In a study on women’s career paths in the real estate industry conducted by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Women’s Leadership Initiative (WLI) in partnership with global professional services firm EY, the report’s authors provide several recommendations to foster women’s career success. The publication, entitled Advancing Women in Real Estate, focuses on creating diverse and inclusive workplaces for women in Asia Pacific and was launched at the ULI Asia Pacific Summit in Singapore today.
The research draws from a survey of nearly 300 women who are real estate and land use professionals in Australia, China, Hong Kong and Singapore. These locations were chosen because they have the largest concentration of women working in real estate in the Asia Pacific region. In addition to conducting the survey, WLI conducted numerous one-on-one interviews with employees at major real estate and land use organisations and developed a case study with a real estate organization in each of the four locations.
Key findings from the study include:
Conflict with family commitments is seen as the main barrier to women’s ability to achieve success. More than half of survey respondents indicated that the tension between workplace commitments and family commitments is the main barrier that prevents women from achieving professional success. Hong Kong had the highest percentage of respondents (60 percent) that deemed this conflict to be the number-one barrier. The case study on Shanghainese company Powerlong noted that they are deploying broader, more formal solutions directly aimed at working mothers, including on-site nursery services, breastfeeding facilities and an organic garden.
Fifty percent said that being formally provided with generous family leave and workplace flexibility is critical to their career success. However, a large percentage indicated that they do not receive these benefits. In Australia, by contrast, the Mirvac case study revealed that the company had flexibility initiatives in place. They were broadly embraced after senior management—and both women and men—started visibly promoting the initiatives.
Informal support systems at work play a key role in women’s professional success. Seventy-three percent said that having relationships inside their organization as well as finding senior-level sponsors within their organization who advocate for them are critical to their success.. In Australia, for example, the Mirvac case study, demonstrates how the company’s national marketing manager credits the support of her current manager, who understands her need to balance work and family, as being integral to her career progression and she has implemented an informal flexibility program within her own team resulting in positive impacts to the business.
Almost half of the women surveyed said that companies providing technical skills training and development programs are critical to achieving success. However, simply offering these programs is not necessarily enough to ensure their success; leadership must also support these programs.
Only about half (47 percent) aspire to jobs in the C-suite or running their own business. The data reveal significant differences depending on the respondent’s location. In Singapore and Australia, 58 percent and 62 percent of women respectively surveyed are striving for the C-suite or entrepreneurs/sole proprietors. In Hong Kong, this number is 44 percent, while in China, it’s 23 percent.
The study also developed recommendations that organizations could adopt to create more inclusive workplaces. These recommendations include:
Providing challenging job assignments: In the Hongkong Land case study, Wendy Chim, a senior property manager, said she takes it upon herself to provide her employees with opportunities to work in stretch roles that will help them develop different skills and raise their profiles.
Create the culture: Develop a culture that places a high priority on fair hiring policies and practices, objective promotion and the development of internal and external networks — values that women rank highly in employers.
Offering flexibility: Provide flexible hours and family leave for women and men, and create a culture that allows both genders to be involved in their lives outside of work—approaches especially important for Gen X and Millennial employees.
Make mentoring and sponsorship of women a priority: In the Singaporean company Alpha Investment Partners case study, it was noted that the company has several formal programs to support employees, including leadership development programs for employees at different levels, and a mentorship program that pairs individuals with mentors from different parts of the company.
Invest in training to drive change: Support success on challenging work assignments by providing relevant training that includes women and men; leverage training and development activities to create a strong network of relationships within the organization that supports a culture of inclusiveness.
The report builds on a survey conducted by WLI in 2015 of women in real estate in the United States. The WLI’s research highlighted several differences between the United States and Asia Pacific in terms of what women value in the workplace and what they believe they need to achieve success. However, it also revealed important similarities.
When comparing the responses, company culture and internal relationships ranked in both surveys as two of the most important contributors supporting women’s professional success. In the United States, 62 percent of survey respondents indicated that they aspire to reach C-suite-level positions or to start their own company; compared to 47 percent in Asia Pacific.
“These findings illustrate that while companies are good at bringing women into the industry, the challenge lies in keeping women employed long-term. In 2017 companies should be better at enabling women to have careers and families by offering more flexibility in the workplace”, said Serena Wolfe, WLI Research Committee Chairman, ULI Trustee, and Global Real Estate, Hospitality & Construction Assurance Leader at EY.
“Diversity is good for business, particularly in real estate, given who is making decisions on where to live, consume and work. It is encouraging to see the progress being made in Asia Pacific in enabling women to participate more fully in the workforce and reach positions of influence. I hope this report provides food for thought on strategies for both employers and employees to achieve more in this area,” said WLI Asia Pacific Chair and ULI Trustee Alison Cooke, Managing Director – Real Estate, Starr International Investment Advisors.