The real estate industry is at risk of being damaged by sexual harassment, and it is a severe problem that needs to be addressed, REINSW CEO Tim McKibbin said.
The scale of sexual harassment victims in the real estate industry is unknown, but Mr McKibbin suspects many cases have not been heard as it takes a lot of courage to come forward and complain.
“Victims of the abuse just accept it as part of working there, or they leave that environment and go and work somewhere else. Both of those outcomes are unacceptable,” he told REB.
Although employers should crack down on sexual harassment in the workplace to protect their staff, there is also a commercial benefit.
“Organisations that insist on proper behaviour in their office enjoy the best performing people in their office, and that has a positive commercial outcome,” Mr McKibbin said.
“People in business want to attract the best people into their organisations. If somebody comes to an organisation and the culture there is to permit that kind of behaviour, then you won’t attract, and you won’t retain, the best people... you will have an adverse commercial outcome, an adverse financial outcome.”
If an agency does not take a stand against harassment in the workplace, consumers could vote with their feet and take their business elsewhere, he said.
“Consumers are now really giving some thought to the moral decisions that they are making when they make purchases,” the CEO said.
“They tell me that the best disinfectant is sunlight. So, if we shine a light on this, then the consumer, I think, will also bring pressure to demand that there be better standards within organisations.”
Although the REINSW has limited resources when it comes to tackling harassment in real estate, the institute can take leadership to show what a proper workplace environment looks like.
Through its Male Champions for Change voluntary charter, the institute will push for equality in the workplace.
The REINSW will be keeping a close eye on those agencies who sign the charter and will call them out if they do not follow it.
As with conferences, if there is no diversity on the stage, the REINSW will not participate.
“That will force those organisations to rethink their strategy,” Mr McKibbin said.
“While that’s not horrendous for people in relation to me, it would be a bad outcome for higher-profile speakers who would be unprepared to go and participate in a conference where there wasn’t [diversity]. And those individuals, you could beat, would make it public that they refused to go to that conference for that reason.”
Outside of being a leader that can call for change, Mr McKibbin is unsure what else the institute can do to solve harassment in real estate, noting that he’s not sure whether sexual harassment in real estate is any different from sexual harassment in other industries, which is why he thinks the issue should be left to government organisations to deal with complaints.
“For the institute to get involved with procedural fairness, we would have to go and speak with the agency, speak with the owner, assuming they’re not involved, and speak with the alleged perpetrator of the harassment. And if we did all that and we came to a finding on it, what would then happen? We just don’t have any teeth,” he said.
Although there is not a single solution to remove harassment from the workplace, Mr McKibbin is confident progress will be made, albeit slowly.
“Eventually, the pendulum will swing in this particular issue, and we will find that people who permit it to go on within their organisations will be pushed out in the cold.”