We have a problem. According to PwC, the average gender pay gap in real estate improved by 3.8% in the newly reported 2018 figures but the sector continues to have one of the highest pay gaps among all UK industries at 28%.

Kaela Fenn-Smith

However, the data only tells part of the story, and reporting the gap might even be negatively – and unfairly – affecting the view of how many equally paid women there are in our workplaces. I suspect that, as well as a gender pay gap, there is a ‘perception gap’.

Talking to former colleagues – a small group of men – we discussed their company’s newly reported gender pay gap figures. The results were disappointing to them and their female colleagues because the figures were at odds with their personal experience.

To quote: “I’m surrounded by senior women in our business who lead and hold the power to make decisions.”

So is gender pay gap reporting a true reflection of how women are represented in our businesses? Probably not.

With each year, the pressure to close the gender pay gap will only intensify

Firstly, the way the numbers are reported are far from perfect. It allows some companies to show that their problem is not as bad as it is in reality, while others are not able to promote positive progress.

For example, in partnerships, equity partners’ pay is not required to be reported in the figures. Alternatively, if you take bonus figures, for example, they do not allow for part-time measurement, where there is a good story.

Gender pay gap

All that being said, I do believe gender pay gap reporting is increasing transparency by shining a light on the problem.

It tells a powerful story about the prejudices that continue to exist in our sector and highlights the work that still needs to be done to change the historical norms that we are biased to believe will always be this way. This direction of travel is vital.

We need to feed the pipeline of women into senior roles so they can gain the experience to run our property companies.

We need to recognise that this means growing and retaining women in the highest-paid revenue-generating and value-creation areas of our businesses because history will show that these are where our leaders come from.

Our pipeline is leaking and it is in these critical areas that we are not retaining our female talent. Not sure where to start? Look at your data, figure out where your problem is, cascade the message as a business priority, set targets and make people accountable.

If developing this homegrown talent takes too long, we can also recruit from outside the industry. Real estate businesses today need innovation, tech solutions, financial acumen and customer service skills, none of which are born out of a chartered surveying qualification. We also know that leadership skills at senior and C-suite levels are transferable across sectors and, quite frankly, we need a fresh approach.

Gender pay gap reporting is not going away and, if anything, with each year, the pressure to close the gap will only intensify. The more progress we can make together across the sector, the better our reputation as a whole.

Kaela Fenn-Smith is managing director of Real Estate Balance