, I got through the exams and practiced in the States for a little while and them moved here to Sydney.
Sydney transformed me in a way, I jumped in to leading a team of 10 architects, designers and draftsman, some of them 30 years my senior at that time, the growth in the learning in this role is just significant, I quickly then learnt that my skills sets were not actually what an architect is necessarily, I didn’t ignore the 1-10 details and specifying building materials but what I gravitated towards where motivating teams to share and release their talents and to make the buildings the best they could be, I organised our weeks for deadlines, and liaising with builders to resolve problems and come to a middle ground of understanding and also to the clients, the clients were some of the most inspiring because they have a set of limitations of their own and so working with that and understanding them, I thought I had to play to my strengths rather than working on all of my weaknesses and areas of improvement as what a picture perfect architect looked like, I think that is the beauty of growing up a bit, moving from your 20’s to your 30’s and thinking what do I want to do and what works for me, so long story short no this is not what I originally set out to do, it may not be where I end up, you just don’t know.
LW: Exactly those things happen to pretty much all of us.
LW: Have there been moments you’ve felt particularly challenged in your life or career?
SD: Yeah, absolutely we all encounter bits of these along the way, for me the one that I think I would like to share is when I moved to Australia 2015, I have been faced with something I have never previously faced with, I don’t know if that is because just I wasn’t at the point yet and I was always doing the grunt work and wasn’t facing certain personality types and leaders, but what I have been faced with a lot of oppressive behaviours particularly in our industry, the things I am talking about is bullying in the workplace, micro -managing, exercising of bravado, yelling to make points clear, and been told to stop talking when I am leaving a meeting or been told get this to me in 2 hours’ time it’s something that would take a day of work.
Been told I am emotional when expressing frustration that fundamental delivery dates where not been met. These types of things I have seen consistently over and over again, it shakes you a little bit, when it is the same group of people that are doing it. I can say everyone of these circumstances has been automatously from men within our industry, who at 45 years or older, I say this as education, I am not saying it as let me target this group, I do affectionally in fun way refer to them as dinosaurs, longing for a time when they were the only decision makers in a room full of people who where the same as them, they looked like them, they spoke like them and before anyone was holding anyone accountable for words and actions just be better humans here, you don’t speak to others like this. I was sharing this story with my husband in preparation for talking to you, I think people are going to think I am winging, I am just going to this young woman up here winging, what’s interesting is my husband works in construction and he coaches rugby, he a sports fanatic and he feels exactly the same way with the leadership he’s encountering in construction especially and what it comes down to I think is there is this massive focus on the bottom line, profit, are we making money period and then how we get there and treat people along the way and the process of getting there doesn’t really matter, so it’s interesting to me that it is a consistent thing not just for people that look and speak like me but my husband who had a different background as well.
LW: How do you feel about navigating through that?
SB: Honestly when it first started happening I remember been like wow what I have I done wrong to trigger this person to treat me this way, I have since learned it not so much what I have done it’s, it’s that person is working things through, they are either insecure or lacking fulfillment and they need belittle or speak down to someone else to make themselves feel better, it is not really my responsibility or my doing but their own and then the other part to this, a more recent lesson, you can’t play the victim all the time, sometimes the aggressors are not always responsibility for understanding that those behaviours are unacceptable, my mindset was I was partly responsible as I tolerated it, I tolerated to remain professional which communicated to them that this is okay to treat someone like this and this is, it’s not okay and it’s not professional, and it most certainly not how anyone, I don’t care if you are the janitor or the CEO you should not speak to anyone in those manners and so in the end you can’t always play the victim, you have to stand up establish boundaries and respect, not just for yourself, this is the interesting thing and a little bit more motivating for me to, it’s not just me it’s any person that encounters that person beyond me, which is empowering and encouraging, you wouldn’t want your friends or your children to encounter the same thing.
LW: What advice would you give any person who is going through that, what sort of advice would you give them to navigate through that based on your experience.
SB: Everyone has got different, I guess what they are comfortable with, more so if it is in your gut that something is not right you just have to trust it and you can’t, I know it hard choosing the right time and place, but what I have found if that even if you are in boardroom and someone does something outlandish, like I had someone blow up and literally scream shout stand up and leave, obviously you can’t at that time address it with that person so regardless if you are trying to keep the peace in a bigger setting, the best thing it to ring that person or meet them face to face if you can and have a chat and just set, let them know what they did and it didn’t sit right with you and you want to move together and move past this and it re-sets expectations and gives them the respect of not calling them out in front of a lot of people.
LW: What is it about the property and construction industry that you love the most? Least like?
SD: That is an easy for me it’s people the unique skill sets in contributions they make as we touched on earlier it’s the massive teams it takes to actually pull off development from the first date that someone goes I have this site or property and what can we do, the amount of consultants, experts and clients contractors to make that come to fruition is extraordinary and the co-ordination of all these people who communicate differently they come from different environments all to execute just one common vision it’s pretty cool. When that is coupled, these projects are few and far between when that is coupled with improving the life of the end users and especially in a public space, I think that is really cool.
LW: Yeah, it’s a bit of legacy that you are leaving behind.
LW: Equally what are the thing that you don’t like about the industry?
