Four things all firms can do to promote gender diversity

The actionable goals, discussed at last week’s PERE Europe conference, include collecting data, rethinking misconceptions about leave and tackling some required reading.

Gender diversity has become an issue of growing importance for private real estate firms, whether to fulfill investor and client requirements, or to build a more robust, multidimensional staff. For those organizations that are unsure how to go about tackling the issue, delegates on the diversity panel at the 2018 PERE Europe conference Thursday had a few suggestions. The session was moderated by Andrea Carpenter, co-founder at Women Talk Real Estate.

  1. Start with the data

“As an organization, first and foremost you need to have your senior leaders effectively focus on issue,” said Elisabeth Teo-Pennell, managing director at PGIM Real Estate. “It’s got to be coming from the top.” After that, a firm can begin making cultural changes in order to move diversity initiatives forward. Before that, however, a firm needs to collect diversity-related data on its staff. “They need to realize where they are starting so they know where they’re heading,” she said.

2. Make ‘micro’ changes in your behavior

A person does not need to do much to take a stand on diversity. “There’s really small micro behavioral changes that we can all make that can make a difference,” said Andy Pyle, head of UK real estate at KPMG. “If I’m asked to be on an all-male panel, I say I won’t do it. There’s a bunch of things we can all do to make a more inclusive environment.”

3. Read up on the issue

Jane Hollinshead, principal and founder of IJD Consulting, highly recommends reading The Sneetches, a speech on diversity written last year by Andrew Haldane, chief economist at the Bank of England. “If you read this speech and you’re still not convinced about the benefits of macro benefits of diversity, you’re missing something,” she said.” And have your boss read it too. It’s a life-changing 30 pages.”

4. Think about parental leave, not maternity leave

The issue with the concept of maternity leave is that women are often penalized professionally because of the assumption that they will take time off when a child is born. But “if one can make it as easy for men as women to get out of the office, it makes a huge difference,” said Leif Andersson, founder of AREIM, noting that it has become commonplace for men to do so in his home country of Sweden. “You need to have men get paternity leave, because then there’s no difference between men and women.”