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By Liz Morrell

Freelance journalist and content creator

OTHER FEATURES

How a Facebook group spearheaded a fight for change

Liz Morrell meets Women in Estate Agency’s co-founder Liana Loporto-Browne

Liana Loporto-Browne, managing director of LB Residential, fell in love with the property market at a young age in Malta but has since gone on to inspire change and provide a voice for women in the industry in the UK through the Women in Estate Agency (WiEA) Facebook group she helped co-found.

The group, which is now accompanied by an annual conference and regular webinars – is fighting for change in perception and practice in an industry that has long been guilty of discrimination.

“My mum was an interior designer, and I was dragged along to all sorts of beautiful, palatial properties,” she says. “The architecture was incredible, and I fell in love with property.”

She worked at Dhalia Real Estate, the leading real estate organisation in Malta, for more than eight years but when Malta joined the EU in 2004, it provided her with the opportunity to move to London a year later to work in “one of the most vibrant property cities in the world.”  

She secured interviews for three agencies in the UK, one of which was Foxtons. “I remember the doors opening in the head office in Chiswick and my knees going a bit. Their offices are huge. I got the job, went back, packed my flat and three weeks later I was back in London starting again from the bottom and working my way up. That was a really great learning of the property market in the UK.”

Beginning the fight for change

She joined Propertymark at this point, later becoming president, having been surprised by the negative perceptions of property agents in the UK.

“In Malta, it’s very much a profession. It’s well-regarded. So that change was quite shocking to me. I couldn’t understand why estate agents were not well regarded in the UK.” She began to fight for change. “Whatever I do I try to improve and make the environment better for people around me,” she says.  

After nearly three years at Foxtons Loporto-Browne moved to an independent agency in Regents Park where she would become operations manager and stay for 12 years before Covid hit and life changed again.

“I was sitting at my desk and was back to doing what I love doing, which is being an agent, dealing with people and helping people move again. It became more about people rather than KPIs.”

In June 2020 she launched her own business after joining eXp UK. Her husband Oliver Browne, who had been at Foxtons for 17 years, joined her to relaunch the business as Loporto Browne Residential in June 2023.

The launch of the WiEA Facebook group

But Covid brought another major change for Loporto-Browne.

“I don’t know whether it was coming out of Covid, but it made me think. I’d had two children [while at the independent agency] and I’d found it quite challenging to navigate being a mum and having a senior role in an office working normal industry hours and not having the flexibility which makes a young mother’s life easier.”

Working as part of eXp had given her more flexibility than she’d had previously and also introduced her to Clare Hughes with whom she would go on to co-found the WiEA Facebook group.

“We started chatting and I said that what I struggled with was that there were no role models within our industry to learn from that I could access easily.”

The WiEA Facebook group began with a few women talking privately about the challenges they faced working within the industry. But it soon mushroomed as more women opened up to share their stories. The group bills itself as a “collective voice for change” and with more than 3,500 members that voice is getting ever louder.

A safe space to speak in confidence

Loporto-Browne says she’s thrilled at the safe space that has been created for women to speak out in confidence, with the knowledge that they will find answers and support.

“What I feel makes the group so successful is that there was a real need for a space for women to speak openly. You can post anonymously or not but there’s always somebody there that has been through the challenge and that’s just incredible,” she says.

A conference to bring these women together and bring the discussion of such challenges to a wider audience followed in 2023. However, just before its launch Liana was diagnosed with breast cancer and had to have a double mastectomy and reconstruction. Again, Loporto-Browne says the support of the group shone through.

“I was surrounded with the most amazing committee and together we managed to launch what I think is an incredible conference that everybody’s talking about.”

Although the group remains a closed space for women to talk freely, the webinars and conferences are aimed at changing perceptions throughout the industry and therefore men are encouraged to be involved.

“We never wanted to be exclusive in any way and very much wanted men to be part of the conversation because change doesn’t happen without it.”

The challenge of discrimination

Loporto-Browne says she is proud of the power of the group.

“It’s the fact that we are managing to reach so many people with a positive message with whatever challenges they are facing, whether it’s going back to work after having children or challenges around being told they are not good enough to be senior.”

Sadly, she admits that discrimination still plays a huge part in the challenges that are discussed. This is supported by a recent survey which suggests that 85% of female estate agents have faced discrimination, with 44% reporting gender-based discrimination.  

“The main topics that come up are progression and career, being kept back because of family.”

But other hard-hitting topics are also widely discussed whether in the group or the conference, ranging from anxiety to illness and assault to rape.

The start of a movement

She believes unconscious bias is finally changing.

“Since we started the conversation three and a half years ago, I’ve already seen a massive change. We are not there yet but we have started what is a movement now. Spreading the word about the WiEA group and conference is going to give any women who are facing any challenge within our industry somewhere to go and that is amazing. It’s been a male-dominated industry for so long but it’s interesting to see that change.”

I ask if change is happening fast enough.

“We’ve seen a change, but the pace will never be fast enough for me,” she says.

“We’ve definitely seen more senior roles and it’s incredible what the group has achieved. When people challenge it and say is there a need for the group, it answers itself because of its success.”

And she says she has been blown away by the support from the industry too, including from men who have appreciated the importance of change, even if resistance may have been evident initially.

”Because the values of the group are right, I think that shines through,” she says.

Loporto-Browne is rightly proud of the profile now given to the challenges faced by women in the industry.

 “It’s about exposure and talking about these topics that have not been talked about and bringing them out into the open and doing more of what we are doing. It’s about making people aware and that’s the power of change. It’s a non-profit organisation - we’re all there out of a passion for change for our industry and that makes it even more powerful.”  

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