February 26, 2019

International Women’s Day, observed on 8 March annually celebrates women’s rights and world peace. We at CBRE celebrate the contribution that women have given to society and for years have been working with Plan International to build a better future for vulnerable girls living in Africa.

Between 2014-2016, we helped to give an education to 21,060 of the poorest girls in Sierra Leone and improve the lives of a further 135,000 children. Since then we have continued to work with 485 of these girls to help them become qualified teachers. CBRE’s current project with Plan Internationals is bringing the charity’s ground-breaking Safer Cities project to Nairobi, Kenya. Our aim is to help make the region of Embakasi a safer and more inclusive place for 4,000 marginalized girls and women. We are also aiming to positively impact another 490,000 members of the community.

The co-chair of the CBRE Ireland’s Charity committee, Emma Courtney sits down to chat about her journey in the commercial real estate industry, her charity work and things she’s learnt along the way.

“12 years! Coming into my 13th year this May! The time has certainly flown by. I’ve had the privilege of working in a number of teams over the years. I feel very blessed to have a job with CBRE right out of college as it was the height of the recession. I was a research intern, then split my time with the Valuation department and assisted the Asset services team when it began and moved to Capital markets in 2013 where I achieved my APC certification and achieved 2 levels of promotion, to an Associate Director today.

I now work in Residential Capital Markets which is a new team dedicated to all things Private Rented Sector (PRS)/Build To Rent (BTR). The work is really varied from sales, acquisitions and consultancy projects. It’s a great area to be working in at the moment and the team is going from strength to strength.”

Emma’s effervescent demeanor is hard to miss around the office, and its hard not to get influenced by her positive attitude. “Finding the joy in the little things in life is key. I’m easily pleased, and I know people laugh at me when I get excited about the smallest of things. It’s the little things that spark joy for me, a blue sky or homemade treat can make my day. In work, staying happy is easy when you work in a good team where there is a collaboration and a bit of craic.  On a challenging day, a deep breath and some perspective can make all the difference in my opinion.”

Commercial property isn’t a popular choice among women and when asked about the road that led her to working in CBRE, she laughs – “It was actually a marketing brochure that sealed the deal for me! It showcased profiles for different people in the company on the back page and it made me want to work at a young and vibrant company.” I make a mental note to give this feedback to the Marketing team – we always wonder if anyone actually reads these brochures! “I’ve no connections to property through family, which seemed to be the usual precursor to many of my college mates, so I had no reference point as to what a job in property might entail – and to a large extent, I’m glad.”

The commercial real estate industry traditionally is largely male dominated so seeing more females joining the industry is a welcoming sign.

“Don’t be intimidated by the stats on the number of women in the industry. It is continuously getting better. I think the biggest challenge is encouraging young women to choose property and construction related college courses. It’s about educating young women about the career opportunities available in the sector – it’s not all mucky sites and hard hats but that option is available also. Diversity, not just gender, is important in every sector and property is no different.” 

In CBRE Ireland, the percentage of females take up 45% of the workforce – we must be doing something right! “Commercial real estate is so varied and offers great opportunities for women. Starting out, I would advise anyone, female or male, to try and get into a company with a good graduate rotation program so you get the opportunity to experience different aspects of working in real estate.”

On this International Women’s Day, Emma is going to abseil down Croke Park to raise funds for our EMEA charity partner, Plan International. “Doing the abseil is a triple hitter for me. It raises money for a great cause, marks International Women’s Day and is a personal challenge. I am very excited about all three. In the grand scheme of life, I am very privileged and to give back is important. I have an enormous amount of respect for the people who run charities on a day to day basis. They pour their heart and soul into helping their cause. It is very humbling to hear about their efforts and having such a significant impact.”

As part of the Charity Committee since 2014, Emma has helped plan and execute numerous events in the office and challenges everyone to give a little - a little time and a little effort makes a collective difference. Constantly thinking of new ways to raise funds for charity seem to be a common theme with her, and I implore further.

“I grew up in Kildare and went to the local primary and secondary school there. When I think back now, the schools really encouraged us to help others in our community. I was involved in reading clubs that involved helping younger students in the school improve their skills. Through a transition year community project, a group of us would go each week to our local seniors’ club to help them set up the tables and chairs, make lots of pots of tea and call Bingo. It was great fun for us to get out of the typical school day routine and hang out with a different group of people with a different view on life. I guess that’s why I look out for people who need help and instinctively feel I have so much to give.”

"I love the phrase 'it’s a bad day, not a bad life' and I try to live it out while keeping my aunt's memory alive in my daily life."
Emma Courtney

Being happy and content with life seems to be values Emma holds close to her heart. “One of my aunts, Sylvia, who sadly passed away from cancer over 10 years ago, was and still is a very strong influence in my life, even now. She was such as strong person and even in the depths of her illness had love and humour. One distinct memory that shaped me was during her illness, my aunt Sylvia signed up for art college as it was something she has always been passionate about, a course she unfortunately never got to complete. “No regrets!” would have been her anthem, together with not sweating the small stuff and do what makes you happy are lessons I hold dear. I love the phrase “it’s a bad day, not a bad life” and I try to live it out while keeping her memory alive in my daily life.”

Emma graduated from a Masters in Finance degree last year, a two year long course with classes twice a week. Working or studying on its own is taxing and doing both at the same time would send some people running in fear! But not Emma.

“Stay curious and constantly learn something new each day is the goal!” she laughs. “Graduation day was fantastic. I really felt I had accomplished something that was important to me. CBRE supported my decision to return to college, understood I had to leave a little earlier than usual two evenings a week to make my classes on time and gave me the study leave to prep for assignments and exams. This was of great benefit.”

On what advice she would give someone looking to make a difference to their personal life, their community and the whole world at large – “It’s not about building something from scratch, it’s about adding a brick. If I can do something small which adds a layer of change or a different perspective, that to me is successful.”