Why are women still under-represented in leadership positions within commercial real estate?

March 4, 2021
Written by: by Ginny Gibson, Professor Emerita, Henley Business School, Reading University
This was a question a group of inspirational women from the CREW UK network discussed last week at a roundtable.  We were reviewing data from the  2020 CREW Benchmark Study on Gender & Diversity in Commercial Real Estate  where the evidence shows that 38% of UK respondents stated that there were NO women in senior positions within their specialism. This means, there are very few role models or trail blazers for other women to follow!  When asked why more women are not represented at the top table, the most significant barriers to career success were gender discrimination, lack of promotion opportunity, the choice to maintain work-life balance, the lack of company mentor or sponsor, and constraints resulting from family/parenting responsibilities.

No one around the table was surprised by this, however recognised the double bind; senior executives in their own organisations extoll the benefits of flexibility and measuring performance by outputs.  Yet when push comes to shove, it appears that the more visible an individual is, the more likely they are to be offered opportunities to progress.  Presenteeism was still seen to be rife, which when you are trying to balance multiple roles, becomes a real obstacle to advancement. 

We recognised that cultural change is going to take time and were hopeful that, in the aftermath of Covid 19, things will move forward.  The potential for greater flexibility and more remote working has been truly tested during the last year and, although there is a real desire to go back to the workplace, we were also nervous that some of the bad habits of the past might slip back into play. So, given the theme of this International Women’s Day #ChooseToChallenge, our first challenge is to all managers in commercial real estate to continue to see the positive value of flexibility and recognise the contributions of all (whether or not they are in the office!)

This, however, is not the whole story. There was also a recognition, that we as women can do more to help ourselves.  A tendency to say “yes” to too many things, wanting to excel at all we do rather than be good enough, and wanting to please all the people around us were traits we knew sometimes got in the way. So again, in the spirit of #ChooseToChallenge, we gave ourselves several challenges.  The first are things we should to less of – trying to be perfect and pleasing everyone all of the time - while the second are the things we should do more of – asking for opportunities, speaking up and most importantly supporting other women!  Happy International Women’s Day!