How to pave the way for women in real estate

Women play an integral role in real estate purchases. Not only are women more likely than men to own our homes, we are also the key decision-makers in 91 per cent of property purchases.

Research shows that female clients prefer dealing with female agents when buying or selling a property. This is, in part, due to the perception of women being more attentive and better listeners.

However, women only account for under 44 per cent of the real estate workforce and hold fewer than 18 per cent of key leadership positions.

As a female real estate agent with more than 25 years of industry experience in Sydney and Melbourne, I have seen how women in real estate have taken huge strides forward in recent years. The industry is beginning to realise the value female estate agents can bring to the workplace, and how we can shape the client experience.

I often say that I’d like to leave the industry in better shape than when I arrived. In order to accomplish this, the entire industry, from agents and directors to board members and shareholders, need to support women in real estate.

Female agents and directors, such as myself, also have a role to play in our industry and show exemplary leadership to those who will follow in our footsteps. Here’s how I propose we do it.

Taking responsibility for change

In the past, we’ve been caught up in questioning why there aren’t more women in real estate, rather than focusing on what we can do to make real estate a more appealing career choice for women.

We should be encouraging career progression for women at every level of our organisations, from new entrants to those who already have a foot in the door. While it’s easy just to pay lip service to the concept, we need to be actively enabling women to take up the opportunities we present them.

For example, managers and directors should support the women in their teams with the right training, and equip them with the knowledge and confidence to step up to more challenging or diverse roles.

Additionally, we should be sitting down with female agents on an ongoing basis to provide them with feedback and to discuss their career progression. While we should be doing it with all staff members, this type of process will encourage women in the industry to set their own professional targets and metrics for success, and enable them to continue to excel.

Offering guidance and mentorship

Formal or informal mentorship programs are a productive way of inspiring younger generations within the industry. Assigning younger members of the team to a more experienced female colleague for mentorship not only breaks down any perceived barriers in organisational hierarchy, it also helps younger recruits to see the routes of advancement.

I have previously mentored up-and-coming agents. They often came to me as their sounding board, and I could discuss with them anything from daily tasks to career progression. These sessions were a great way for them to start to discover their voice and talk about things with a supportive, external person.

Just as important is the impact a mentoring program can have on organisational culture. It generates a cycle of ‘giving back’, where a young female agent receives mentorship from a colleague and goes on to offer this same level of support to new female recruits as their own career develops. It also enables an open and friendly atmosphere, in which members of staff are able to discuss their successes and areas for improvement in a constructive and supportive way.

Similarly, it’s worth looking at the mentorship opportunities available outside your organisation. For example, the Property Council runs a number of leadership courses for women who work in the industry, as well as social events such as cocktail parties and lunches. These events provide the perfect opportunity for female agents to upskill and, crucially, to network and broaden their pool of industry contacts.

Acknowledging the barriers women face in the workplace

We should enable our female employees to stay with us as their personal and professional lives develop, but our current working processes remain too rigid and are unaccommodating to female agents in particular.

At present, just over 16 per cent of companies in the real estate industry have a flexible working strategy in place, which helps employees who have family or carer commitments outside of work. These responsibilities still typically fall to women, and the lack of a flexible working strategy in the industry continues to present a major barrier to them taking up more senior opportunities.

I know from personal experience that offering flexible work hours is possible. My first assistant was a single mum with two boys in their tweens, so it was really important for her to be able to pick them up from school and attend events at school. We found solutions, such as working from home, so she could juggle both work and family.

To overcome these barriers, we must ensure the industry is accommodating of people’s out-of-work commitments. This might mean offering part-time work, flexible hours, the option to take on fewer listings, or allowing people to work compressed weeks. Female leaders in real estate organisations should take responsibility for bringing up the need for more flexible working conditions with senior management if we are to see any progress.

Overall, we’re making great headway levelling the playing field for female agents, but there is still a lot of work to be done and we can’t afford to lose momentum.

One of the real estate industry’s attributes is that it is full of intelligent, respectful and supportive professionals. By working together to translate some of these wonderful qualities into workplace policies, we can foster an environment that paves the way for future female agents to reach their full career potential.

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Jenny Dwyer

Jenny Dwyer

hockingstuart Sandringham director, Jenny Dwyer, is a highly regarded real estate agent in Victoria. She is ranked in the top 10 in the REB Top 50 Women in Real Estate for 2016.

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