Louise Brooke-Smith, Immediate Past President at RICS, explains the growing role women will play within the property sector as gender diversity proves it's worth in gold.
Gender diversity in real estate – what’s not to like
Inclusivity and diversity are the new buzz words across a range of professions at the moment but perhaps most exciting is their application to the property sector – a sector that has dragged its feet in terms of realistically embracing the idea of social inclusion in general and gender balance in particular.
Yet in this age of skills shortages, diversity is now recognised as presenting a real competitive advantage for property companies, whatever their size. This means removing the cultural and socio economic barriers of entry and waking up to the fact that the sector needs to replace an aging, declining membership.
Numerous reports are currently assessing the anticipated changes in the land, property and construction industries for the next 20 years and attracting new blood into the property sector is a key area. So rather than simply highlight the problem, who’s doing what, to address it?
Attracting a diverse workforce has been the focus of an ongoing RICS campaign, Surveying the Future. This illustrates the breadth and range of careers in the industry. It supports the view that recruitment should be from across the spectrum, regardless of gender or social background. The industry can’t continue to fish in a very small pool.
The positive business case in support of a diverse workforce in the real estate sector is also good news. It’s best illustrated by the Ferguson Partners study of 160 Real Estate Investment Trusts which found that those with at least one woman on their board for more than three years produced clear growth in profits.
So how do we make the industry attractive? Well we spread the word of its breadth and depth; we work with academia, parents and guardians to get the message out to those making career decisions that the built environment is well worth considering. Initiatives such as Class of Your Own are doing just that.
But for the sector to see a positive change it needs to hit at all levels, including the need to adopt cultural change and remove unconscious bais. We know that in some parts of the industry, women frequently feature strongly in entry level and administrative positions but numbers drop off dramatically further up the ladder. The reasons include a lack of flexible working, a detrimental company culture, and a lack of visible leadership on the issue.
The RICS Inclusive Employer Quality Mark, launched at one of the most comprehensive conferences on the subject earlier this year, is inviting organisations to sign up to six main principles, covering leadership and vision, recruitment, staff development, staff retention, staff engagement, and continuous improvement. The take up is impressive and there seems to be a real buy-in and passion for change by those at the top, not just the HR community.
When CEO’s buy into this, and link the diversity message and gender balance to company performance, then we are well on the way to seeing real change. This can become a driver of business success, economic growth and investment returns – who wouldn’t want to be on that journey!
So, let’s embrace diversity as a positive and important strategy of any business, but particularly in the property and construction sectors, where we have some catching up to do.
★ Don’t miss Louise Brooke-Smith MIPIM UK this autumn as a panellist in the conference session Women in real estate: biases, barriers and breaking through
Louise Brooke-Smith is Director of Brooke Planning Consultants Ltd and Immediate Past President at RICS Dr Louise Brooke-Smith, BSc(Hons), DipTP, FRICS, MRTPI.
She has been awarded the Outstanding Woman in Construction Award Winner 2015 and Winner of the National WoW Women in Construction Award 2010. Connect on Twitter! @Lbslouise
Image credit: Sergey Nivens