A Q&A with Emma Richman: Woman of the Year

Over 20 years – it’s been a long journey for Emma Richman in the housing sector. Along the way she has progressed through the ranks, fought for women’s rights, championed diversity, been an inspiration to women – and men – everywhere. To the extent that she believes the housing sector is a good place to be for women. They have a voice. They get heard. They are rewarded. They get recognised.

Emma’s certainly made her mark. There’s still work to do, mind. It’s nearly 5,000 miles from Manchester, England to the South American city of Cartagena in Colombia. And that was the last time Emma felt like she wasn’t recognised. That she didn’t have a voice.

“I was on holiday, the summer just gone, with my husband, Marcus, and son, Lucas.” explains Emma. “We were getting the plane back to the States from Cartagena in Colombia. We were going through customs when the customs officer stops us and asks Marcus his name, what he did for a living, what a typical day was. All sorts of different things about his life. Once he seemed satisfied with the answers, I said: “Don’t you want to ask me anything?” He just smiled at me and said: “No”. He didn’t think he needed to know anything about the woman!

“It shows that women can still be ranked second class in some places. Thankfully it doesn’t happen very often in England anymore, certainly not in housing.”

And that is partly down to Emma Richman, and to women like her. And that is one of the reasons why Emma was declared Woman of the Year in the Women in Housing Awards 2018.

This is what we said about Emma in our submission to judges: “Emma Richman is a powerful and inspirational voice in a male dominated world and she uses it to great effect for women across the sector and elsewhere. As Director of Assets at Great Places Housing Group, she is in charge of a £13million budget and leads a male dominated team working from the Great Places head office in Manchester. An award winning professional with 22 years in the sector, she sits on national committees’, judges national award ceremonies, mentors other women and organises conferences. She is also a mother to a teenage boy, runs 10k’s and volunteers at the Pankhurst Centre, former home of Emmeline Pankhurst and birthplace of the suffragette movement. She is an inspiration to women everywhere.”

We said that and much more besides. And the judges agreed with us; Emma is simply the best. It’s been almost three weeks since her crowning moment at the ceremony at Emirates Old Trafford and we caught up with Emma, to see how the crown fits, how our ‘Woman of the Year’ is getting on.

Q. How does it feel to be ‘Woman of the Year’?

A. It’s overwhelming. It’s been amazing – the response. Just incredible. I have had so many messages of congratulations from all over the place; all over the UK. The reaction on social media – wow. Something went on LinkedIn and it received 8000 views and 300 messages of congratulations. I have been working in social housing for over 20 years and to see messages pop up from people I have worked with over time was really great. I didn’t for one minute think I would win – I was so proud.

Q.  Does the award carry a certain level of responsibility?

A.  I take my role as a leader very seriously, so I am very aware of the responsibility I carry as a leader. But I am also aware that the award does carry some extra weight, extra clout. I have already been asked to speak at a couple of events and be on judging panels – above and beyond what I would normally do. I have also been down to London twice recently specifically because of this. I have got to take advantage of this for the whole year and beyond; anything that I can do that benefits Great Places on the back of me receiving this award, then I’ll do it. It was also a great year to get the award – this year where we remember some women getting the vote for the first time.

Q. It was mentioned in the submission: male dominated world. Does this throw up extra challenges for you?

A.  I am an advocate for breaking glass ceilings. There are no barriers that can’t be broken down. Over time the housing sector has become an industry where in many areas of it, women now have as much chance as men of being successful: the opportunities are there, they have to be taken. Look at Great Places. There may not be female representation at exec level but there is almost everywhere else. Some areas of the sector may be pale, male and stale. But not here. Where female representation needs to improve is in areas like construction, tools, repairs. These areas need work and I do some in those areas – trying to create opportunities.

Q. So lots of opportunities here at Great Places. In terms of the award; Did you feel you were representing Great Places as well as yourself as an individual?

A. Oh, yes. Yes, I did. Totally. I was very aware of that. If I wasn’t working here then I wouldn’t have been up for the award. And winning the award isn’t just great for me it is great for Great Places too. It promotes the work we do and the opportunities we have. It reinforces the good reputation we have across the sector and if it can help us the that is something to be celebrated as a business. It is about the work I do representing Great Places, in part.

Q. What advice do you give to people you mentor or to colleagues in general?

A.  One of the reasons for my success has been that I have recognised opportunities when they have come along, grasped them and made the absolute most of them. That is from when I first went to University, in my first job and all the way through my career. Especially at a place like Great Places where colleagues are actively encouraged to experience things, take up opportunities and are supported when they do so. So, yes, grasp opportunities when they come along. And ‘Do things That Scare You.’ I hate fast rides and when I was in Florida I went on one with my son. I did it! And I was really nervous about being a keynote speaker not long ago. I did that too. And now I would do both again without fear. Mostly, I say; Choose your own destiny. Your own pathway.

Q. What next for Emma Richman?

A. When I did a stand up meeting after winning the award, the whole team gave me a big round of applause as the meeting began. That was lovely and meant a lot. Because I love leading my team. I love working here at Great Places, working with my team and trying to get them to be the best they can be individually and collectively. I am ambitious, of course, but I am where I want to be at the moment.

And that customs officer at Rafael Nunez International Airport in Cartagena? "Yes. Still work to do, isn’t there. We need to go back and make him ask me who I am, what I do. I’ll tell him,: “Woman of the Year mate. That’s who I am!” laughed Emma. “Well, for now anyway.”

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