Property Australia

Property's gender push starts to pay off


After four years of driving the diversity agenda, the efforts of Australia’s 21 Property Male Champions of Change are starting to pay off, according to the latest Grow the Talent Pool report.

Grow the Talent Pool, a report developed by EY and the Property Council, assessed the industry’s evolving attitudes to diversity and inclusion.

More than 2,600 employees in 18 organisations were surveyed, while 20 women in diverse roles and different stages of their careers were also interviewed.

The report found that eight in 10 men and seven in 10 women believe the industry has become more diverse and inclusive in just two years. Forty-three per cent of men and 29 per cent of women believe the industry has become “much more diverse and inclusive”.

Unpacking the findings at a launch event in Sydney last week, EY partner Selina Short and special adviser to the Property Male Champions of Change pointed to the importance of diversity as automation reshapes the world of work.

“The World Economic Forum estimates that 42 per cent of task hours will be done by machines by 2022,” she said.

“In this febrile environment, we can’t focus our attention on tweaking business as usual. We need innovative thinking. And that innovative thinking is powered by diversity.”

The 21 “brilliant minds” around the PMCC table “realise the commercial imperative of attracting and retaining the best talent is critical to their very survival,” Short said.

Normalising flexibility

Since 2015, the group has established “systems, practices and policies to support greater gender diversity and inclusion – and these efforts are starting to pay off”.

Workplace flexibility was an obvious area of progress, with the percentage of women attracted to property because of its flexibility rising to 22 per cent – up six points in just two years.

The report also recorded an increase in the number of men citing flexible work arrangements as a contributor to their success in property “and this is the key to normalising it,” Short explained.

Normalising flexibility and caring demanded “leadership from the top,” said Peter Allen, chief executive 

360x360 Panel

officer of Scentre Group, during a panel discussion moderated by PMCC convenor, Carol Schwartz AM.

Allen acknowledged the “stigma” associated with men taking 18-weeks parental leave, but said it was his responsibility as a leader to use “story-telling and role modelling” to break down that stigma.

“When I look at my role, I am very disappointed at some of the decisions I made where I put work before my family – and I don’t want anyone in our organisation to have that feeling,” he said.

To actively encourage more men to take parental leave, Scentre Group recently hosted an “exhibition” of positive role models, and Allen urged other leaders to be “overt” in their support for flexibility. “You can’t say it enough,” he said. “When you want change you have to drive change”.

Eliminating the gender pay gap

According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, the gender pay gap has narrowed to its slimmest margin in 20 years – but nationally, across all industries, it remains at 14.6 per cent.

In the property industry, awareness of the gender pay gap is growing among men, with 33 per cent agreeing that pay equity was an issue, up from 26 per cent two years ago. Women’s perspectives remain unchanged.

“Pay parity should be fixed immediately,” Investa’s chief executive officer Jonathan Callaghan said during the panel discussion.

While addressing any discrepancies in like-for-like roles was easy, the broader pay gap was aligned with women in leadership roles, Callaghan said. Solve the gender imbalance in leadership and you solve the gender pay gap problem.

Men continue to hold three quarters of senior leadership positions, although Short pointed out that “this isn’t unique to property”.

While men continue to obtain leadership positions in larger numbers, “female leaders are reaching leadership positions at a younger age – thus challenging the idea that you need to be a rusted-on real estate person to get a leadership gig,” Short said.

Sarah Scruby, development manager with Frasers Property Australia, said organisations need to look at “emotional intelligence and human skills” when recruiting leaders.

Fostering female ambition

“While we’ve made progress, dismantling structural inequalities that have been in place for generations won’t happen overnight,” Short said.

Having a family, for example, remains a “leadership inhibitor” for women but not for men. Eight in 10 male leaders have children, while just six in 10 female leaders do.

Men’s and women’s desire to climb the career ladder has not changed much over the past two years, but women are still less likely to believe they will achieve their desired progress. Just 28 per cent of women think it is “extremely likely”, compared with 51 per cent of men.

“This finding foreshadows further work to change cultural attitudes and show women that the property industry supports female ambition,” Short said.

Louise Mason, group executive and chief executive officer for commercial property at Stockland, emphasised the importance of “diverse voices” in a “people industry” like property.

Mason, president of the NSW division of the Property Council, conceded that it was harder to recruit for diversity, but that the rewards were great. As the bricks-and-mortar retail environment faced the e-tailing headwinds, “what better perspective than a female Millennial graduate?” she asked.

Goodbye to the boys’ club

Despite the significant progress made since 2016 in many areas there remains a general feeling that the boys’ club mentality is a barrier to women working in the property industry,” Short said.

Sixty-one per cent of women and 34 per cent of men still believe this attitude discourages people from pursuing long-term careers in property.

There is also more work to be done to eliminate “everyday sexism,” Short added.

“More than 2,000 men and women responded to our questions about everyday sexism – so we know it is real and prevalent, and that the cumulative impact often causes women to leave our industry.”

The report outlines four clear priority areas for the next year: championing change through managers; building an inclusive industry; growing the talent pool; and closing the gender pay gap.

Short conceded that “bringing about real change requires courage, grit and resilience”.

“Culturally-entrenched attitudes take time to break down. Visionary leadership, supportive policies and active role modelling will all play central roles in dismantling unsupportive attitudes and helping shape a new culture based on diversity, inclusion and innovation.”

Download the Property Male Champions of Change Grow the Talent Pool report.