Women still struggling to crack real estate's glass ceiling

More women are sitting on the boards of Australia's leading real estate agencies but the glass ceiling is yet to crack wide open, according to prominent names within the industry.

With most of the top senior jobs still held by men, and the most recent census data (Aug 2011) showing that of 64,700 self-identified real estate agents 52 per cent were men and 48 per cent women, Jenny Birrell, general manager at Harcourts Perth, told Real Estate Business that barriers still remain for women reaching the very top positions.

"The lack of women in the upper echelons in the real estate industry indicates that a concerted effort will be required to push through the barriers that continue to limit the opportunities," Ms Birrell said.

She added that she found it difficult climbing the ladder within the industry, revealing that "there was always the underlying thought that you had to work so much harder than your male colleagues to prove your worth".

Ms Birrell believes Harcourts is far more accepting of females in senior management roles than the industry in general.   

One of her colleagues, Sadhana Smiles, CEO of Harcourts Victoria, added that there are a couple of issues at play as to why not enough women fill senior management positions.

"Is real estate male dominated? Is it a bit of a boys' club? Yes, it is, if we’re open and honest about it,” said Ms Smiles. “However, we’ve seen there are some great organisations that are giving women opportunities to step up.”

Ms Smiles admitted she's faced issues being a woman in the industry. 

"Of course I have, I’d be lying if I said that I'd never faced issues,” she said. “Even today, a number of my male counterparts at other organisations kind of look at me and go, ‘You know, how did she get the job?’ or perhaps treat me slightly differently in business or at social occasions. I openly say that, I’d be lying if I said that was not the case."

She added that she’s been very clear on the boundaries and expectations of how she's treated in business.

"There are many occasions where I am the only female around the table; I’ve made sure that I’m a bit of chameleon. So you put me at a boardroom table with a whole heap of blokes, and I know how blokes do business, and I will do business to match them," she said.

John McGrath, chief executive and founder of McGrath Estate Agents, told Real Estate Business that at the top of his business structure, at board level, two of the three directors are women.

“We believe that women are the most important sector of our markets and communities, so we lead from the top by example,” said Mr McGrath, adding that the smartest real estate companies are not only proactively hiring women in the sales field but right throughout their management in key roles to maximise their success.

“In my experience, I have found women to be far better relationship builders and listeners than men. These are two critical traits for success in sales,” said Mr McGrath.

Leanne Pilkington, general manager at Laing + Simmons, agreed the reality is that when sitting around the boardroom table, usually there’s only one or at most two women.

"When I was first promoted to general manager I did find the guys who were running the business kept on going to my owner to talk about issues,” said Ms Pilkington. "He had to consistently say, ‘No, look, Leanne runs that business’. There was lack of willingness of the men to communicate with me. I can’t tell you why. I had to work really hard to earn their respect. I’ve been around 19 years, so I don’t have a problem with that now."

Ms Smiles said she believes it’s important the industry works out how to get more women into senior roles without going down the path of quotes and targets.

“What we need to do is bring women back into the workplace. What can we do to offer them profit share or equity? We know without doubt that a business that is gender balanced is a more successful one, simply because men and women do business differently," she said.







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