Setting the Scene: Women as Economic Powerhouses
The importance of this vision can best be understood through an appreciation of the role played by women in the wider economy and in particular their contribution as an economic force for good (a ‘disruptor’). For example, by improving female economic empowerment, new markets and business opportunities are tapped into as services and products are created to address this rising female spending power. Improving productivity by more women taking part or working longer hours helps the economy grow – the more they earn, the more they spend.
‘Bridging the UK gender gap in the overall work environment, not just boardrooms, has the potential to create an extra £150 billion on top of business-as-usual GDP forecasts in 2025’. (Getting to a Level Playing Field: The Role of Women on Boards in the UK, Deloitte July 2018)
Women in the Workplace: The Part-Time Pattern
According to a House of Commons Briefing Paper on ‘Women and the Economy’, female employment rate was 70.8%, compared to 79.7% for men. Professions such as planning and architecture see equal amounts of men and women starting their studies, but the drop-out rate of women gets progressively higher as time goes on. Many drop out of property altogether or stop working.
Of those that work some 42% of women work part-time compared to only 13% of men. An unequal pressure of family life falling onto women who do not have the necessary support from a partner, state or work to cope with a full-time work schedule is a big cause.
As at April 2017, the gender pay gap for median hourly pay excluding overtime was:
- 1% for full-time employees
- -5.1% for part-time employees (meaning women who worked part-time earned more than men who worked part-time on a pay per-hour basis)
- 4% for all employees.
The gender pay gap for all employees is larger than either the full-time or part-time pay gaps. This is because a much higher share of women than men are employed part-time and part-time workers tend to earn less per hour than those working full-time.
Lack of Women in Leadership positions
Whilst the overall growth of women Directors on boards continues, the results have been disappointing. Even within the listed sector for example, where transparency and diversity are addressed relatively openly, we have only seen an increase in the number of women in Non-Executive roles. There are still very few women in Executive Director positions and the few in CEO roles tend to get appointed from the outside, rather than promoted from within.
Women in Real Estate:
Even though women form half of the consumer base in the built environment, either as part of the workforce in an office or as a retail customer on the high street, real estate companies are still male-dominated, particularly at managerial level. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) has only 12% female members and only 3.3% are female RICS Fellows.
Moreover, male property professionals earn, on average, 30.6% more than their female counterparts. The average male property professional’s salary is £61,705 p.a. whilst for women it is £47,260, an astounding £14,445 difference. The gap is largest between the sexes in those aged over 50 years, where it is 39.4%.
The Problem: Missed Business Opportunities
Of course gender equality is a fundamental human right, but companies also miss out on business opportunities by not being representative of society. If they do not address female representation in their workforce or in their product and service offerings there are business opportunities for companies that do address diversity as part of their business plans, and investors and customers are increasingly focused on how business score on ESG (environment, social and governance criteria).
Examples of everyday sexism in the built environment that could be solved by a female mind:
- Not enough toilets in retail spaces
- The average woman struggles to open building doors as they are designed with the stronger men in mind
- Separation of work (CBD) and residential spaces in cities
On Wednesday 4th July 2018, a group of 20 women and men came together to share, learn and provide solutions to the gender diversity challenge in the real estate industry, and in particular, how to promote more women to the Boardroom. Hosted by RealRec, REWOMEN held its roundtable breakfast event attended by representatives from small to large companies, investment, law, tech and surveying firms.
The prominent themes that surfaced have been categorised into five recommendations: mentorship and sponsorship, data transparency, retention, training and targets. We list our thoughts below as discussion points, hoping for feedback from the industry to help power change.
Companies, regardless of type and size, should have an open forum to discuss their feelings and thoughts. We believe that this approach is less formal than matching junior with senior members in a buddy system and allows for a more natural pairing formation. Group meetings should be frequent (once a month) and have a rotating Chair, whereby the Chair can propose themes and also small projects for the group.
- To provide a forum to encourage women to find a mentor/sponsor in a natural way
- Give opportunities for young professionals to chair meetings and moderate discussions
- Provide a platform for open discussion
- Create a sense of community in the company and a sense that employees are being listened to
- Encourage women to be proactive in finding a mentor/sponsor through the platform
Points to consider
Size of group: group meetings should have a size that would allow for personal interaction. Large companies will have to split the groups into smaller working groups of a maximum 30 people.
Moderation: moderation is an important ability and not that natural, perhaps allow only trained moderators
‘Sleeping Beauty Syndrome’: We see the tendency of some people to say ‘I was lucky enough to find a sponsor who vouched for me along the way’. That’s fine, but mentors and sponsors come in different shapes and forms and we should not wait for them to find us, we should work on finding a mentor or sponsor ourselves. It is advisable seeking a sponsor who is not your direct boss, but one or two layers up, so they are more willing to take a chance on you.
