Valerie Owen defied convention, becoming first female chair at Swan Housing

Valerie Owen defied convention, becoming first female chair at Swan Housing

“We have flexible working policies and are family friendly,” she says. “We support women in apprenticeships, and have excellent equalities and diversity policies as well as ensuring there is equality in pay.” 

In addition to the measures helping employees to balance work and life responsibilities, Owen has implemented Take Our Students (Daughters) to Work Day.

“I value diversity,” Owen says, “and have volunteered on behalf of Girlguiding UK in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets — the most disadvantaged area in the country — for 35 years and organised day visits for teenage girls to major construction sites in the capital for ‘Take Our Students (Daughter) to Work Day’ such as Skanska’s major PFI project for the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel; the Olympic Delivery Authority’s site at Stratford, and Canary Wharf. 

“I also encourage girls from severely disadvantaged backgrounds to consider construction careers through participation in London Open House weekends.”

On top of these activities, Owen regularly speaks at schools, job fairs and Skills London events at ExCel.  Work experience.

She says: “I have championed work experience for teenage girls considering construction related careers, by offering them work experience in my own offices, and have encouraged other businesses to do likewise.”

Girls can do anything

In May 2016, Owen was appointed chief guide of Girlguiding UK and British Guides Overseas. She is now the chair of trustees for the largest youth outdoors education charity for girls and women, which essentially makes her an inspirational role model and leader to 600,000 members in the UK, and 10 million members worldwide.

“I have been involved in Guiding since becoming a Brownie aged seven, and am a Queen’s Guide,”she says. “I have been a leader and a commissioner, and have represented Girlguiding locally, nationally and overseas.

“I believe the transferrable skills and confidence I gained as a young Guide leader in the tough inner-city, contributed enormously to my successful career in the built environment.

Valerie Owen-Swan-HousingThe philosophy that girls can do anything’ is at the heart of Girlguiding, but it is relatively unusual for girls to be in senior roles in property and construction.

“As chief guide, my vision is that many more girls will pursue exciting built environment careers, and I would love to use my CBI First Woman Award as an exciting platform to help achieve this.

“I would like to ensure guiding has a voice in every arena which can help create opportunities for girls and young women.

“I would like to speak at the CBI conference on women in business; organise an All Parliamentary Committee on Girls Matters; be a guest on Question Time; wholeheartedly champion the ‘girls can do anything’ agenda, and be an inspirational role model and leader.”


Valerie Owen won the First Women of the Built Environment Award. Do you know any exceptional women like Valerie? Nominate them now for a First Women Award.


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