Diversity is so much more than simply promoting or even employing more women, according to CEO for property management at Harcourts International Sadhana Smiles, and it’s not just the responsibility of women and other minority groups either. There are a number of ways men can support and promote diversity, be progressive and move the industry forward.
Ms Smiles said that, at the moment, whether it is in Australia or on a global level, most leadership roles are held by men.
“If they are to change the current paradigm, those leaders have to make deliberate decisions around their business requirement for more diversity,” she told REB.
“Whether it is more women, more people of colour, whatever it looks like, but ‘I need more diversity and I am going to take a deliberate decision as a leader to do that’.”
Ms Smiles pointed to earlier research by McKinsey and PricewaterhouseCoopers that found businesses with a good mix of diversity are 35 per cent more profitable than those without it.
Men working at managerial level have a role to play too, she said.
“You may be working for an organisation where everybody who is a general or senior or middle manager is a bloke. In these sorts of environments, it is imperative for those men to say we need diversity of thought in here, and to do that, we need to make some deliberate decisions to bring other people into this environment,” Ms Smiles said.
“Because if we don’t, then we are perhaps not going to be as effective as managers as we want to be for the organisation. Because our organisation is full of men and women, not just full of men.”
Ms Smiles said that another way for men in power to help is to sponsor women.
“Men in senior management or leadership positions can sit down and have that conversation with women around ‘this is your career path and this is what we would like you to do’ and ‘we understand you might go and have babies and we understand you might need some time off during school holidays and we understand you might need some flexible hours because you have young kids and four times a year they do have holidays, and you know we get all of that. So, how do we work with you to create an environment that this is going to change?’”
She also said that typecasting can be an issue, which is problematic.
“Far too often I hear the language from people in organisations with female leaders, saying, ‘Hey, you are a great leader, but you come across as too strong. And you might need to work on that, change some elements of that because some people don’t like that confidence in you’.
“I’ve dealt with so many men who are strong and so many men who are confident and do they hear that same conversation? Or, do they hear that it’s great to have a strong leader in place?”
Ms Smiles said that it’s important to be aware of the unconscious language that is used.
“I think I’ve got to a point now where I challenge people and say, well, okay, if you think that I am not good in that area or I am too strong, then I need you to give me specific examples of that.
“And how subjective is it to the person who is saying it, right? Because, at the end if the day, you might be strong because you are working in an area where everything has gone to dirt and you need to be strong.”
She said that context is important.
“I think that if somebody comes across strong 100 per cent of the time, there may be an issue there. But if someone comes across as strong when it is necessary and empathetic when understanding is required [that is a good thing], and Jacinda Ardern is a perfect example of this.
“To be a good leader, you need to have times when you are steely and you need to have times when you are empathetic and you need to have times when you are vulnerable.
“But you can’t be labeled for those.”