It’s easy to see why Sarah Hewerdine has carved a career in real estate and tech marketing. It’s not only because she exudes happiness, or her ability to lean into a challenge, but simply because of her infectious optimism, a rare find.
We meet at a café overlooking the Dubai Museum of the Future. It’s something of an ideal backdrop for our hour-long conversation around career growth for women, the evolution of real estate, and planning for the future.
‘I find myself naturally drawn to real estate’
Right off the bat she admits that her qualifications actually lie in international business, a degree which she picked up at New Haven, Connecticut in the States, followed by a graduate programme in finance for which she trained in Malta. Jumping from continent to continent ignited a love for exploration in her that eventually led the Norfolk-native to Dubai.
As for real estate and technology, she says, that was something she just naturally fell into but loves it all the same. From Property Monitor to Dubizzle Property, today she heads up the marketing at Dubai-based property portal, houza.
“I really enjoyed working with people well versed in property, tech and data and understanding how it all comes together. There are so many opinions in real estate and I like that, there’s always so much happening in this industry and today I find myself naturally drawn to it,” she says laughing.
If her name is familiar, that’s because Sarah features on Dubai Eye where she delivers a weekly update on the Dubai real estate market, offering up current trends to would-be homebuyers.
It’s a position which she first found daunting and now she relishes keeping updated on the property market and making it palatable for listeners. “It’s really a full circle career moment,” she says explaining that it was one of her mentors, Lynette Sacchetto, who initially began the on-air property reports until the mantle was passed onto her after houza took over.
Sarah wears her passion for the real estate and tech sector on her sleeve and the conversation quickly turns to what it is about the sector that keeps her motivated.
The answer slips out before she even has time to think about it: “It’s Dubai.”
“The sheer speed at which Dubai has developed and transformed along with the regulations it has introduced over the years has been amazing to see and be part of, especially for women because it’s such a male dominated industry. ”
“Sure, wherever you look in the world real estate is so male dominated, but to be part of the journey, here in Dubai, at this point when it’s still such a young market is special for women in the sector because we can now be part of the growth over the next few years or even decades. The rest of the world’s real estate journey has been so different and to some extent exclusionary.”
‘You don't have to be the loudest in the boardroom’
One of the biggest lessons Sarah has learnt in her career is that she doesn’t have to be the loudest in a male-dominated boardroom to make a point.
“I realised it’s a game of whoever shouts loudest and it’s all too easy to fall into it. It might help in that moment but not in the long run. I’ve realised I don’t have to do that to be heard. It’s taken me a while to understand that women have their own superpowers and strengths that they can channel and I’ve come to embrace my empathy and compassion.”
Last year 1% of VC funding went to women in the UAE. It’s a statistic that saddens Sarah but she remains optimistic that the industry is changing.
“Businesses owe it to themselves to put more of a focus on women. They need to take diversity and inclusion and gender equity seriously. The more businesses who can understand diversity of thought, the more it can advance the real estate industry here. It’s not just on women to shout the loudest, we still need men to advocate and open those doors.”
Sarah is also part of the MENA Diversity and Inclusion forum in the UAE, which brings people from all corporate environments together to discuss issues around equality in the workplace.
‘I would note be where I am today without my mentors’
Early on in her career, Sarah realised the value of mentors and today relies on her very own selection of men and women from around the world who she turns to for career advice, real estate and tech know-how, or when it comes to navigating the complexities of a competitive corporate environment as a woman.
“Imposter syndrome has captured me and I’ve been down that rabbit hole and to have someone I could speak to, who I also deeply admire, tell me they’ve experienced the same thing and it was completely normal was so comforting and served me well.”
At 29, Sarah has relied on mentors for advice when it came to thinking about children and planning for her future. Like many single women her age, she’s had to ask herself serious questions around the impact on her career from starting a family.
“Having women to lean on who have dealt with personal experiences it helps so much and it’s good to have a few as everyone has different strengths. If I didn’t have mentors, I would not be where I am today.”
Everyone struggles to balance childcare and work, but the more you have an open dialogue with those who have gone through it, the more you realise it can be achievable. It has made me realise that I don’t have to compromise my career to settle down and have a family.”
‘I’ve met people I would never get the chance of meeting’
Look for Sarah Hewerdine on a weekend, and you’ll either find her at the beach surfing, or doing what she loves best, leading hiking groups across mountains in the UAE for charity, Gulf for Good.
Sarah is an ambassador for the UAE-based charity that helps raise money for children in developing countries. Last year, she summitted Kilimanjaro for the charity and raised money for an orphanage in Tanzania, and in 2020 she visited Kyrgyzstan to help build a domestic abuse shelter.
“I’ve met people I wouldn’t get a chance to meet doing this. It’s also a great way to see the world. I feel so lucky and blessed and I if you can give time, money or skills to help someone, why would you not?”
So, what time does she her day start? Curious about when she manages to fit it all in.
“5.30. I never hit the snooze button.”
Somehow, that feels like Sarah in a nutshell.