Responsible finance, In the Eye of, Industry
Gender equality in the real estate sector: where do we stand?
25 January 2022
This is the challenge addressed in the White paper in favor of gender equality in the real estate sector (to be read in French) published by the Cercle des Femmes de l’Immobilier. Stéphanie Bensimon, member of Ardian’s Operational Executive Committee and Head of Ardian Real Estate, initiated this white paper, which was prefaced by Elisabeth Moreno, Minister Delegate for Gender Equality, Diversity and Equal Opportunities. Here she speaks about her views on the topic, and her ideas on how to boost gender equality in the real estate sector.
Based on the discussions you had in connection with the white paper, what changes do you see in the real estate sector in terms of gender equality?
It’s difficult to make a general assessment as the real estate sector covers many different situations. For example, an investment company, a construction firm or an architectural agency are not faced with the same issues and do not have the same level of maturity in the matter. But I would say that we are broadly faced with relatively long transformation cycles in an environment that is struggling to embrace deep and rapid change in gender equality. There are still fewer women working in real estate than men, either because there are not enough applicants for hire or because women leave the business at a certain stage of their career, often during life cycle events such as maternity. And certain gender pay gaps still exist. So there is still a long way to go, but we can already see positive changes.
The Engagement Charter drafted by the Cercle des femmes de l’Immobilier has received over 120 signatures, from across the real estate ecosystem (property developers, investors, architects, property managers, etc.). This proves that the sector is ready to define goals and get things moving.
Certain pioneers have already begun to focus on gender equality and undertake concrete and proactive measures to change ways of thinking : coaching programs to help employees manage their career and parenthood, extension of “talents” programs to older employees (e.g. raising the maximum age to 45 instead of 35), integration of maternity issues in corporate culture, etc. All these initiatives represent a real commitment to promoting and recruiting women.
What are the benefits of greater gender equality for the real estate sector?
Gender equality is vital for the future of businesses across all sectors. It is one of the major social changes of our time that organizations must adopt if they wish to continue attracting and retaining talent – particularly the young generations, who have higher expectations in this area.
Women have also much to contribute to businesses in terms of leadership: some refer to their ability to work collectively or a more diversified range of projects and experiences. In the real estate sector, profile diversity is particularly important: for example, how can single sex teams design housing adapted to the expectations of all types of users? Teams considering offices or homes must represent society as a whole to best assess the needs and challenges of each and everyone.
In your opinion, what priority measures should be adopted to improve gender equality in the real estate sector?
In my opinion, the priority measure, which is also the most complex, concerns the “cognitive bias” which still hinders major behavioral changes. It is a converging trend: men must learn to trust and accept a greater variety of profiles, while women must gain more self-confidence, believe in their legitimacy, assert their talent and fight against the “impostor syndrome”. The good news is that these changes are better integrated by young generations which ask fewer questions and consider young generations which consider gender equality as the norm.
The second line of action concerns women’s visibility in the real estate sphere. Some of the managers we interviewed said that they had difficulty in identifying applicants to fill certain positions. Yet, very often, these female profiles are much more prevalent than they seem – the problem is that they are not visible enough to be identified and then hired. Concrete measures need to be taken to help women to participate in more social and community events in the real estate sector – conferences, professional circles, associations… – and nurture their network to boost their visibility.
Third challenge: promoting real estate professions among the young generations to increase the pool of female employees in the sector. Businesses must be committed to secondary and higher education to form gender diverse teams. This may involve internships, raising awareness of real estate professions at open days, or field immersion. The aim is to convey passion for the profession, remove certain psychological barriers and make women want to become senior executives in the sector.
Finally, for me, the gender pay gap issue is fundamental as it is symbolic. By paying a woman the same as a man you are acknowledging her value and positioning her at the same level for promotion.
Today this situation is changing – wages are increasingly scrutinized, mainly via the Gender Equality Index – but gaps still exist. One of the solutions to reversing the trend could be, when applying for a promotion, not disclosing previous salaries and focusing on the current salary according to the experience and value provided regardless of gender or seniority. This approach would bypass the cognitive biases encountered when hiring women.