Property Australia

The power of flexibility in property


The secret to driving diversity through the property industry is to focus on flexibility, says Stockland’s CEO of commercial property and outgoing president of the Property Council in NSW, Louise Mason.

Stockland recently made the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s exclusive list of Employers of Choice for 2019 for the ninth consecutive year, and was applauded for its efforts to achieve 50:50 gender equality in managerial roles by 2020.

Among Stockland’s industry-leading initiatives are an 80 per cent plus return to work from parental leave target, which is consistently outperformed. Last financial year 91 per cent of women who took maternity leave returned to the company.

Stockland also actively encourages male employees to take parental leave. Forty seven per cent of men who had parental leave in the last year took it as primary carer leave.

Parental leave and flexible working are now a “given” not just at Stockland, Mason says, but across a host of companies and industries. “The conversation has to be about flexibility for everyone,” she says.

When Mason started her own family, her husband took time off, something she says was “quite ground breaking at the time”. She acknowledges that many women “looking up the ranks worry whether they could do it, so we need a range of models of flexibility for both men and women”.


Creating choice and flexibility

Mason’s career journey began after studying law at Macquarie University.

“Like most people, I didn’t know that a career in property existed. I knew that I didn’t want to practice law, but I saw my degree as a point of difference.”

Mason landed a graduate position in the minerals section with the Hooker Corporation before taking a retail property management role with Lendlease in 1989.

Moving up in the ranks in Lendlease, Mason held management roles in development, asset management and investment, before joining AMP Capital in 2005 as head of development for shopping centres. In June 2018, after two and a half years as chief operating officer of AMP Capital Real Estate, Mason was appointed to lead Stockland’s commercial property business.

Mason points to the “tangible and relatable nature” of property as one of its great attractors. “Everyone is part of a community and uses buildings every day.”

The broad scope of career choice is also a plus. “It’s an industry with many career choices. I hope our industry is giving people more flexibility too, to dip in and out while they have children or do something different for a while.”


Why diversity delivers

As she’s risen through the ranks, Mason says she has always looked for diversity of thought.

“We genuinely get better outcomes when we have diverse teams. Seventy-five per cent of retail customers are women, and 95 per cent of buying choices are made by females. If you don’t have women providing their input into the way we build, we get things wrong,” she adds.

This is a message that resonates not just for gender balance, but also across generations too, and she says the input of millennials is “incredibly important”.

“It doesn’t matter if you are the least experienced person in the room, property is something we all experience – and a graduate’s opinion can be just as valuable as someone with 30 years’ in the business.”

Attracting young talent is mission critical. “I do believe that women need to foster and support other women and be quite deliberate about it,” she says.

Programs like Girls in Property play an important role in the industry’s future, Mason says, and recounts her own experience of talking to parents of her daughter’s friends.

“One woman told me her daughter wanted to be a town planner, but she had discouraged it as she’d get better leave if she became a teacher. Our challenge is not just to show girls in year 10 that there are careers in property, but their parents too.”

Employers need to widen their net when it comes to capturing talent.

“It’s just as important to go to the psychology school as the engineering school. We need people from all backgrounds. Technical skills are needed in parts of the business, but people skills are necessary in others – and as you rise up the ranks, people skills are often the most important.”

Louise Mason is one of 20 women in property featured in Grow the Talent Pool, a report developed by the Property Council and EY in 2018 to continue the conversation on gender representation, diversity and inclusion in the property industry.