The property industry is making “important strides” towards gender balance according to a new report - and it says more respect for genuinely flexible working would help further.
A report for campaign group Real Estate Balance and carried out by PwC says too few players in the wider property industry have adopted diversity and inclusion as a business-critical priority.
The report involved 844 property industry employees and 52 companies who took part in a survey and draws on face-to-face interviews with seven chief executives.
Kaela Fenn-Smith, managing director at Real Estate Balance, says: “Senior leaders across real estate feel passionately about creating an inclusive property world and their commitment to meaningful change is serious and genuine. 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. Our report highlights both the scale of the problem and the work that still needs to be done in order to move the dial in terms of gender diversity. Our report brings this urgent and compelling issue to life in a powerful way.”
A similar study carried out by Real Estate Balance and PwC in 2017 highlighted a real estate sector struggling to make headway on gender balance.
This earlier study concluded that the stereotype of a predominantly white, male and privately-educated sector no longer reflected the make-up of intellectual talent coming into the real estate industry.
Despite this, representation of women in senior leadership was much lower than comparable industries such as banking or asset management.
Barriers highlighted in the 2017 report ranged from a lack of role models and openings for advancement alongside a reluctance to see flexible working as compatible with senior positions or open to men as well as women.
The underlying challenge was a culture in which unconscious bias was “ingrained” and which needed ‘adjusting for modern day business’.
The campaign group says that against this background, the progress highlighted in the 2019 report is therefore encouraging.
This includes greater availability of flexible working programmes. Organisations are also more likely to have explicit policies in place on diversity and inclusion and have action plans and management training underway.
However, the proportion of employees who believe that their company deals extremely well with gender issues has fallen from 64 per cent to 53 per cent. However, 85 per cent of employees believe that actions taken by their companies to address gender issues are important to their job satisfaction, up from 69 per cent in 2017.
The group says policies are not currently taking what it calls “the stigma out of flexible working.”
It says: “A key part of this is challenging the assumption that ‘flexibility’ simply means reduced hours. This is achieved by seeking to promote ‘agile’ ways of working, which may be part-time or full- time, and are flexible in where and when work is carried out. It is also important to challenge the assumption that flexible working is solely an option for mothers – staff at all levels of an organisation can and should be part of a broader shift towards more agile working arrangements. Promoting senior role models, men and women, who work flexibly can provide a useful way of confronting stereotypes.”