I am writing this on Wednesday, International Women’s Day, which serves as an annual reminder that everyone in a position of any kind of power needs to consider gender equality every day, not just once a year.
As a pale, male, stale editor of an industry publication, I try to be mindful of my responsibility. It helps that I was for several years part of a construction sector gender equality campaign, in which I was gently and sometimes not-so-gently made aware of my unconscious biases.
I try, not always successfully, to be an ally. I believe equality of opportunity, equal pay and inclusive language matter. How our industry is perceived, from within and without, matters. And diverse opinions in decision-making have been proven to matter to the bottom line.
In January, Property Week joined an initiative called 50:50. This is a project launched by the BBC in 2017, which asks media organisations of every kind “to consistently create journalism and media content that fairly represents our world”.
One of the concrete steps we now take is to count how many men and women appear as experts or industry commentators in each edition of Property Week. We don’t (yet) include our news coverage because we typically have less choice about who we speak to, but we assess all of the longer-form articles, as well as columns, analysis, interviews, Q&As and our features section. We also count up the pictures we print.
We are, of course, part of an industry with skewed demographics, so the numbers make for uncomfortable viewing. In our three January issues, for example, we quoted 73 different experts in our non-news coverage, only 19 of whom were women (26%). February was an improvement, with 121 commentators quoted across four editions, 44 of whom were women (36%).
Perhaps 60:40, rather than 50:50, will be an achievable short-term goal for a property publication.
Measurement is only the first step in making an improvement. And the goals of the 50:50 project don’t stop with gender, but aim to include other characteristics in the future such as ethnicity and people with disabilities, both visible and invisible. I appreciate these may prove more difficult to quantify each month.
When we approach organisations for comment we now ask them to help us “increase our representation of women, ethnic minorities, and disabled contributors by putting forward those people in their organisations as spokespeople and authors where possible”.
To anyone who feels that this policy might be political correctness gone mad, I simply say: you are wrong. Let the facts speak. In 2017, a two-year study that tracked 600 business decisions made by 200 teams found that male teams made better decisions than single decision-makers 58% of the time. Mixed-gender teams made better calls 73% of the time. And diverse teams with different genders, ages and backgrounds made better business decisions 87% of the time.
Studies in 2015, 2018 and 2020 by consulting firm McKinsey reached comparable conclusions, based on correlations between financial outcomes and boardroom diversity across 1,000 firms in 15 countries.
Doubts in this area aren’t really doubts, but unconscious biases. I’d recommend a course to get rid of them.
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