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Building a future for women in property

There is a large body of accepted evidence demonstrating companies with higher percentages of women in leadership perform better on a wide range of financial metrics, from return on equity to return on sales and invested capital.

" Looking back, the industry shaped and encouraged me to be 'one of the boys' in order to get on. I didn't think anything of it at the time."
Kate Langan, Group General Manager Property, ANZ

The property sector is no exception to this. It's a professional world of which i have been a part for 30 years and while I've seen the involvement of women increase, it has been at a glacial pace.

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Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show about 13 per cent of working women are currently employed in Australia's property industry, compared with just 7 per cent participation when I started out.

Yet that increase is just under half the pace of change we see for women's participation in the workplace overall with roughly 14 per cent more women joining the workforce over the same period.

Research by EY in 2014 shone an uncomfortable spotlight on the property industry's divided and disjointed approach to gender parity. It's a must-read report for aspiring women in the property sector.

Being outnumbered doesn't diminish the value of women in property; success in this male-dominated industry is about recognising your business value and being authentic.

LAYING FOUNDATIONS

For me personally, changes to the secondary school education system in the UK afforded an opportunity to study technical drawing, a vocational subject generally only offered to boys. It was an early passion that lead to my career as an architect.

When I think back, roughly a third of my university intake was female. (It's worth noting I was the first girl from my school to elect to study architecture.)

It's a studio-based education with some practical work; I vividly recall spending a term at trade college learning the basics of how to lay bricks, plumb and tile roofs. I can't recall the girls being any worse at it than the guys – in fact I do recall, rather immodestly, some of my brickwork being the best!

I've practiced as an architect in the UK, in the United States, in Hong Kong and in Australia. It's always been a male-dominated workplace for me so as a young professional it felt like the norm.

I consciously wore trousers for most of my career as a way to cope with unexpected site visits and, looking back, the industry shaped and encouraged me to be 'one of the boys' in order to get on. I didn't think anything of it at the time.

I've since learnt in a corporate enterprise you don't have to be 'one of the boys' and, in fact, there is great value in being as authentic as you can be.

MAKING AN IMPACT

I've always sought to understand the businesses I've operated in and the different perspectives I can bring. I know I, like many women, can have an impact on the bottom line.

A study published by Thomson Reuters in 2013 analysed levels of board gender diversity across 4,000 public companies around the world and found a strong correlation between mixed boards and better returns.

In 2014 Credit Suisse reviewed 2,400 companies worldwide, finding companies with at least some female board representation outperformed those with no women on the board in terms of share price; the average return on equity (ROE) being 4 percentage points higher than companies with no women.

According to McKinsey, the business case for women in leadership improves every year as they bring improved decision making, creativity, innovation and better problem solving to boards by increasing cognitive diversity.

Women improve the ecosystem, helping company leadership better match the profile of customers and employees. And when three or more women make it to the top team, studies have shown, a company's organisational health appears to improve in every business dimension.

There is no evidence property is any different.

TIPPING POINT

With so much empirical evidence, the property industry has found itself at a tipping point between knowledge and understanding. The industry needs to move from a mindset of 'we know gender diversity is important' to 'we understand and embody in our attitudes and behaviours the business imperative of gender diversity for our industry'.

Energy and intelligence is required to tackle the issue of women in property leadership roles. Men and women need to consciously work together to accelerate change and catch-up on lost ground.

EY's report argues if property professionals pursued gender diversity with the aggressive focus devoted to closing a real-estate deal, the financial benefits could be substantial.

All members of the property profession need to leverage the opportunities available to them. This means embracing and appreciating diversity in the workforce and, for women, irrespective of gender bias, loving what you do and bringing your whole self to work.

I'm very fortunate to have a leadership role in the property industry and to support women wishing to work in or succeed in real estate. I love my job, working in teams, working with a huge range of people in all aspects of property, supporting my colleagues, listening and taking advice.

Sometimes women have to take a risk to venture into something new - even the male-dominated bastions. My technical drawing teacher who encouraged me in 1978 to participate and contribute, irrespective of my minority voice, had the foresight we all need to embrace.

Kate Langan is Group General Manager Property at ANZ Banking Group

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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