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January 23, 2017

The ‘war on talent’ has never been so competitive, with organisations across the industry fighting for ways to find, and retain, the very best men and women. Although still viewed as a traditionally ‘male’ industry, real estate companies which draw on a diverse mix of talent — including gender — have consistently proven to deliver enhanced profits, investor returns and productivity uplifts

Yet research from Ernst and Young (EY), focusing on Australia’s leading property companies, suggests the industry is divided in its views on gender diversity and consequently missing out on significant financial opportunities. The study found that the industry is at a ‘precipitous tipping point’ with ‘the majority of the country’s property companies stuck at the compliance-end of the diversity spectrum, offering isolated policies, rather than tipping towards true ‘understanding’ or leadership.’ The report claims that, if successful, true diversity will “open the flood gates to greater profits and better returns for investors.”

“This landmark research by EY shines an uncomfortable spotlight on the property industry’s divided and disjointed approach to achieving gender parity,” says Ken Morrison, CEO, Property Council of Australia, who believes that gender diversity in the workplace makes “compelling business sense”

A view upheld by research from recruitment consultants, Ferguson Partners Limited, which surveyed 160 REITs and found that those with at least one woman on their board for more than three years were likely to yield a 2.6 percent higher annual total shareholder return growth rate than their peers during the same three-year period and 3.6 percent higher over a five-year period.

So, what steps is the industry taking to address the issue and capitalize on the opportunities of a diverse talent pool?

“Diversity is an important part of our culture at a Global, Regional and Local level and critical to us maintaining our competitive advantage. It is also an important issue for the industry as a whole,” says Louise Roche, Head of HR for JLL Australia

Known for its ethical culture, JLL is leading the way for the property industry in Australia, recently implementing a number of initiatives and policy changes such as increased paid parental leave, flexible working policy, and rewards for employees who identify female talent.

COO at JLL Australia and key supporter of the firm’s diversity movement, Adrienne Revai, believes that if diversity is a true part of a company’s culture, it can make a real difference to the bottom line.

Speaking at a recent PCA ACT Diversity and Inclusiveness lunch, Ms Revai said, “Diverse teams benefit from a whole variety of viewpoints and different approaches to problem-solving which allows them to perform better and, as a result, the business is more profitable.”

“Failing to include even a small section of the available talent pool, could prohibit a business from reaching its potential.”

But Ms Revai also believes that the issue runs deeper than the profit margin.

“The society of the workplace has changed – people want, and expect, to spend their professional lives in an environment that reflects the way they choose to live their lives,” she says.

“As one of the world’s most diverse and inclusive societies, Australians want to see their workplace reflect the culture outside the office.”

“Our clients are all trying to meet the needs of their customer base – which is hugely diverse – and rely on us to deliver services to support that. If we, ourselves, don’t operate in a diverse environment, then we wouldn’t be truly meeting their business needs.”

JLL is also a key supporter of industry-wide initiatives, including the Property Council’s Male Champion of Change program, set up to drive greater gender equality in the property industry and increase the number of women in leadership roles. The initiative brings together senior figures – including Ms Revai and JLL’s CEO in Australia, Stephen Conry – encouraging them to use their individual and collective leadership to increase gender equality with a focus on talent development, public advocacy and accountability.

Ms Revai believes that initiatives such as these will benefit the industry as a whole by attracting the best talent to the real estate sector.

Australia’s property industry is addressing an undoubtedly inherent problem and, while there is still some way to go in the quest for true equality, the benefits are undeniable.

In the words of the EY report, “If the industry were to pursue gender diversity with the aggression and focus it devotes to closing deals — and absorb just a fraction of the risk or take more of a ‘leap of faith’ – the bottom line benefits could be substantial.”

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Adrienne Revai

COO, JLL Australia

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