Today marks International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate women’s political, economic, social and cultural achievements while raising awareness and creating positive action about issues impacting women’s equality.
The theme for this year’s IWD is #ChooseToChallenge, a motif that I wholly support, as I strive to continually challenge gendered stereotypes and promote equal opportunities in my own company and those #realestate clients I work with.
Since I started my company six years ago, it has been fantastic to see so many real estate clients I work with adapt their behaviours, culture and recruitment processes to become more women-centric. In an industry that is still very male-dominated, good progress has been made. But there is still some way to go. RICS reports that just 15% of members worldwide in 2020 were women, with men making up the massive 85% majority of what is continually seen as a “white, male and stale” old boys’ club. Disparity drops to 1% of members who are LGBTQ, BAME or people with disabilities. Just 37% of people on nominated committees in FTSE 100 companies are women yet this is substantial when compared to Executive Directors who comprised only 8% women.
Inequality has been exacerbated during the recent Covid outbreak, with jobs being cut, employees put on furlough and extreme uncertainty around every corner. Women have faced challenges with childcare, career instability and lost opportunities, often unfamiliar to men. Despite working in an industry that’s traditionally undervalued them and denied them key opportunities, women have seen existing inequalities and inequities multiply.
But with many real estate firms starting to address issues like unconscious bias in recruitment, a key step is often to ensure that those responsible for recruitment don’t all look and think the same. Organisations like Real Estate Balance, Women in Property and Estates Gazette's “Rising Stars” campaigns are starting to address this by promoting equality and giving a voice to females in the real estate sector. Clearly, the returns for those companies who have addressed the lack of diversity have benefited financially. For example, companies with women on their boards not only outperform those without by 25%, but they see higher-than-average returns on all key measures, such as 42% greater return on sales, 53% better return on equity and 66% higher return on invested capital. These figures cannot be ignored and must make those in senior positions sit up and take heed.
As a female entrepreneur and founder of a successful commercial property recruitment business, I try to shine a light on areas of recruitment bias that may have been missed and on opportunities for change in organisations; in other words, I #ChooseToChallenge the imbalance of female voices in the room. I partly owe this to having some amazing women role models growing up and throughout my career. My mother carved her own path by establishing a chain of furniture shops by the time I was born in 1981, in a traditionally very male-dominated arena. It was my mother’s success that inspired my father to set up his own business at the age of 46. She instilled in me the same belief that women and men can achieve equal levels of success in business. I hope this will be passed one day to my own daughter.
I also had previous female bosses in companies I worked for who inspired and paved the way for me to get noticed. Still, all too often, I saw the effects of reaching “the glass ceiling,” and senior positions that I would have expected to be given to female colleagues were given to male colleagues instead. Worryingly, this is echoed repeatedly in stories I hear from female candidates in the real estate sector.
Attracting and retaining a more diverse workforce helps increase returns, investment and revenue. Supporting other women has never been so crucial for future female real estate leaders. This IWD, I will #ChooseToChallenge the “status quo” in real estate organisations I work with and increase knowledge of recruiting a more diverse workforce amongst clients. For me, helping female candidates achieve their career goals is an essential piece of the missing jigsaw. So I urge you, this IWD, to challenge, empower and champion women and their growth in the real estate industry. How will you #ChooseToChallenge?