On International Women’s Day – 8 March – London Property Alliance hosted a roundtable to share experiences, best practice and discuss 2023’s theme of ‘equity versus equality’. Gathering a broad spectrum of ages, experiences, genders and disciplines from across the Alliance’s membership – and chaired by Sue Brown, Managing Director at Real Estate Balance – attendees were invited to share their insights on the topic.
The session began with a presentation on the meaning of equity from Anne Sloper, Head of Organisational Effectiveness at Grosvenor Property UK, who explained that despite equity and equality often being used interchangeably, they are in fact very different. You can view Anne’s presentation slides here.
In simple terms, equality is about giving everybody the same, while equity is giving people what they need to achieve the same result. For example, if equality is giving everyone a shoe, equity is giving everyone a shoe that fits.
When it comes to gender in the workplace, in particular equity between men and women, the stark reality of the difference is both experiential and financial. Highlighted in research by PwC who surveyed 22,000 women in the global workforce, they found a significant gender empowerment gap, and that at current rates it will take over half-a-century to close the gender pay gap.
Women’s issues are often closely linked to milestone experiences such as childcare, and more recently menopause. For all the best intentions, this risks sweeping women’s issues into one homogenous group: the biological. The disparity between genders, and how women in business are treated is closely tied to cultural perceptions of traditional femininity, and as the roundtable progressed, the discussion highlighted the complex and nuanced problems faced by women in business from the early onset of their careers.
‘Getting through the door’ was one of the initial stumbling blocks faced by women when trying to succeed in a property-focused career. In the anecdotes given and the best practice shared, the importance of offering opportunity was stressed, and this came into a number of different categories:
Our roundtable attendees were conscious of the importance of presenting a diverse workforce and spoke on their organisations’ efforts to improve inclusion. Real Estate Balance’s 2022 survey highlights the priority that candidates and employees value in Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) in their job satisfaction.
The group discussed educational barriers within the property industry, in particular the length of time needed to become qualified, trained and financially stable in one’s chosen discipline – especially for those from less privileged backgrounds. This inevitably has led to a lack of diversity in senior management positions.
The importance of having an ‘intersectional’ approach was raised. Many women face additional barriers to inclusion and professional success from racism, ableism, homophobia or classism. As a result, some will need more support – such as additional resources or training – to help level the playing field, as well as educating other staff on unconscious bias and using inclusive language.
Attendees agreed that early outreach with the wider community was crucial in breaking down barriers and assumptions about the property industry for young people. Fantastic work is being done by the Young Westminster Foundation and 2-3 Degrees, who provide opportunities for young people to engage with, and better understand, real estate companies and careers.
Hiring quotas can be valuable, but are widely misunderstood. There was a discussion on the need to improve communication on why quotas can be useful for the teams hiring, those being hired, and existing staff. Internal and external communication was seen as being crucial in changing the narrative and driving change.
The extent of the issue can be seen in Real Estate Balance’s 2022 industry survey where they found that although gender balance at a Board level of property companies had improved from 20% to 30% between 2016 and 2020, it has been flat declining since 2020. Additionally, the gender gap between middle management and senior leadership in real estate careers had worsened since its first survey in 2016.
Despite the many challenges we discussed, our roundtable agreed that meaningful progress has been made in past 20-30 years, especially on workplace policies which support working parents, and the stamping out of overtly discriminatory practices and sexist language. Some young women feel incredibly supported and included by their male colleagues, and our attendees agreed that DEI and social value are increasingly talked about and prioritised within companies.
Whilst progress on gender equality has certainly been made, we still have far to go on delivering genuine equity for women and men at work. We do not all start from the same point, be that the opportunities we are given or the resources that are available. When women are given the support they need, companies become more diverse, resilient – and ultimately – more successful.