Contact Us

Real Estate Companies Think They Are Combatting Gender Imbalance. Their Employees Don’t Agree

Real Estate Balance Managing Director Kaela Fenn-Smith

There is a significant disconnect between the rhetoric from companies and senior leaders about the need to improve gender balance in real estate, and the lived experience of women working in the industry.

That is the conclusion of a new report from PwC and Real Estate Balance, Fast-Tracking Gender Diversity In Balance Across Real Estate, which surveyed 844 UK real estate professionals from 52 companies about their views on efforts to improve diversity.

The most significant finding was that the proportion of employees who believe that their company deals extremely well with gender issues has fallen from 64% in 2017 to 53% this year. This does not necessarily mean that companies have gone backward, PwC and Real Estate Balance said, but rather that employees’ expectations are rising.

Eight out of 10 employees (85%) believe that actions taken by their companies to address gender issues are important to their job satisfaction, up from 69% in 2017.

Employees are far more likely than employers to see balancing the demands of family and career, along with corporate culture, as the biggest barriers to women’s progression within the business.

On the question of culture there was a significant disconnect highlighted in the report, with 41% of employers feeling they had policies that brought around cultural or behavioural change, compared to just 18% of employees. Staff felt this was the most important factor in improving gender balance.

On the plus side, the ability to work flexibly and official inclusion and diversity policies had increased in prevalence over the past year.

Why is there this disconnect and lack of real impetus where it matters most? The survey suggested that diversity and inclusion are still seen as HR issues or even just nice-to-haves, rather than business-critical priorities. Gender balance is also often promoted through a series of piecemeal initiatives, the report said, many of which are launched in response to the latest buzz, rather than reflecting the particular issues in need of addressing within the business.

“Senior leaders across real estate feel passionately about creating an inclusive property world and their commitment to meaningful change is serious and genuine,” Real Estate Balance Managing Director Kaela Fenn-Smith said. “This enthusiasm is tempered by frustration at the slow pace of change — a frustration which is also shared by the hundreds of women taking part in our survey.

"Our investigation shows that there is a gap between the aspirations for diversity at board level and the lived experience of women working in the sector.”

In terms of how things get better, the report said companies need to focus on making sure they are measuring and collecting data on issues of diversity, and that promoting diversity is a critical part of their business and aligned with overall strategic priorities.

“Attitudes towards diversity and inclusion within real estate are changing,” PwC UK Real Estate Leader Sandra Dowling said. “But our survey highlights frustration with the pace of change and the continuing barriers to gender balance. As real estate businesses seek to translate good intentions into real progress, it’s important to ask whether gender balance is a strategic imperative within their organisation and whether they have the targets, measurement, accountability and incentives that reflect this.

"It’s also important to ensure they’re open with their employees about how far they’ve come and what more needs to be done to achieve gender balance.”