Time to Target Diversity in the Property Sector

Friday, February 26th, 2016
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Whether it’s doing the hard graft on the construction site or wheeling and dealing on the golf course, property has traditionally been a man’s game.

And, according to the latest statistics from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, it still is. As at April 2015, just 11.4 per cent of the property and construction industry was female.

For all the talk about diversity, and the welcome initiatives such as the Property Male Champions of Change, we need fast and furious action if we are to make real inroads into this statistic.

But how?

The first step toward meaningful change is to recognise we have a problem – and that each and every person in the property industry has a role to play in finding a solution.

The next is to acknowledge that we all have unconscious biases – hidden attitudes or beliefs that underlie our patterns of behaviour. It’s OK to admit it – we are only human. But it’s not OK to ignore it.

Professor Lauren Rivera from the Kellogg School of Management in the United States has undertaken extensive research which has found hiring managers want recruits who are like them.

“Hiring is more than just a process of skills sorting,” Rivera said. “It is also a process of cultural matching between candidates, evaluators and firms. Employers sought candidates who were not only competent but culturally similar to themselves.”

Rivera found that, even in the cases where employees have diverse skin colours or ethnic heritage, they tended to come from the same handful of postcodes, attended the same universities or played the same sports.

In the context of unconscious bias, it’s clear management teams need to go back to the drawing board. This means taking stock of the demographics of your current workforce, so that you have a clear benchmark from which to set new goals and targets. It also means reviewing recruitment policies to ensure they are not discriminatory.

It may mean setting targets or embedding diversity into the management team’s KPIs. The latest Avdiev property remuneration survey, released in October, found that while women are increasingly the focus of specific policies to improve working conditions and pay, not one of the 150 plus property companies surveyed had set quotas to boost the number of women on the payroll. Just 16 per cent said they had set targets on gender diversity.

How can we possibly move toward something if we don’t know the direction we are headed?

I’ve been inspired by the work being undertaken by Moulis Legal’s leadership team. An experienced property law firm in Canberra, Moulis Legal is determined to be a loud voice on the issue of diversity and chief executive officer Suzanne Moulis has overhauled employment policies to ensure the firm is “walking the walk.”

“We recognised we needed to create an environment that supported the type of organisation we aspire to be,” Moulis said. “We now have a policy that clearly articulates our commitment to diversity.”

The next step is to communicate your new policy with your people, and the best way to do that is to sell the benefits.

The evidence is all there for anyone who wants to Google it. A recent paper published by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, Is Gender Diversity Profitable?, confirmed the presence of more female leaders at the top of corporate management correlates with increased profitability. The survey of almost 22,000 publicly-traded companies in 91 countries found there is no evidence that having a female CEO is more profitable, but that having more women on the board may help.

Why? Because diversity leads to better decision making.

The final step is to “live diversity,” which that means fostering an inclusive workplace where everyone’s views are heard and everyone’s skills are recognised. Moulis Legal is committed to this, and the commitment starts at the top. The firm is actively recruiting to enhance diversity because it wants to be nimble, innovative and able to respond to the unique and diverse needs of clients.

“We want critical thinking, creativity and accountability – characteristics that have nothing to do with whether someone is male or female,” Moulis said.

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