Women in property

1 min read
Published: 14 Jun 2023 7:49

The property industry has the power to define the physical landscape of our future; it is, however, equally important that it champions social progress for this generation and the next. While recent years have seen great strides towards gender equality across the sector, it remains true that only 30% of senior management positions in real estate are occupied by women. 

To improve the situation in property as elsewhere, companies must examine their working models and practice to ensure that we shift away from a pattern predominantly suited to male employees. Unbiased recruitment, flexible hours, and office spaces which work for many women can all contribute to a working environment that nurtures talent, regardless of gender. As at OSiT, where more than half of senior management positions are occupied by women, a company that places equal value on the female workforce sets itself up to harness unmatched success. 

The expectations of childcare 

Women make up less than 5% of CEOs in the commercial property industry.  While the days are gone when UK businesses openly restrict the seniority of female workers, limiting circumstances continue to exist for many women in the property sector amongst others. Only 40% of mothers who previously worked full-time did so after having children, compared with over 90% of fathers.  Meanwhile only 9% of those holding executive positions are female employees. 

While strides have been taken in recent years to bolster these figures, movements towards change have been hindered by global events – namely the pandemic. With the arrival of Covid came more than eighteen months of uncertainty around childcare. Prolonged periods in which children were required to remain at home due to school and day care closures forced working parents to split their time between career and childcare. The uneven impact of these pressures on women is seen from the fact that mothers were 47% more likely to have permanently lost their jobs as a result of Covid.  

So long as this disparity persists, employers which offer flexibility without prejudice can support working mothers to continue in their careers without compromising on professional success. 

Flexible working: help or hinderance? 

So, it’s clear that greater flexibility is vital to fostering a greater number of women in the property sector, but with the pandemic fading into the past, it’s vital that embracing “flexibility” does not become a disadvantage for workers. In November 2021, Chief Economist Catherine Mann express the belief that working from home could cause the gender gap to widen. With less opportunity to network with colleagues or showcase achievements, those who work predominantly from home risk being overlooked or undervalued by their companies. 

Moreover, this problem is a gendered one. Women who worked from home the majority of the time were 10% less likely to feel they received adequate recognition for their work than their male counterparts who spent the same amount of time working from home.  At the same time a lack of clarity and communication created by remote working can be both challenging for worker and employer, when mothers take maternity leave, for example, at a time where open coordination and planning is key. If women are to have the chance to balance their careers with their family commitments, flexible working must be truly flexible, without bias against those who choose to work from home.

If we are to truly tackle gender inequality in the sector, companies must address any and all unconscious bias around employees who decide to work on a flexible basis. In particular, taking time to assess the quality of an individual’s work can help employers overcome superficial assumptions around productivity on the basis of where people work. Formal professional development plans and opportunities are also critical to ensuring that flexible workers do not become forgotten ones.

Celebrating diversity

As is the case with many other industries, the property sector was originally constructed by men for men. To undo this innate gender imbalance, businesses must look to changing both their attitudes and their facilities. From the first stages of a job – that is to say, the recruitment process – unconscious bias can negatively impact women’s chances of success. Removing gender-biased language from job advertisements offers a step towards equal hiring. To avoid such bias, recruiters can replace a characteristic-based selection process which relies on candidates describing themselves through a particular set of terms with a work-sample testing system that shows how well suited a candidate is for a given role. 

For the property sector, encouraging and developing women to be join senior management is particularly important – especially for businesses like Office Space in Town which influence the design of workplaces. A greater diversity in senior management will have a positive impact not just on the property industry itself, but on the workforce more broadly, as the range of perspectives which arise from diverse management will help to build accessible, inclusive workspaces. 

Offices that provide facilities such as temperature-controlled areas, childcare services, and dedicated rooms for pumping breastmilk offer women a stronger chance of success, in an environment that caters to their needs as much as those of their male colleagues. As a sector so well placed to implement change, it is vital that the property industry commits to building offices that promote inclusion, and the diverse teams needed to make this happen. 

Over the past few decades, significant movement has been made to bridge the gender gap in the property sector; yet with a marked disparity between the number of men and women in senior leadership positions, the shadow of inequality continues to look over the industry. Progress requires change, and employers who are willing to embrace flexibility, rethink their office spaces, and adopt practices geared at reducing unconscious bias, lay sturdy foundations for a fairer, more diverse future.