SD: Probably closed tied with what we’re talking about before with the challenges we face, more specifically it’s more the lack of courageous s leaders, they are the ones that create these toxic behaviours cultures that is passed down and when you are in those cultures that is kind of what you learn and what you know and then you pass it on. And so yeah it is put down to the top and often times when you have these folks, leaders that are not courageous they are not willing to address the tough conversations and that is where I would like to relate that to diversity and inclusion because I think that one of the first things that is put in the two hard basket is diversity and inclusion, because often they don’t identify with it so it becomes a challenge to discuss and unpack some of those things. There is a lot good to be taped into to give it the time and attention it deserves.
LW: Do you think there is opportunities to embrace diversity and inclusion more so than we are seeing today?
SD: Yes absolutely, we have had a lot of opportunities to talk about this together with our work at UDIA in the past, there are 3 things that really come to mind.
The first thing is addressing privilege, I know this now a much more common term but it has been going on a long time, but I think we have to address fundamentally our industry is flawed and exclusive when it comes to this and once we acknowledge that the playing field is not level we can begin rebuilding it.
The second thing would be gender isolated professional organisation they seem to be multiplying I have been in them, I have tried it, maybe I can identify this will be good but I have always not felt fulfilled in them, the reason is that is because it was creating a us v them mentality and a lot of the talks and events were based on the differences and to me this highlighted the problem more that working towards a future so that is another thing.
The last is probably, difficult one especially in today’s COVID times, but this is something I saw prior to COVID, that I think more attention could be given to investing in foreigners, people that don’t look like you, speak like you, different background as you, reason being is what I am seeing is I have dealt with many folks in our industry that have come from overseas, I also come from overseas but I have the privilege to speak English very well and I achieve certain professional qualifications, but they have as well, but when they come here they are told you have to be able to speak English this way, you have to re-take all your education, your profession achievements don’t qualify here re take them, that is an issue as you are not giving people the opportunity to share and there acknowledge their skills sets that already exists, because you necessarily can’t understand them there contributing and how they are contributing, I think it’s that whole 2 sides thing there has to be an effort or willingness to build and grow from both sides and that is one thing I see consistently hitting a road block for a lot of folks.
LW: A lot of work left to do.
SD: Yeah and also it’s like a tick box thing, I have a lot of people from all round the world isn’t that great we are doing a good job, but what are the roles these people are doing in the office, that would tell me a lot more about it.
LW: What’s your One Thing You are doing in the diversity & inclusion space or businesses you work for?
SD: Look what I do now is just personal connections, as I mentioned earlier there are a lot of folks in our industry that I have come across from different backgrounds, they have hit a lot of hurdles in our industry where they feel stuck and don’t feel respected, and it is challenging, my role honestly now with this is to motivate and encourage and utilise my network to build for those who don’t necessarily have the same privilege, I guess what you can relate this to what is happening socially across the world is the share the mic platform and you will see especially with the Black Lives Matter movement in the states, you are seeing a lot of white celebrity females sharing their Instagram pages for example for a day, they just hand it over to someone else to share their story and this offers a really authentic perspective, so while I am not a celebrity in all of this, I do think that given certain tools with privilege what you can do to give back is to share those and make them available to others.
The coolest thing I have seen to date, a friend of mine who has gone through this and we have just had to fall down and get built back up with a lot of these things in our industry but then once you understand that person you know someone from another company you can connect them and they can work together in a nurturing like really effective empowering environment they can do greatness, that is really cool to see.
There is another “gal” that I worked with when I first came here, she and I arrived from overseas at the same time, she was from Poland and I was from the States, same age, and tried to do that same things but she didn’t get to move forward advance where we were at together, so what she has since gone on to do is become a Director of her own company. Seeing that happen, not necessarily because of me, more so because of them, but merging them along those paths to be who they are and do what that they want do is a really cool thing.
The last thing I am going to mention on this is a gal that I became very well acquainted with her name is Alma Besserdin she is the creator of an organisation called Wimmigrants, she actually contacted me when I was at UDIA when I was doing the Diversity and Inclusion and she mainly works with male and female immigrants who come in and they need to find their way with their qualifications and get involved because sometimes is hard to just get that first interview so she does training and workshops and CV courses and things like that to build them up because she herself was also an immigrant but she now again has her own organisation.
LW: Fantastic what a great story, and there are a lot of people who have similar stories out there, thanks for sharing yours, because a lot of people are in the same boat and hopefully listening to your story today has made them think that is me as well or got them to think about people they do know so thanks for that.
LW: Sarah thank you very much for your time today we really appreciated you giving insights into your story and reflections of Diversity and Inclusion I am sure a lot of our members today who really appreciate what they have learnt.
SD: Thank you it is my pleasure and the story continue to evolve.
This interview forms part of a UDIA D&I Committee initiative series to encourage and highlight more diversity in UDIA and the property industry. It is intended to highlight diversity by profiling our members through industry publications on a regular basis throughout the year. Thank you to Sarah Davis, Project Manager from Construction Assignments.
Since 2018, the Diversity & Inclusion Committee has been one of the key Business Advisory Committees for the UDIA NSW, focussed on improving and promoting diversity and inclusion in the UDIA and our industry. This year, we launched the ‘One Thing’ campaign – celebrating and sharing the ‘one thing’ that we’re doing to empower people by respecting, supporting and appreciating what makes them different, in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, beliefs, disability, sexual orientation, and education. What’s your One Thing?