International Women’s Day: An Interview with Diana Borland, managing director and Sanderson Borland and Creative Director at Harrison Hunt.

International Women’s Day: An Interview with Diana Borland, managing director at Sanderson Borland and Creative Director at Harrison Hunt.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, this week we are putting the spotlight on our director: Diana Borland

​1. Please can you provide an overview of your role?

I am the co-founder of Sanderson Borland and Harrison Hunt who are now in their 6th year. As founding director of both companies, I get involved in lots of different areas of the business which I love because it means no day is ever the same.  My key responsibilities include;

Overseeing the day to day running of both companies, responsible for the delivery of high-quality architecture across a range of architectural briefs, building and managing relationships with the design team and to improve the brand to our wide client base, responsible in leading our corporate and social endeavours (CSR), ensuring environmental ethos is front and centre of our projects… the list goes on!

2. What are the biggest challenges you have faced in your career?

I think my big challenges of my career to date was firstly, making the decision to step out of my safe employment with all its benefits as an Architect and set up an unusual business hybrid model with my colleague James Sanderson – our architectural practice and our sister property development company.

Another challenge, perhaps more personal but it is all connected/life was making the decision to step away from an arduous relationship with my 4-month-old son last year not knowing how I would manage as new single mother.

The main challenge has been and is still, how the economic landscape has been over the past five years including: enduring the covid pandemic, material costs rises and labour shortages and what is probably one of the most unsettled politically periods known has also had a massive impact on our business.

I’d also say overall, my experience was not as vast as it needed to be, especially on the property development side to land the right project, attain the site, navigate the funding strategy for projects and ultimately deliver a project for the public market.

3. What are your success stories?

I am ambitious and always push myself to my limits.  My first success story was my first private family house commission in Edinburgh that I completed from concept through to completion whilst studying for my part III. This gave me the experience and confidence to step into my role as a qualified Architect and was a very pinnacle point in my career that I am very proud of.

I guess the main success story is setting up and growing our hybrid business and how we managed to navigate this through the covid pandemic and setting up all with our limited experience. We have now built a fabulous tight and loyal team by employing the right people who have all got a hands on attitude. I’d like to give a shout out to Matthew Gibson and Elliot Dickson who are stepping up and taking the lead in our Architectural practice.

Our success story – project and development wise, was our first architectural development under our new brand – our Ballam Road project where we designed 8 apartments, agreed the land sale, attained the funding required designed it all and navigated the planning/building standards requirements. My favourite and another success story which is still under construction is our St. George’s Gardens project, which is a complex site of 19 residential units, which includes saving a dilapidated grade 2 vicarage in a conservation site. I think when we sat watching the councillors discuss and make the decision to grant planning on our development and hearing everyone’s positive comments and them finishing with saying – ‘the name on everyone’s lips should be Sanderson Borland’ was the reassurance that we all needed after all the hard work we had put in on setting up the businesses and running our projects. To be the developer and architect providing quality homes for homeowners has given me great pride.

4. What advice would you give to women who aspire to get to the top of their game?

My advice would be to speak up and ask for help, support and guidance when you need it and be patient and kind with yourself. Asking for help isn’t a weakness and no one is born knowing how to be something we have never been. I would also encourage women to seek out a mentor in their field who can support and help guide them to where they want to be in their field is a huge plus. It takes time to upskill and become an expert in a field so not being too hard on yourself for failing is key. Sounds a cliché but you do learn from your mistakes.

5. What factors do you think have caused a gender imbalance in the workplace, specifically amongst Senior Leadership and roles? What do you think we can do to overcome these challenges?

​I think historically, not having women in leadership positions has made it difficult for women to progress into male dominated roles especially in the architectural and construction industry. Not having role models or examples of women in power can make it difficult to see clear career progression. Within the architectural field, a lot of women step out of the industry to have children and many of them do not return and when they do it is part-time – like in many industries. This is a bigger issue which needs to be addressed at governmental level and requires a whole other blog on this issue in itself – ‘pregnant and screwed’! I’ll be happy to talk further on this another time.

6. Lastly, what does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the achievements of women and focusing on the continued fight for gender equality.

Personally, this translates into me being lucky to have a supportive network (mum and dad mainly) who afforded me opportunities they did not have and who done without that allowed me to have the confidence to grow and pursue my passions. This backbone had a huge part in allowing me to excel in my sport when I was younger, to have the confidence to pursue my career as an Architect and to eventually to step out and set up an unusual business model in partnership as an Architectural Practice and Property Development company.  And now, to stand proud and have the bravery to step out of an arduous relationship and be the primary carer to my 16-month son. It has not been easy, far from it, and it is still a daily struggle, but I have been, and I am empowered equally by the wonderful supportive men and women along the way, and we all need allies, our thinking and outlook is richer as a result. I want to give a shout out to my business partner and friend James Sanderson.

Sadly, the reality is there are women deprived of their basic human rights and freedom across the globe. So, as we celebrate the progress we are making, we should never forget that there is still much to do here and elsewhere. It seems unfathomable that gender should determine your boundaries limiting what you can do, what you earn or how far you progress, but this is the reality we face every day.