Are we witnessing the end of the pale, male and stale era? Nah, probably not – not in property, anyway. But we could just be witnessing the beginning of the end.
A welcome and unexpected consequence of the Harvey Weinstein and Presidents Club revelations is the seemingly relentless momentum now behind not just calls for an end to sexual harassment (and worse) by men in the workplace but also demands for pay parity between men and women (or at least less disparity).
As Property Week went to press on Wednesday, the last handful of big companies were scrambling to get over the line with their gender pay gap data ahead of the midnight deadline to report. Many left it until the last minute, no doubt because they had little to shout about and were hoping to sneak through undetected. They’ll be lucky.
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Some of the figures reported make the BBC look positively generous to its female staff by comparison. One of the worst offenders was travel group TUI, which revealed that women at the group’s UK Airways unit earn 56.9% an hour less than men on average.
Unfortunately, the picture is almost as bad in parts of the real estate sector. As we report in our analysis, McArthurGlen reported a 52.2% gap, blaming the number of women working in lower-paid roles at its outlets. While across the sector as a whole the gap is smaller, it is hardly cause for celebration. Our analysis of the companies that have reported so far shows a median pay gap of 30.4%.
Much of the disparity can be attributed to the fact that there are significantly more men than women working in property, particularly at a senior level – who can forget the photo accompanying the announcement of Knight Frank’s new commercial board? Like McArthurGlen, some companies also have a disproportionate number of women in more junior roles. But both of these factors serve as an explanation, not an excuse.
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So what action is the property industry taking? Worryingly, for every Chris Ireland willing to acknowledge the pay gap and talk about what they are doing to close it, there are nine other senior figures who would rather bury their heads in the sand.
Pull them out, people. The pay gap is a serious problem, but not an intractable one and the more you are in denial, the more the critics will hound you, not without cause.
While progress is being made, the number of senior women in property remains pitiful. More also needs to be done to attract women into the profession in the first place. I am still incredulous every time someone tells me they would hire more women but they only account for one in 10 applicants. What is a 21-year-old pondering her choice of career going to think when she learns that men in the profession are paid almost a third more than women? I’ll pick another career, that’s what.
A hundred years after women won the right to vote, it is fitting but depressing that this should be the year a new front has opened in the fight for women’s rights. It is a battle that has to be won – because while some in the industry might not mind the gap, women certainly do.