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#BalanceForBetter: Gender Equality in Australian Property


The quest for gender balance within the Australian property and real estate industry is in a period of transition. Despite often being considered as a male dominated career path, recent research indicates that women now make up 52% of non-leadership positions across the spectrum of property career paths including facility, workplace, governance, leasing, and sustainability roles. This has led 70% of women in property to view the industry as becoming more inclusive.

However, as we approach International Women’s Day 2019 it’s clear that there is still plenty of work to be done. With a mere 25.9% of senior Australian property leadership positions held by women, only 28% of women believe that they will achieve their desired level of progress, versus 51% of men.

The case for pursuing gender balance amongst those senior leadership positions has been conclusively made. According to a CREW Report, businesses where women account for the majority of top management have shown superior sales growth and higher cash-flow returns on investment. The report also found that diverse teams are smarter, scrutinise other members’ actions more closely and tend to be more innovative.

We are striving along with the rest of our industry to create opportunities at all levels for our female employees. Our 42% female representation within our Australian executive team is a great start, but there’s more work to be done.

I sat down recently with leaders from Cushman & Wakefield to discuss the opportunities for women across the industry:

Suzanne Jones, Head of Supply Chain, Engineering and Asset Management, Cushman & Wakefield

Antonia Foweraker, Director, Office Leasing, Cushman & Wakefield

Christina Owen, Associate Director, Tenant Advisory Group, Cushman & Wakefield

Natalie Fisher, Global Account Director BHP, Global Occupier Services, Cushman & Wakefield

How well is progress being made towards gender equality?

Suzanne Jones: When I first started in property almost 20 years ago I was quite often the only woman in the room, and when I moved to Facilities Management roles only 8 years ago I was still dealing almost exclusively with men. There has been a noticeable increase in the number of women in Facilities Management (FM) roles in the last 5 years and those women are starting to move in to management positions. With that we are seeing a tangible change in the industry culture and direction, with an increased focus on relationships, service and the creation of increasingly diverse teams.

Natalie Fisher: Women are slowly starting to make progress into the executive management levels in the Property and Real Estate industry and also as heads of these functions in other industries, however with some notable exceptions, the roles tend to be the ‘traditional’ female dominated roles, such as Marketing and HR.

How are approaches to women in leadership changing?

Antonia Foweraker: Organisations are now moving from ticking the compliance box regarding gender diversity to experiencing firsthand the benefits of employing a gender diverse organisation. The Cushman and Wakefield leasing team has 33% female representation, which is the most gender diverse leasing team in Sydney. Our team was created organically with no target to achieve a higher proportion of females moreover a target to employ the best operators, regardless of gender. Within a short period of time, the Cushman and Wakefield office leasing team are now the number 1 team in Sydney. I credit a significant part of this success to our teams’ culture which ultimately provides our clients an improved range of perspectives and skills. A fantastic differentiator from our competitors.

Natalie Fisher: The areas of IFM, Workplace, Occupancy Analytics and Change Management typically see women driving high performance, economic growth and innovation, particularly as the property industry looks to ‘experiential performance’ rather than purely the operational and economic performance of a building. Women are bringing diversity of thought, problem solving, creativity and innovation to the property industry and as we already make up a significant portion of discretionary spend (75% globally by 2028), it makes sense to include women at all levels of an organisation as we become increasingly influential customers.

Christina Owen: Multi-faceted approaches are being adopted to address pay equity, support career development and promote flexible work and caring; thus advancing gender equality and increasing the number of women in leadership roles.

These approaches and changes are successful because it is being led from the top with diversity being stated as a core value in many business strategies.

Other initiatives such as The Male Champions of Change and the 40:40:20 campaign have emphasized the commitment by Corporates to embrace gender diversity and importantly close gender gaps in hiring and promotions.

Business leaders are also waking up to the fact that real estate requires skills such as strategic vision, emotional intelligence, critical thinking, creativity, innovation, empathy and trustworthiness. These are all traditionally considered as traits that women excel in.

At Cushman & Wakefield we understand that closing gender gaps and attracting female talent correlate with improved company performance.

Suzanne Jones: As the number of women in leadership roles has steadily increased so has the pace of change and complexity of business environments. It’s no longer enough to manage outputs and performance and women are well positioned to succeed in a world where leaders need to be intuitive and adaptive.

What career advice would you give other women in commercial real estate?

Suzanne Jones: There are obvious pieces of advice that I could dole out about planning and skills and ongoing learning, but I think that the following are far more important:

  1. Actively work on your health, self-awareness and resilience. Your physical and emotional wellbeing is critical to your success. Work out, do yoga, laugh a lot, meditate, take time to think positively about yourself, know what you stand for and read everything!
  2. Nurture Relationships. Build genuine relationships with people in your working life: ask about their goals, seek to understand their motivations, remember the names of their loved ones and think about how you can be of service to them in their professional life. These are the people who will support you, share knowledge and opportunity and help you shape your life and career.
  3. Throw your hat in the ring. when an opportunity arises for you to take on a more senior role, learn a new skill or do something out of your comfort zone don’t say ‘no’ because you’re scared or think you haven’t earned the opportunity. Be brave.

Natalie Fisher: I firmly believe it’s important to do what you’re passionate about. And if you don’t know yet what that is, try lots of different things until you understand what makes you jump out of bed each day. I landed in property because I discovered I liked to solve problems and create systems and processes to help things run smoothly.

One of the most important things I learnt was that I didn’t need to know how to do everything in a job description before I was qualified to do it. Women generally aren’t good at pushing themselves beyond their self-imposed boundaries, so surround yourself with positive men and women who believe in you and encourage you to strive for your goals.

Antonia Foweraker: Be confident in your ability to succeed. Too often, women lack confidence that makes them pause and slow down. If you are engaged and proactive at work you will ultimately be engaged in your life. Its important to take advantage of the flexibility afforded to you in the modern workplace to make the most of your career and your personal life by being present in both.

Christina Owen: Don’t be afraid to ask for help – seek a mentor and take advice from someone who’s going in the same direction you want to go in.

How are you helping to grow equality in the real estate industry? Join the discussion on our Twitter using the International Women’s Day 2019 hashtag #balanceforbetter.

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