In the last 10 years of my career I’ve become an advocate for driving gender balance and embracing diversity in the workplace. I am a qualified coach and have been mentoring & coaching up and coming female talent in the industry (FM, leadership and now CRE) – supporting females to understand how to progress, develop and be confident in a male-dominated environment.
The boardroom is now a place where it is vital that women are represented, in fact The Investment Association (IA), which represents investment managers, has warned 94 FTSE listed companies ahead of their annual general meetings that “they are missing their gender diversity targets by failing to achieve 25% female representation on their boards.”
And this theme is not uncommon, both in commercial real estate and other industries, many leadership teams are unable to embrace female leadership and continue to under-represent on a wider scale.
What is it like to be a woman in a male-dominated industry?
After years of stasis the commercial real estate model is now becoming more progressive, with conventional models of real estate procurement and operation now becoming flexible. A new breed of workspace has emerged in the form of co-working but the sector still has a long way to go to become more reflective of society, particularly amongst its leadership.
Bisnow recently did a series of short stories, from a range of anonymous women within CRE, varying from those feeling that “CRE is a completely male-dominated industry and you have to fight through that.” to others stating “I really don’t believe that my gender defines me in my field.”
ONS data shows that women in construction account for just 12.4% of the current workforce and if we are to meet the onerous targets for housing construction in a post-BREXIT Britain then we will need to increase the number just to ensure that there is enough labour involved in the absence of EU migrants.
But the “male dominated” industries are not limited to just property and construction - finance, media, private equity, venture capital and many others continue to have a lack of equality.
In fact, within FTSE 100 companies, only 7 have a female CEO. Actually, there are more people called David and Steve leading FTSE 100 companies than women and ethnic minorities.
Altering the view on feminism
The view of feminism can sometimes be alien to what it represents, there’s a misconception that feminism is angry women, taking radical (and often, albeit misconstrued) aggressive action towards a male-dominated environment.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth; I continue to be disappointed with the reaction to feminism, which is nothing more than a drive for equality.
Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Mayer, famously said, “I don’t think I would consider myself a feminist… I do think feminism has become, in many ways, a more negative word.”
But how can we drive feminism in a positive way?
The truth is, that whether you’re male or female, if you believe in equal rights, equal pay, a fully inclusive board, then you’re a feminist.
The media portrayal has damaged what the meaning of being a feminist is; a continuous flow of extreme cases tends to be more “clickbait” which dirties the word, when there are masses of stories of women, and men, working towards an equal environment in the most peaceful, and effective, ways.
In an article on Gazelle, Lina Elmusa clearly highlights that “Feminism is the movement that aims to secure equal rights for both men and women. Feminism is not, as many have come to think, aimed at rejecting men and making them feel uncomfortable.”
And that’s it; feminism is just a strive to make things equal, across all walks of life.
What is driving the underrepresentation of women?
All you have to do is Google, “why are women underrepresented” to find a stream of articles dictating why there’s a need for more women in politics, property, science, tech, and the list goes on.
The biggest companies in the world are, arguably, some of the biggest offenders; within the FTSE 100, only 7 companies have women as CEO’s, in the Fortune 500 there are only 24, dropping by 25%, in 2018.
But why is this?
Will Brookes, Managing Director of Raconteur, recently penned an article about the mistakes he made as a leader in terms of overlooking diversity “I think lots of people are just stuck where I was – closed minds, looking backwards trying to justify. Listening, maybe, but not hearing.”
Gillian Tans, CEO of Booking.com, recently featured in an interview with HerStory where she said the underrepresentation isn’t just an issue with companies, but a wider problem from education “The gap for women in leadership roles is actually widening, not narrowing. It demands a lot of attention. Overall, you see more men than women in technical roles. There’s not even enough women that are studying these topics, so it’s not something that companies alone can fix.”
Leadership is evolving – and so are the requirements of being a leader
Leadership is evolving rapidly as the requirements transform; a leader now should embody empathy, collaboration, accountability, empowerment, honesty, integrity and communication.
Brookes wrote: “And finally the penny dropped. I don’t think or feel the same way a woman does, for example, because I’m not a woman. I’ve never been one, so how could I think like one, or truly understand women’s views? And if I’m not a woman, and I don’t think like a woman, I can’t represent women at the board table.”
Research shows that diverse leadership teams’ deliver better results, a recent study found that there was a 19% increase in revenue for companies that have a diverse leadership team, as found by Boston Consulting Group.
The study also reported that "increasing the diversity of leadership teams leads to more and better innovation and improved financial performance."
There is a war on talent, attraction and retention is a key part of successful business – make it gender balanced and you are onto a winner.
Women in the Workplace
There is also a valid discussion around the workplace itself and its appeal, or otherwise to female workers. A survey of the lobbying group Women in Property produced some interesting research.
When asked if “more could be done for office space to appeal to female workers”, 21% strongly agreed, 34% agreed and only 11% disagreed. A clear majority of female workspace professionals believe that the end product itself needs to evolve to be more inclusive. But I will save more of this research for a future blog post.
A War for Female Talent
I have been mentoring a graduate program at the University of Surrey for the past 2 years to support young talent coming into the business world, a role that been both a challenge and a privilege.
I note from this experience that there is a war for talent that is only increasing in intensity - attracting and retaining talent is a critical to successful business. Further to this though, if companies could do more to keep females in the workforce, by improving pay structures, increasing flexible working then half the battle would be won already! And we would have the enticing prospect of a more balanced and fair society.
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