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Equality is improving but we still have a long way to go

In one of my first Property Week columns, I wrote about the need for greater diversity and gender equality in the industry. For this I was heavily criticised by many senior individuals, who took the time to call me and tell me I was wrong.

A little over four years on, International Women’s Day, which was marked last week, and the approaching deadline for companies with 250 or more employees to publish their gender pay gap prompted me to examine whether the situation is improving.

Looking around the boardroom table in most meetings, the ‘male, pale and stale’ stereotype still tends to ring true. And the Presidents Club dinner, at which 10 of the 21 tables were reported to have been sponsored by real estate businesses, is a recent example of how outdated attitudes towards women still prevail. So how do we improve gender equality in our industry?

It is certainly true that there is often a lack of applications from women for senior property roles, as confirmed by our recruiters. However, we have to delve deeper to understand why and to tackle this issue.

Part of the problem is that too often men do not share the responsibility of childcare equally with their partner. I, too, have fallen short in this regard and my wife – a working GP – has taken upon herself too much of the effort of raising our children.

Giving birth occurs intermittently from when women begin their careers all the way through the critical stages during which they are climbing the corporate ladder and reaching senior levels. And frequently, it is only the mothers who prioritise childcare over their career, even if only for a period of time.

The introduction of shared parental leave in 2015 aimed to level the playing field and enable women to resume their careers more quickly by sharing their leave with their partners. Yet studies have shown that just 1% of new parents are using the scheme. Clearly we need to find a way to shift traditional attitudes or change the way this scheme is designed in order to reap the benefits it could offer, as well as looking at new ways to encourage more equal sharing of responsibility.

Separately, the clubby atmosphere of the industry and the prevalence of old boys’ networks not only risk deterring women by making them feel unwelcome and out of place, but also tend to make it harder for women to enter and develop within the industry. Fortunately, organisations such as The Association of Women in Property are trying hard to promote equality and give women the support they need to progress in real estate and construction.

Research by the Women’s Business Council has shown that the UK economy is missing out on more than 1.2 million new enterprises due to the untapped business potential of women. The difficulty female entrepreneurs often experience in securing funding for business ventures was why we invested in AllBright. This collective for working women provides tailored training, co-working space and access to funding for female founders and executives, helping to redress the balance by giving women a female network to rival those of their male counterparts. It supports female business leaders and executives keen to take their companies and careers to the next level.

There are some fantastic women in senior positions across our industry, but unfortunately they remain few and far between compared with the number of men. With research by McKinsey & Co showing that businesses with a good balance of men and women are 15% more likely to outperform competitors, a balanced and diverse workforce is not just a utopian ideal; it is vital to creating better businesses and a better society, and we all need to do better.

Jonathan Goldstein is chief executive of Cain International

This piece was first published in Property Week on 16 March 2018

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