I make no apologies for stealing a wonderful and highly apposite quote from a recent article in The Times by Anne Boden, founder of Starling Bank and leader of a government taskforce on the lack of women in the investment community. “The problem,” she said, “is not the women. Stop trying to fix the women. Fix the system.”

Liz Peace

Liz Peace is chair of Real Estate Balance

That, of course, is exactly what Real Estate Balance set out to do when it was founded almost nine years ago by seven women in the property industry who could see an awful lot of organisations trying to ‘fix the women’ through the provision of networking events, mentoring and professional development.

Unfortunately, nobody was actually looking at what was wrong in the companies themselves – and particularly what caused many women to leave mid-career, before they had the chance to compete for top jobs at senior executive level.

Don’t get me wrong. I absolutely agree there is a place for events, training and support groups to help women tackle the challenges of work-life balance, inherent corporate prejudice and confidence-building – and well done to the many organisations that endeavour to provide that.

Nobody was looking at what was wrong in companies and what caused women to leave mid-career

But as I look back on my involvement in Real Estate Balance – soon to come to an end when I step down from my role as chair on 1 May – I’m immensely proud of how we have tackled the perceptions of the C-suite and made sure companies from chief executives downwards take a critical look at their organisation and what they need to change to achieve a more balanced workforce.

How did we do this? In the first instance, by making sure we had good data and sound research to show CEOs just what they were missing by not having a better, more gender-balanced workforce. But perhaps most significantly, we were able to use our contacts to talk to a large number of CEOs we knew personally and would give us time in their busy diaries to make the case for doing more.

Femael CEO leading meeting shutterstock_681211267 Jacob Lund

Source: Shutterstock / Jacob Lund

Change at the top: Real Estate Balance has championed women’s progress in property up to CEO level

To be fair, in many instances, we were pushing at an open door. The new breed of property bosses could see what they were missing by not having a more diverse workforce, and were concerned at the cost of losing so much female talent early on before these individuals were able to make any dent on the male-dominated senior executive level.

Facilitating change at CEO level

Creating communities of interest to explore the challenges to female progression, providing case studies, developing our brilliantly comprehensive toolkit and working strenuously to build on the early data sources we’d used to evidence what was actually happening in the industry all helped to focus the CEOs on what they needed to do to facilitate change. I’m immensely proud of what our members have achieved in terms of their own gender diversity.

Of course, no organisation, least of all one that was set up to promote change, should get stuck in the rut of their own creation and we have evolved substantially since our foundation in 2015. We now promote all aspects of diversity, not just gender.

Given the enormity of this task and the brilliance of other organisations out there championing the cause of different protected characteristics, we don’t aim to do it all ourselves. Instead, we work with and through these organisations, promoting what they offer and signposting our members – now at 128 corporates and still growing – to them.

We are also looking at what the industry needs to help it on the next phase of its diversity development. In direct response to the comments of our CEOs and other C-suite supporters, we are working on a simple but informative benchmarking process, based on our very successful biennial survey, which will allow companies to understand where they stand on key diversity measures compared with an industry average.

There is, of course, still plenty for my successor to get their teeth into: as an industry, we are still on a journey and there are some issues it is proving hard to crack – not helped, of course, by the impact of the pandemic.

But I am delighted that the real estate world looks very different to the one I found when I joined back in 2002, due in no small part to the changes championed by us seven Real Estate Balance founders and the fantastic supporters we have recruited to our cause.

Liz Peace is chair of Real Estate Balance