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Real estate – a gender laggard losing the talent race


But change is afoot and opportunities for women beckon
By Laura Leggetter

Whilst my musings written some weeks ago, came from a point of view of females in real estate, it would be tone deaf of me not to consider given the current environment, and the valiant women of Ukraine today of all days. Ironically the first National Women’s Day was spurred on by Ukraine-born suffragist Clara Lemlich, who in 1909 gathered strike action in New York demanding better pay, working hours and improved working conditions for garment workers. So for Clara, those before her and those women today, I salute the courage, strength and resilience shown even in the worst circumstances and hope that this piece is evidence of us needing this day and to regain the progress towards equality both in our language and our actions.

International Women’s Day on March 8th set me pondering about why should Taylor Wimpey’s recent appointment of Jennie Daly as chief executive be news? Astoundingly, as we are now more than two decades into the Twenty First Century, this is the first appointment of a women as chief executive at a major UK housebuilder. Hang out the bunting. The fact that this is news shows how far behind the property sector is when it comes to gender equality and women in senior roles. And looking across the pond, things aren’t much better there. Hines, a major US commercial real estate company, recently appointed Laura Hines-Pearce as co-chief executive, making her the only female in the country heading a top real estate firm.

The real estate and construction sector is the second worse performing sector in terms of proportion of women in senior roles with the mining sector at the bottom. In contrast, financial and professional services are near the top with a third more women in senior positions compared with the real estate sector, according to a survey by Grant Thornton[i].

Women are entering the real estate industry, but their progress is limited. Although entrants to the profession via graduate and junior jobs by women and men are evenly balanced, this falls to just a fifth of women being represented at middle and senior management levels, according to research by Real Estate Balance. This represents a tremendous haemorrhaging of talent from the sector and stymied careers.

Empathy and inclusion are my own loadstar for brave leadership. And this is essential to build a supportive company culture where people from all backgrounds thrive. As a parent providing a nurturing environment for my children is my moral compass. A similar ethos of providing a company culture of opportunity for all should be embedded in management.

But be under no illusion that this is all about justice and being right. It also makes good business sense. Organisations that make the effort to be diverse can tap into a wider talent pool and have a greater understanding of the increasingly diverse market they serve, making them more innovative and profitable. Women with their tendency for being more empathetic and more focused on being interested than interesting have so much to bring to the table.

For women who want to pursue a career in real estate, which has tremendous and exciting opportunities, my advice is to use the immense power of networking and there are plenty of great groups to help open doors, such as Real Estate Balance, BAME in Property, Women in Planning and Women in Property. Even MIPM, the international property industry networking jamboree which takes place in Cannes.

And with MIPM almost upon us there has been much debate over its suitability and usefulness in the light of the #metoo movement and its past reputation and the shift to virtual meetings provoked by the pandemic. But there has been a notable shift in attitudes and I’m confident that more women at MIPM will help accelerate change for the better for this conference.

Thankfully, I work for a company that has the culture in place to give its colleagues, regardless of gender, the opportunity to pursue leadership positions. It must be remembered company performance needs to be sustainable, which in a rapidly changing and unpredictable world requires a high degree of adaptability, and diverse profiles and broad perspectives are essential to achieve this.