With gender equality a business imperative in addition to being a human right, many leaders in the property field wonder how we can get there.

“Having more women in leadership roles makes good business sense,” Ken Morrison, the CEO of The Property Council has said. “The question now is how do we best and most quickly achieve it.”

So here are a few tips, based on insights from behavioural economics, to help with the changes needed in the design of our champion property organisations for gender equality.

Professor Iris Bohnet, director of the Women and Public Policy Program, co-chair of the Behavioural Insights Group at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, and visiting professor at the United States Studies Centre led a workshop last month and offered insights for the Australian property industry. That industry’s poor performance on gender diversity has seen the establishment of the Property Champions of Change.

According to Bohnet, it starts with the CEO. Good reputations matter more to women then men (64 per cent compared with 54 per cent), and their CEO’s reputation influences their decision to stay at the company.

We all have unconscious bias. We were given details of the famous Heidi Roizen and ‘Howard Roizen’ case study. Heidi is a successful venture capitalist and she has became a famous Harvard Business School case study, not because of her success or merits, but because the class professor decided to change the name on the study to ‘Howard’ and see what happened. Half the class was given the case study with Heidi’s name on it; the other half was given exactly the same case study with Howard’s name. The class was asked what they thought of the entrepreneur. Howard, they liked: he was the kind of guy they would love to work with. But Heidi? They saw her as selfish and not ‘the type of person you would want to hire or work for.’ The only difference was gender.

Given that we all have unconscious biases, the skill is to recognise and revisit the stereotypical norms and ideas we have to ensure we remain open to the individual and opportunity in front of us and do not react to our preconceived notions. It’s hard for us to ‘unlearn,’ but practice helps to make it easier to assess new information – the good news is you can update your beliefs.

In the workplace, women who try to negotiate like a male are not well-liked. Women are typically not good negotiators unless they are doing it for someone else! Women should have a sponsor that can help them with their negotiations.

Women should present this bias at their salary review discussions and address the pay discussion openly.

The fact is that often women will not apply for a role that doesn’t have a transparent and non-competitive salary scheme. If women have a better sense of standards for salary, that helps them.

Do away with the “potential performance” evaluations – they are not predictable and will only increase bias and diversity issues.

Interestingly, there is no evidence that diversity training delivers results for improved diversity. Women’s Leadership Training only makes women adopt male styles which often work against the stereotypes, and that does not often bode well, as seen in the Heidi and Howard case study.

The facts show that diverse groups do not feel good – discussions that involve diverse perspectives are not easy. But better results and decisions come from diverse groups. If you have an non-diverse group, then it can help to break into multiple smaller groups and have them come back and talk about what was discussed to bring diverse thinking. At the very least, ask one group to be the devil’s advocate. This will enable more points of view to be expressed. Why? Because gender diverse teams outperform homogenous (all male and all female) teams.

When hiring people interview sequentially, we need comparisons. We always compare, so help people calibrate by comparing real info.

Interview tips:

  • Use formal process for structured interviews to detect talent
  • Stick to the same questions in the same order for each candidate
  • Score immediately afterward
  • Compare across questions
  • Calibrate across interviews
  • Don’t do panel interviews

Consider implementing a performance indicator for managers to incentivise them to do interviews and reward them on the results. For example, make it so the number of interviews they do gets them KPI points. You can also give them more KPI when the candidates they recommended perform well.

Role models have a significant impact, as do pictures and photos of these role models. Paintings and photos that are all men reinforce a non-diverse culture and hint at the environment norms in which you operate. Remove and refresh your images.

Never ask workers to perform self-evaluations, and never have questionnaires that require people to have put themselves in boxes – priming identity often just reinforces stereotypes.