Thirty years ago, the world of real estate was largely the preserve of men, with very few women in senior positions to be found in the industry.

Emma Cariaga

Slowly but surely, we have seen gender diversity across the sector improve, particularly at a senior level. While this is, in part, due to an increased focus on corporate social responsibility, we are seeing that it can also have a positive impact on performance. It is now widely acknowledged that businesses fare better when their workforce truly reflects their customer base.

I recently read a fascinating report by McKinsey called Diversity Matters, which looked at the relationship between diversity levels and companies’ financial performance. The numbers speak for themselves - companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.

I chair the Women’s Network at British Land, where our workforce is split 50/50 between men and women, and three of our board members are female. But we’re not just focusing on women in the business for the sake of it - we know that it makes real business sense and has a tangible effect on our performance, as the McKinsey report reflects.

Apart from its positive effect on performance, we also believe that focusing on diversity is socially the right thing to do. Our recruitment processes include a commitment to diversity and gender equality, a policy to employ the best candidates in every position regardless of sex, race, age, religion, marital status or disability. To improve the diversity of our sector, we support Reading Real Estate Foundation’s Pathways to Property Summer School, encouraging a broader range of young people to consider a career in real estate.

We have a strong focus on creating ‘Places People Prefer’ at British Land - this means creating environments where people want to spend their time. We want our workforce to be representative of our end users, allowing us to understand what our customers want and helping us to create environments for everyone to enjoy.

To that end, last year, we set up the British Land Women’s Network, which aims to not only retain our talent pool but also to attract other women to the business by demonstrating we are an employer of choice for women who want to develop their careers.

From a standing start, the Women’s Network is pushing ahead with a varied programme of activity. We have several initiatives in place, including a pilot mentoring programme that sees bespoke mentoring sessions of British Land women by senior management. Key to its success will be opportunities for reverse mentoring as the cross-team experiences provide exposure and insights into how other teams operate.

We also have seminars for staff and guests with external speakers. To our launch event, we invited Vanessa Vallely, who started the networking site, helping City women connect and grow both professionally and personally. We will also host a series of ‘In conversation with…’ events at which speakers from outside the industry will talk about their own experiences.

Crucially, our network isn’t about closing the door on our male colleagues and ignoring what they think; on the contrary, we encourage participation from both men and women. We strongly feel that, if gender equality in the workplace is going to be taken seriously, it is not just about women talking to each other; it is about creating a platform where both sexes can learn from each other, share knowledge and experience, and move forward together.

Emma Cariaga is project director at British Land