What am I worth? It’s a question that women in workplaces up and down the country have been asking themselves in recent months as they consider the implications of the gender pay gap.

Colette O'Shea

As we, as an industry, look to address the unacceptably high gap, perhaps there’s another question we should be asking ourselves: what do we value and how do we demonstrate that?

Does the property industry value the status quo more highly than the benefits of a diverse workforce? It’s a tough question because the right answer, the answer we all want to hear and believe in, has wide-ranging implications.

If we are serious about addressing the diversity issues that are deep-rooted within our industry, serious action is needed. We need to change workplace culture. We need to change approaches to flexible working.

We need to change recruitment criteria. We need to change the perception of our industry. We need to change. And change is difficult. It’s uncomfortable, it’s unsettling and the benefits can take time to appear.

But the need to change is real because the disruption facing our sector is real. The way we live, work, shop and spend our leisure time continues to evolve, as does the technology we surround ourselves with every day. Not just that, but the expectations on business from customers, communities, partners and their own people are changing. Diversity of thinking is critical if we are to respond to these challenges.

Office Meeting

Source: Shutterstock/ Pressmaster

The gender pay gap represents just one aspect of diversity, but if we are failing so spectacularly to achieve equality for a group that makes up more than 50% of our population, then it doesn’t bode well for broader inclusion.

The gender pay gap is a stark reminder of the lack of female representation in our industry and, in particular, in management and leadership roles. But it’s about more than just a lack of women in senior roles. It’s about the choices women are making, from as early as when they are at school and throughout their careers.

At Landsec, we’re trying to address the issue of career choices by working with local schools on a project to inspire girls and young women to consider careers in the construction and property industries, and I’ve spent some rewarding afternoons witnessing huge enthusiasm and engagement with the project.

But when these girls and young women look at our industry, what do they see?

I hope they see an industry where they can make a tangible, demonstrable difference to people’s lives through the buildings and places we create – from hospitals and schools to office buildings, shopping centres, homes and community spaces. The places and environments our industry creates are an intrinsic part of daily life, and we need the brightest talent to ensure those places are inspiring, engaging and futureproof.

But what if, instead, young women see an industry that is stuck in the past? What if they look to their future and can’t find the role models they seek in our sector? We are losing talent and we will continue to do so unless we can solve this.

The easy part is identifying the need to change. The real challenge is how we make that change. I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does. That’s why it’s so important that we come together as an industry to share our ideas, our initiatives, our successes and our failures. We also need to take individual as well as collective responsibility. The industry’s reputation sits with every one of us. So ask yourself the question: what are you doing to bring about change? And next time you speak to your peers, ask them the question too.

Colette O’Shea is managing director of the London portfolio at Landsec