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If You’re Not Talking About Gender Equality, You’re Late


In February, Bisnow held a Women Leading Real Estate event. The room was packed. The seats were filled with both men and women, with standing room only for any latecomers.

Why? Because the real estate sector has finally woken up to the fact that it’s time to address its gender imbalance.

“It’s not just a flash in the pan,” Maples Teesdale partner Anastasia Klein said. “There is a real groundswell behind diversity. The challenge now is to make sure we don’t get complacent and we keep having conversations, both internally and externally, to keep the shift moving.”

Pressure from inside and out

The benefits of cultivating a diverse and inclusive workforce are widely documented. A happier workforce, wider decision-making capabilities and improved staff attainment are just some of the prominent benefits. However, employees have now started asking loudly enough for gender balance to be taken seriously that a dam has burst. 

A recent report from PwC and Real Estate Balance, 'Fast tracking gender balance across real estate’, found that gender balance is becoming more important to employees. More than 80% of those spoken to believe that actions taken by their companies to address gender balance are important to their own job satisfaction, up from 69% in 2017.

However, while 41% of employers felt they had policies that bring about cultural or behavioural change, only 18% of employees agree. Although organisations are starting to address inclusion and diversity, they are not addressing it fast enough.

The push for gender balance is also increasing from outside organisations, both Klein and fellow Maples Teesdale partner Dellah Gilbert said. While the government is legislating that large companies must publish gender pay gap information, for example, businesses themselves are starting to take matters into their own hands.

“At the Bisnow event, one investor said they wanted to know they were dealing with people who have policies relating to diversity,” Klein said. “Clients are increasingly expecting us to have these conversations.”

Accepting flexible working

A clear step toward achieving greater gender balance is accepting flexible working. Discussions at the Bisnow event surrounded the difficulties of finding a good work-life balance, despite the benefits it can bring both individuals and organisations. More women might return to work after maternity leave, for example, which will lead to more women in senior roles.

Not enough people know that flexible working is a government-backed initiative, Klein and Gilbert argued, and a business must have a clear reason to refuse it. It’s also a common misconception that if you work flexibly, you’re not getting as much done.

“Actually, you have to be more efficient as you don’t have the luxury of staying late to finish something off,” Gilbert said. “You probably get through more in the same time.”

The more people openly opt for flexible working, the more it will become acceptable. This is as much about changing the language used around flexible working as the policies. Rather than saying Mrs Smith will be “in late because they are dropping off the children”, this could be rephrased as Mrs Smith “starts at 10am”.

“I’ve been working part time, four days a week, for 10 years, but I got into the habit of hiding that I don’t work on Fridays,” Klein said. “The Bisnow event showed me that we shouldn’t have to hide that we have other interests — children, parents who need looking after — as it’s not helping the cause.

“Now I openly say I have to leave to get the kids to football because that’s important for my family. If you have more people at the top doing that, it will trickle down.”

Flexible working isn’t just an issue for women. For real estate to reach gender balance, men need to be as comfortable asking for flexible hours as women. At the moment, child care is still considered to be women’s domain, which is holding men back from requesting it.

“This will change over time, as younger generations coming in have different values and considerations,” Gilbert said. “For them, being happy at both work and at home is more important than for their predecessors.”

Klein added: “When more men are taking shared parental leave or taking up flexible working, suddenly it won’t be a woman issue. It will be an everyone issue.”

More work to be done

There is still a long way to go before the real estate sector comes close to achieving gender balance. A visit to last month’s Mipim conference makes it very clear that a big majority of those working in real estate are men.

“Yet again Mipim was a game of ‘spot the woman,’” Klein said. “Of the roughly 23,000 people at Mipim, women were significantly outnumbered by men. An awful lot needs to happen.”

“Organisations such as Real Estate Balance are making a difference,” Gilbert said. “But there’s an appetite for more. When one study or organisation gains prominence, others become known by association. We need to keep the momentum going.”

It is becoming clear that employees will keep pushing harder than ever for gender balance, with pressure that will only increase as younger generations enter the workforce. The tide is turning within the real estate sector and all organisations would be wise to support it.

This feature was produced by Bisnow Branded Content in collaboration with Maples Teesdale. Bisnow news staff was not involved in the production of this content.