10 things I’ve learnt about gender diversity in real estate
1. There’s a tipping point on gender diversity: timing is often everything and we’ve met this issue at a moment when it is firmly on the property industry agenda. This can be the increasing heat on event organisers if they dare put forward another all-male panel or the continued rise in popularity of initiatives for women such as mentoring and a wider range networking opportunities whether by real estate discipline or pedElle’s great property industry cycling group. We are pleased to say this issue is not going away until it is solved.
2. Every company has the same diversity problem: many of our meetings have ended up with companies confessing to us their under-performance when it comes to gender diversity. Even those with women in senior positions admit that in the “middle ranks”, the situation is not good. This makes them feel self-conscious or hypocritical about being too open or vocal about the issue. I mention this not to moan but to make sure companies know they are not the only one, and that we would rather you were trying than hiding from it.
3. Companies can be too internally focused on this issue: many of the larger companies spent much of our meetings telling us about the amazing internal initiatives to support women rising through their ranks. That’s great, but why did we walk away wondering exactly who these women were? External visibility is a big part of getting representation in our industry right.
4. Unconscious bias exists: we all have unconscious biases and need to acknowledge this to educate ourselves out of them. This is my particular favourite on the topic of getting more women onto event programmes: they must have the right expertise to be asked to participate and not be chosen to satisfy the gender diversity agenda. Did you notice that extra magic hoop that women have to jump through to get on stage, whereas men are just presumed to have the expertise?
5. Men are some of our strongest supporters: I hope this would not be news to you but I mention it to remind everyone that there is no war going on here. Most men get it, both as an informed business strategy, as well as for equality for their wives, sisters, daughters and granddaughters. We are particularly fond of the husband in property who went home and told his wife in property all about us. She’s now all signed up.
6. Some women don’t get it: Gulp. There’s a very small minority of women that dislike what they see as unnatural interventions to help other women get on. They’ve worked hard to get where they are in real estate, in what they have long accepted is a “man’s world”. I don’t doubt that you’ve fought your battles but remember generations of women helped clear the path you are on. Time for you to do the same.
7. We need to be focused on expertise as well as seniority: no one can deny there is a thinner layer of female professionals at the very top of our industry. This problem particularly frustrates event organisers who can’t satisfy their need to always put female CEOs alongside male CEOs on the events stage. It’s time to be less fixated on the job title. We have a rich universe of qualified female experts, all of which would do themselves proud on any stage.
8. There is wisdom among independent consultants: in a follow-on from point 7, it’s been interesting to discover how many experienced senior female professionals work for themselves. Other than for their clients, it’s another untapped resource of female property expertise. They sit outside the ranks of established industry companies but that should not make them off the radar for events, or anything else. These women are amazing role models.
9. The female real estate network is powerful: property used to be centred on the “old boys network” but believe me, the female equivalent is now pretty formidable. News of what we have put together for Women Talk Real Estate has crackled across the industry passing swiftly from female to female. This combined with the overwhelmingly positive support from women globally has uncovered the very real strength and depth of this industry's female network.
10. Women Talk Real Estate is not “just a database”: what we’re doing has quickly unfolded as something much more than improving the diversity of faces on stage at events. Visibility of women in the industry is a powerful tool for tackling under-representation. This is about encouraging women to be more high profile, which can lead to better business and career opportunities as well as providing more female role models for the next generation.
The 150 women already signed up to the database is only the beginning. We know there are many more women out there with the right expertise to join Women Talk Real Estate. If you are one of them, please take a look at our website http://www.womentalkrealestate.org and register. If you know someone who should be in the database, please recommend us to them.
(Updated figures for Feb 2018: 354 female speakers registered, 82 event organisers and journalists using the database and 89 invites sent through the website since its launch)