Shannon Conway is chair of the networking group Women in Property North West, but it is in her role as residential director at developer Glenbrook that she finds herself in a minority.
Senior positions in UK property are dominated by middle-aged white men and a report published by PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2019 found that just 22% of board positions in the real estate industry were filled by women, equating to an increase of only 3% since 2017.
“A diverse workforce is one that provides a better concept of what wider society wants and needs,” Conway said.
“If you recruit the same kind of person over and over again, you’re in an echo chamber and you can’t see the wood for the trees.”
Women are better represented in some sectors of the industry than others. Social housing firms are “women-heavy” and local government has a lot of women in leadership roles, but there is a shortage of women working in the construction industry, Conway said.
“You get men coming up through the construction route and working their way up but there isn’t an option for females in that way. They don’t consider construction as an industry to go into.”
Employing people from a range of different social and cultural backgrounds can improve a company’s 2diversity of thought” – the idea that a team made up of people who think differently to each other can lead to the production of innovative ideas and create a more rounded end product.
Conway said the number of women in the property industry has increased over the last decade but she would like to see more women in senior positions and speaking on panels at events.
“There is not some kind of misogynistic patriarchy that doesn’t want women sitting on panels, sometimes employers just aren’t aware that there are women within their organisations who want to do [public speaking].”
Then there are women who do not think they are the right person to do it, she added.
“Some women who would be amazing at it don’t put themselves forward because they don’t think they would be [amazing], or because they think someone else would be better placed when they’re not.”
In her role as chair of the North West chapter of the national networking group Women in Property, Conway is determined to equip women with the tools and confidence required to put themselves forward to speak at events.
One way in which the group is breaking down barriers with regards to the perception of women looking for jobs in the property industry is by putting on education roadshows in schools across the region to give school children role models and mentors.
Additionally, Women in Property runs a mentor programme for its members that helps people get to the next level of their careers by having a mentor within the industry who can help them.
A new approach to childcare could have a major impact in terms of levelling up the workplace, too, according to Conway. Speaking on Place North West’s podcast in May, she said women often feel guilty when telling their bosses that they are pregnant, because of the financial strain a period of maternity leave would place on the company.
“Opening up the conversation about shared parental leave would be beneficial,” she said.
“Sharing childcare responsibilities is something that both men and women are asking for now and companies that allow flexibility are more attractive places to work so they will naturally get the better candidates.”
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