As we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD) today we do so with a projection from the World Economic Forum that global gender parity will not be realised until 2133.
With this in mind, I am pleased to hear that IWD has called for the acceleration of gender equality. It is important to note that this isn’t a battle of the sexes. This is about embracing the benefit that diversity will bring to our economy. We must continue to enforce a step change in the fight for equal pay and representation to ensure it isn’t just a distant pipe dream.
According to The Lord Davies report from October 2015, female representation on company boards stood at just 26.1% (FTSE 100) and 19.6% (FTSE 250). While this is a drastic improvement it is still not reflective of our society. Looking at Women in Construction; a report published by the Office of National Statistics (ONS), women make up only 11.2% of the construction workforce - the lowest level recorded in three years. At its peak in Q2 2005 it was 13.3%. Initiatives, campaigns and greater awareness have failed to make a dent and so we see our sector skills shortage compounded by our failure to consider diversity.
Personally, I can say that real estate and the construction industry have nurtured, challenged and rewarded me for over twenty years. However it is with a heavy heart that I must admit we still struggle to attract and retain female talent. Ensuring that there is a female presence in business as noted by JLL’s Chairman of the Board Sheila Penrose means campaigning hard for flexible working for both men and women and an inclusive culture and environment where women can thrive. We must also remember to celebrate the achievements of women. The European Women in Construction & Engineering Awards, an event I have been asked to judge, is a shining example and one I am honoured to be involved in.
One of the best ways to engage female and male minds into realising the value of construction as a profession is to start in schools. The momentum behind science, technology, engineering and math, otherwise known as STEM subjects in schools is enormous but construction has come late to the table. We need to boost its profile by highlighting how new technology and evolving construction methods are making it a worthwhile career prospect. In hosting a STEM based event for schools within our JLL offices we were able to showcase our work as well as showcase the schemes transforming the London skyline. This was a great opportunity to demonstrate the value of the profession to a broad spectrum of young minds.
At JLL we are taking action attract and retain women because we understand that it makes good business sense. We are getting smarter at collecting diversity data and we are surveying female alumni to work out why they left and how to get them back. We have also undertaken unconscious bias training for senior leaders and established an in house Network to support, mentor and train women to reach their full potential.
Property is more than location and construction is more than bricks and mortar - they are both about people. Those companies, business leaders and employers who take action to make their organisations places where talented people can do their best work whatever their gender are the ones we need to celebrate today and who will be the winners tomorrow.
Helen Gough is Lead Director in the Buildings & Construction team at JLL