Women In Property: Mentorship and Inclusivity Are Key to Advancing Workplace Gender Equality

This article originally appeared on Facilities Management UK.

Real estate and design and build sectors have long been predominantly male-dominated industries. In this opinion editorial, members of DeVono Cresa’s senior leadership team – Gemma Foord, Director and Head of Flexible Leasing & Consulting, Stephanie Cowles, Director and Head of Client Services, and Charlie Kent, Senior Designer at Dthree, DeVono Cresa’s design and build arm – offer their insights from over 40 years’ collective experience working within the real estate and design and build sectors.

According to the ‘Fast-tracking gender balance across real estate’ report from 2019 by PwC and Real Estate Balance, women made up only 30% of senior leadership within the real estate sector in 2019, and at a board level, only 22%. However, at DeVono Cresa, an organisation that has long focused on diversity and inclusion, 50% of heads of departments are now women.

Outside of DeVono Cresa, there has been progress in recent years with regards to gender equality in the workplace. In the design and build sector in particular, there has been an increased number of women within what historically are typically male-dominated roles, for example, pre-contracts and project management. However, despite this progress, there is still only a small female presence occupying certain roles within the industry, particularly those onsite. More often than not women are largely in the minority across the sector.

However, we believe that it is not only important to focus on gender diversity in the workplace, but equally on diversity as a whole within the commercial real estate and design and build sector. There is plenty of evidence to suggest that companies that commit to ensuring diversity are often more successful. For example, a 2015 report by McKinsey & Company stated that ‘companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 per cent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians’.

Effective leadership and mentorship are also key in helping people, regardless of gender or sector, to achieve their full potential. As a leader, it is important to recognise that every individual has their unique characteristics and therefore one-to-one mentorship can be crucial in helping people in the industry grow and prosper. With an increasing number of women in the industry, the opportunity for women leaders to support the next generation of female real estate and design and build professionals has only proliferated in recent years. By encouraging one-to-one mentorship in an organisation, we believe that companies can help to create a platform to communicate openly with more junior members of staff, which in turn will help enhance their abilities in their field of work.

It is also important to acknowledge that being responsible for teams that have very diverse functions within the business can sometimes raise questions around the differing needs and support required by men and women in the workplace. However, it is crucial to see that every individual has their unique circumstances at play, which require specific and personal attention that is predominately undefined by gender roles. We believe the growing presence of women in the property industry is welcome and that these leaders recognise that it is necessary to help support younger women by creating a platform to communicate openly or pairing them with a mentor that they can relate to within their respective organisation.

Much of DeVono Cresa’s success can be attributed to its inclusive and meritocratic company culture. As a company, DeVono Cresa has developed an open office culture where mentorship and equal opportunities for growth are available to men and women alike. Mentoring within the organisation is taken incredibly seriously and made readily available to everyone throughout the company. Senior leadership at DeVono Cresa have highlighted the importance for individuals to be made aware of this opportunity and to just simply ask for support as it is required. With 50% of DeVono Cresa’s Heads of Departments now being women, DeVono Cresa is proud to see the organisation’s aim of cultivating a diverse and inclusive culture starting to bear fruit.

DeVono Cresa is a values-orientated, ambitious business, committed to growing beyond its current success. The three of us and the wider DeVono Cresa Group’s leadership team are focused on not just adding more members to the team but are also constantly training and offering mentorship to staff. We believe that a key factor that underpins much of DeVono Cresa’s success is the company’s focus on equality and fair opportunity to all stakeholders within the company, regardless of position, gender, or length of service. The culture is also reflected at DeVono Cresa’s design and build arm, Dthree, where there are plenty of mentorship opportunities available to members of staff to help employees advance their growth and development.

The Rose Review of Female Entrepreneurship conducted in 2019 states that only 1 in 3 UK entrepreneurs are female leading to “a gender gap equivalent to 1.1 million missing businesses”. The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) cites that female-led businesses are only 44% of the size of male-led businesses on average. Male SMEs are also five times more likely to scale up to £1million+ turnover than female SMEs indicating that there is room for improvement and greater opportunities in ‘levelling up’ the playing field.

In relation to the issue of office design and layout, we have witnessed that women business owners have raised the bar in terms of workspace design and co-working space aesthetics - something that was lacking in most serviced business centres of the 1990s and 2000s. However, in the last five years, we have also seen an increased focus on budget allocation for aesthetics and design. Indeed, although front of house staff training has always been a consideration for serviced office providers, we’ve seen elevated hospitality and the infusion of sophisticated customer service behind the doors, for example, of FORA and Uncommon - both businesses owned by women.

However, the importance of office design is not just visual but also physical. As various reports have suggested, the design of an office space can have a significant impact on employee wellbeing, productivity and creativity. At Dthree, we have long spoken of the multitude of benefits concerning effective office design and are delighted that it has finally been backed up and recognised by rigorous research. The WELL Standard that has recently been introduced to the design and build industry to ensure that employee health and wellbeing lies at the heart of all office fit-out and designs is also a welcome step forward. The designers at Dthree are this year training to be WELL accredited. In 2020, the influence of design and wellbeing will only continue to rise in importance in the months and years ahead and we expect to see companies increasingly ask us how our design strategies can impact their workforces’ wellbeing and productivity levels.

Companies such as DeVono Cresa and Dthree have already made significant progress in having women reach senior leadership positions within their company. Although progress towards gender equality has been made in both the commercial real estate and design and build sectors, it is clear that more must be done to truly achieve gender equality in the workplace. Cultivating a more inclusive work environment that encourages mentorship and rejects the notion that certain jobs are for certain genders are just some of the key steps that are necessary to implement across all sectors to progress workplace gender equality.

In addition to mentorship and creating an inclusive work environment, we believe that a focused approach to learning coupled with creating a strategic career development plan within your organisation’s team will help women to get to where they want to be in their careers, regardless of the sector in which they work.