Property Australia

How can your company become an Employer of Choice?


 Ahead of International Women’s Day this Friday, Employers of Choice from around the industry reflect on the strategies that have driven change and their next steps on the diversity journey.

A host of high-profile construction, real estate and professional services firms working in the property sector have made the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s exclusive list of Employers of Choice in 2019.

WGEA recognises companies that meet benchmarks in seven focus areas: leadership, strategy and accountability; developing a gender balanced workforce; gender pay equity; support for caring; mainstreaming flexible work; preventing gender-based harassment and discrimination; and driving change beyond the workplace.


Business-as-usual, not box ticking

Mirvac made the list for the fifth consecutive year and was recognised for a swag of initiatives, including a shared care parental leave policy that offers 20 weeks paid leave for primary carers or four weeks paid leave for partners, as well as continued superannuation contributions during unpaid leave.

Mirvac’s co-head of human resources, Kristen Sweeney says her company has “seen a change in culture” arising from policies that require teams to report against targets for women in senior roles, maintaining the zero per cent like-for-like gender pay gap, maintaining 50:50 Board gender representation and requiring 50:50 gender balance in shortlists for senior roles.

“If you want to make meaningful change you have to address the culture and make inclusion business-as-usual rather than just a box-ticking exercise,” Sweeney says.

“The best way to start is to bring gender equality into all conversations and business decisions – it has to become part of the DNA. We have seen significant change in Mirvac from taking this approach, and while we still have work to do, we are very proud of what we have achieved.”


Innovation supports inclusion

Five companies made the 'real estate services' category: Dexus, Frasers Property Australia, The GPT Group, Scentre Group and Stockland. Lendlease was represented in the professional, scientific and technical services category for the eleventh year running, and the group’s CEO and managing director, Steve McCann, has played a pivotal role in driving gender equality as a Property Male Champion of Change,

Stockland made the list for the fifth consecutive year. Managing director and CEO Mark Steinert, who is also a Property Male Champion of Change, says Stockland passed a “significant milestone” in 2018 by meeting its 40:40:20 gender diversity target across all levels of management.

“Although we’re on the way to achieving our goal to achieve 50:50 gender equality in managerial roles by 2020, we can’t become complacent and we’re constantly looking at innovative ways to make Stockland a more inclusive place to work,” Steinert explains.

Stockland recently trialled a virtual tool that allows employees to experience workplace exclusion, for example. The developer uses a ‘blind’ screening process to remove gender bias during the recruitment process and has analysed job advertisements to ensure language used is gender neutral and inclusive.

Stockland’s push to encourage male employees to take parental leave is also working, with “an increase of 47 per cent of men taking primary carers leave,” Steinert explains.

“This not only helps fathers bond with their children and support their partners in their careers, but also helps them as managers who have team members with carer responsibilities and leads to a more balanced, engaged workforce overall.”


Collective action creates change

Property Male Champion of Change Bob Johnston says The GPT Group has worked hard to become an Employer of Choice.

In the past year we have enhanced our parental leave program, increased childcare subsidies to employees returning to work, expanded access to flexible work options for all employees and encouraged all parents, irrespective of gender, to consider becoming primary carers,” Johnston, GPT’s CEO, explains.

In 2018, GPT achieved its 40:40:20 target for the top quartile of its workforce by income.

“We need to work together as an industry to address gender equality and make careers in property more accessible and attractive for women,” Johnston adds.

“The property industry does better when we work as a collective to achieve this goal. It is important that we continually challenge our biases and implement strategies to remove barriers that lead to gender inequality in our industry.”


Setting and hitting targets

Aurecon has implemented gender diversity targets for the workforce as a whole, with “particular focus” on the pipeline to leadership positions, says diversity and inclusion manager Penny Rush.

“In 2016, we had 26 per cent female representation in our workforce and we set a target of 30 per cent by 2020. We achieved this target earlier this year and are now looking towards 40 per cent,” Rush explains.

Aurecon applies a “gender lens” to all its policies and processes, from talent attraction and management to flexible working, and from shared care parental leave to leadership development for high potential women.

The policies are bearing fruit. Since implementing the shared care parental leave policy in 2017, the proportion of men taking parental leave has risen from seven per cent to 22 per cent, Rush says.

MinterEllison, meanwhile, has a 30 per cent target for both female partners and female board members by 2020.

“Real change comes from a top down approach,” explains Virginia Briggs, managing partner for infrastructure, construction and property.

MinterEllison has a “visible commitment” to gender equity at both the board and executive levels, and this, Briggs says, is central to embedding diversity and inclusion throughout the organisation.

“Our gender leaders recognise the importance of engaging externally too, in industry events and with clients, to drive the gender conversation in their businesses and more broadly across all industries. We pride ourselves on starting and facilitating conversations with our clients, and sometimes even challenging their diversity and inclusion policies as we see issues such as gender as an essential element in their organisations’ overall success.”


A proactive approach pays off

Dexus CEO and Property Male Champion of Change Darren Steinberg agrees that “gender equality is good for business” and says his company has “seen the benefits that diverse perspectives have had on quality decision-making and performance”.

Dexus has formalised flexibility, has introduced continuous superannuation payments to primary carers throughout their leave period, and has set a 40:40:20 diversity target for senior management roles by June 2021.

Meanwhile, Norman Disney & Young, a Tetra Tech company, has made WGEA’s list for the first time with a proactive approach to gender diversity.

In 2018, NDY launched several diversity and inclusion initiatives which CEO Stuart Fowler says have been “welcomed by our people with a significant uptake in staff being able to work more flexibly and purchase additional leave to balance work and personal life”.

In just the last year, 10 per cent of NDY’s Australian employees have started formal flexible work arrangements, Fowler adds.


Accountability and action

Scentre Group’s Peter Allen says WGEA’s public recognition is “incredibly important” and confirms “our ongoing work to systematically address issues of gender equality in our workplace is successful”.

“I’m pleased to say that all Scentre Group people today are paid fairly and equitably, without any gender bias, our parental leave policy is available to all new parents, we recognise and reward people on their merit and we embrace flexible working,” Allen says.

“As a Property Male Champion of Change I will also continue to encourage industry change so we can expand the talent pool and ensure greater numbers of women enter the industry and are supported to pursue leadership positions,” Allen adds.

Allen’s fellow Property Male Champion of Change Rod Fehring, Frasers Property’s CEO, has one last piece of advice for other companies at the beginning of their diversity journey.

Fehring says being an Employer of Choice is “about being accountable, not hiding from uncomfortable truths and most importantly, fostering a workplace environment in which women are empowered to lead”.

The Property Male Champions of Change, represented by Lendlease chief Steve McCann, AMP Capital's global head of real estate Carmel Hourigan, EY's managing partner for real estate and construction, Selina Short, and the Property Council’s chief operating officer Kathy Mac Dermott, will be part of the United Nations' Commission on the Status of Women in New York next week.