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How to press for progress: Female real estate CEO sets the agenda for Australian men and women

08 March 2018 Sadhana Smiles
Sadhana Smiles

Parity is over 200 years away, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report. Happy International Women’s Day 2018!

The 2018 International Women’s Day (IWD) theme is Press for Progress, and while the stats seem bleak, we do need to acknowledge that the movement for parity has never been stronger.

There is a strong call to action globally for leaders to think and act in a gender-inclusive manner. We have had women step up and come forward with the #metoo campaign in politics, media and film where the message is clear: we are stepping up, taking control and enough is enough.

We have seen some huge gains in sports with the emergence of AFLW and local stadiums being filled to lock-up capacity. The overall gender pay gap is trending down; however, men still out-earn women by more than $26,000 per annum, our boardrooms are still dominated by men and women are under-represented in management positions.


In the industry I work in — real estate — the pay gap has increased from 2013 where it sat at 25.6 per cent to 31.4 per cent in 2017, and 43 per cent of the workforce is female and 34 per cent are in management positions. Yet the number of female CEOs across the country is poorly represented at 2 per cent.

As a woman of colour, it consistently disappoints me to see how under-represented we are at management and C-suite level. Only 2 per cent of the women on boards in Australia today are from diverse backgrounds.

If I were to make a wish list of items that I would like to #pressforprogress, then some of the following would certainly make the cut:

Parity and equality starts at home

Women currently do 4.5 hours more work at home than men; they look after their kids, elderly and the home, to name a few, with these added responsibilities often leading to breaking point for many women. More importantly, it begs the question, what are we teaching our children about unwritten expectations based on gender? They will learn from what we show them as their role model.

We need to find a way to create balance for working mums and dads.

Pathways into leadership

Pathways that have worked for men into leadership simply do not work for women, particularly when women choose to start a family. At this point, women are more likely to question themselves. “Should I be working?” “Does it make more financial sense for me to stay at home with the cost and lack of availability of childcare?” “Will my workplace support me and be flexible when I need?”

We need to ensure that workplaces embrace flexibility, have sponsors in place for talented women, have effective strategies to continually grow their female talent and work out a plan to bring women back into the workplace post maternity leave.

Mandatory organisational pulse-checks for how diverse the organisation really is

Are the colours of the community reflected in your teams? Companies should consider applying targets to achieve diversity. What is the #colourgap in your organisation and what are the unconscious biases at play? Will a white-sounding name be more likely to get an interview than a culturally different one?

Diversity is imperative to ensure that there is broader thinking, connection, culture and better decision making.

Awareness of the dialogue that follows successful women, especially when overlooked for promotions:

  • “She wasn’t ready”
  • “She wasn’t confident about the role”
  • “We looked but there were no suitable women”

The roles we give women today in businesses will dictate what they can potentially grow into, and leaders need to ensure that we are giving women the opportunity to move up the corporate ladder.

Most men who believe they are 50 per cent capable will say yes to promotions; however, women who are 80 per cent capable will still question their ability. There is unconscious bias around this as well, as men are promoted based on potential and women are promoted based on what you have achieved, and if along the way you have been labelled as too emotional, too pushy, too hard or too tough, you are unlikely to get the role. #askher — remember, when you ask a woman to put her hand up, she is more likely to ask, “why me?”

It’s crucial for business leaders to have awareness of this and encourage women to stop questioning themselves.

The economic value of countries and businesses would be increased substantially if we simply increased the participation of the other half: women. Now is the time to set in place targets that are reported on, starting with politics, why not provide incentives for businesses who create gender-balanced boards and management teams. We have done a lot of research, a lot of talking on this issue and there comes a time where actions start to speak louder than words ever could. However, we also need to ensure that the targets have a trickle-down effect and not lose focus on the front-end recruitment of women into roles.

So, 2018 #pressforprogress follows other IWD themes like #beboldforchange, #pressforparity, #makeithappen, and it is a wonderful day for women and men to gather across the globe and listen to inspiring women who are pushing the boundaries.

However, true change will only happen when, after the event, we go back to our homes, to our workplaces, to our schools and start to ask the critical questions that will drive us closer to parity. Society needs to change its thinking. Men need to drive many of these discussions and stand up with women because equality is not just the right thing or the fair to do — it is the smart thing to do.

How to press for progress: Female real estate CEO sets the agenda for Australian men and women
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Sadhana Smiles is chief executive officer of Harcourts Victoria, the state division of one of Australia’s leading and well respected real estate brands.

She is also a popular speaker and presenter, and is regularly asked to speak at some of the industry’s most prestigious events, including ARPM, AREC, AREL, RELC, the REINSW Women’s Conference and the Harcourts Conference.

Sadhana is also a regular contributor to a number of national real estate journals and publications.

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