With all the promotions and pay rises dished out by the leading surveying firms in recent weeks, you might be forgiven for thinking that great strides are finally being made in redressing the gender imbalance in the industry’s senior ranks. Sadly, not so.
While female appointments feature prominently in many announcements, read beyond the headlines and you quickly realise that in almost every instance, the women who have been promoted or appointed are outnumbered – and outranked – by the men. They have just been pushed to the fore to give the impression that more progress has been made in redressing the gender imbalance than actually has been made. Those who can tick another diversity box, such as ethnic or LGBTQ+, get an even bigger shout-out.
Apologies for sounding cynical, but it is hard not to be. With all the virtue signalling going on, I almost miss the days when the industry was defiantly, even proudly, pale, male and stale. At least everyone knew exactly where they stood (which, if you are female, was usually somewhere near the bottom of the career ladder gazing at the reinforced glass ceiling way above).
These days, ostensibly there is transparency, but in reality it is all smoke and mirrors – and not just in relation to the number of women in the industry but also to the gender pay gap. As we reveal this week, the average median hourly gender pay gap across the top 10 UK surveying firms is an eyewatering 31.88%, more than three times the national average, while the average median bonus pay gap is an incredible 61.82%.
While marginally down on last year’s gender pay gaps, this is nothing to celebrate. Yet, with the odd exception, the responses from senior industry figures are decidedly equivocating in tone. It is not so much a case of ‘mind the gap’ as ‘never mind the gap’.
Well, women do mind. They mind a lot, and they deserve more than a load of platitudes, excuses or pledges to do better. Action is needed now, not tomorrow. Everyone knows there are no quick fixes and that, as Fiona Biddle, acting head of HR at BNP Paribas Real Estate, says, the gender pay gap is a structural issue requiring long-term solutions to “right the wrongs of history”.
But blaming Covid is a cop-out, as is blaming the dearth of senior women in the industry. If the pay gap can only be closed by promoting more women, promote more women. Other industries have made significant headway. Why hasn’t property?
On the plus side, trailblazers like JLL chief executive Stephanie Hyde show that it is possible for a woman to reach the very top in the agency world. She is now challenging JLL to “think outside the box on how we recruit and develop our people” and admits that the “pay gap data isn’t where we want it to be, and lasting change requires us to do a lot more”.
Others need to follow suit. I am not going to name and shame them. The numbers speak for themselves.
The only caveat is that the figures are historic – they cover the year to April 2021 – so it is impossible to gauge how much progress has been made in the past year (or not). But based on the ‘improvements’ to 2021, I wouldn’t hold your breath.
It is not good enough. The industry needs to close the gap, and quickly, or make no mistake: women will vote with their feet.
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