“The importance of a senior person supporting a junior can have immense benefits to that person’s career”.
All companies in the property sector should be required to collect and submit information to a centralised database specific information about their workforce composition, and providing information on recruitment, promotion and leavers.
- Provide benchmarking for companies so they know their position against the industry average
- Enable the development of commonly applied practices in diversity and make the industry more inclusive
- Promote the real estate industry to non-property people and make it more attractive to a wider group than before
- Allow analysts, academics and others to undertake analysis and provide insights, including comments on the real estate workforce
Points to consider
Smaller companies will not have the operational resources to track their data and implement structured diversity initiatives so they may consistently underperform the benchmark.
Companies will only want to provide data if they think there are doing well, so there may be a bias towards already well-performing companies
Obtaining and keeping data is costly, so there should be a sponsor
Retention, as a by-product of employee satisfaction, is essential in reducing the attrition rate of women employees. We recommend the following steps:
- Part-time work schedules that are not detrimental to progression and access to top clients
- Dispute resolution in harassment and discrimination claims that is less HR oriented and less biased towards managers over staff and more supportive of staff
- Parental leave, actively promoted and supported for both men and women
- Work with women employees to develop a career development programme, but also open this opportunity to men upon request
- Improve retention rates at companies so both women and men can achieve their work/life balance objectives
- Allow for a more motivated workforce
We need to aim to get more women in the Boardroom as executives and non-executives alike. This helps foster the presence of women board members further.
Deloitte’s Women in the Boardroom report, which surveyed the efforts of 64 countries to promote Boardroom gender diversity, found that companies with a female CEO had 29% of board positions held by women. This compared to 15% in companies with a male CEO.
Although there are no quotas for women on boards in the UK, the UK government has taken measures since 2011 to strengthen the number of and role of women both in management and on boards of directors. This led to a recommendation that FTSE 100 companies aim for 25% representation of women on boards by 2015. In 2016, the review led by Lord Mervyn Davies reported that women held 26.1% of FTSE 100 board seats. (Hampton Alexander Review: FTSE Women Leaders, Improving Gender Balance in FTSE Leadership, November 2016).
The question thus arises: would the above advances in FTSE 100 companies between the years 2011- 2016 have been achieved without a formal review and a conscious push by the government?
Since 2016, however the pace of increase has slowed despite support from the UK government calling for a voluntary target of 33% women directors serving on FTSE 350 boards by 2020.
And what is the difference between the voluntary business-led approach, with a target, and an actual quota?
During the focused group session, a number of concerns arose around the term ‘quota’ which seemed to suggest a negative connotation versus the term ‘target’ which came across as a positive action. The argument against quotas is that women want to achieve success on their own merit, they do not want to be the token woman and they do not want to be faced with hostility as they have been ‘forced upon the board.’
‘I do not want to be a tick box exercise because I am Asian and working class.’
“We need quotas as women will get to show they can make a real difference, even though initially you might get very negative sentiment from conservative males if female participation is forced upon them”.
“It makes businesses have a conscious view. It also ensures that those coming back from maternity leave are back in their roles”.
‘It helps the pipeline’.
Setting targets appears to have pushed companies to increase gender diversity on their boards, however it is paramount to ensure that inclusion and diversity need to embed and integrate within an organisation’s culture. This allows the future generations to keep moving things forward. Targets are not the end goal but a necessary catalyst for change.
Across the real estate industry, businesses have launched a wide range of policies and initiatives to increase gender diversity and unconscious bias training is one of these important elements.
Unconscious bias happens by our brains making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations without us realising or being aware of their full impact and implications. Our biases are influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences. Research has found that unconscious bias can heavily influence recruitment and selection decisions. Industries are tackling this problem by having unconscious bias training implemented for hiring managers to ensure they make the right decisions for the workplace. For the training to be effective, it needs to be followed up by constant communication and dialogue between management and employees.
We highly encourage each individual to take their own initiative and sign up for training courses to aid their personal growth and knowledge. Joining a network is equally important, either internal to your firm or external, to be informed of industry trends and network with peers and seniors. The Women on Boards network is a helpful platform that provides tools to prepare women for boardroom entry, as recommended by an industry leader.
Over the past five years, we have observed a number of initiatives promoting gender equality and diversity; examples include our network, Women in Planning, Women Talk RE, Real Estate Balance, Women in Property, RICS Diversity Initiative, CREation and many others. We expect this new and exciting era for gender equality in the workplace to grow through both voluntary and corporate initiatives in the near future as our visibility expands, offering the potential for more women to fulfil their potential in the real estate market.
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