West Midlands News

The importance of mentoring by female role models in construction

Posted in News West Midlands

DTZ’s Curzon Group is leading the way in tackling gender inequality – a report by Mark Wilding.

More women than ever are in employment. A near-zero pay gap has been achieved between men and women under 40 who work full time. And more women are sitting on boards of directors than at any time before. These are the findings of the Women’s Business Council’s One Year On report, which last week provided an update on the council’s work to improve gender equality in the workplace.

If opportunities and remuneration for women are improving in the world of business overall, how is the property sector faring in the gender equality stakes? “Ten years ago you could have cleared a room in a few seconds by saying you wanted to talk about women in property,” says Sandi Rhys Jones (below), head of the Women in Property mentoring scheme.

Now she says the conversation has moved on - from why gender equality is important to how it should be achieved. But, she adds: “There are still quite a few who say it but don’t really mean it.”

Pay equality is one area where there is still work to do. As the One Year On report notes, the pay gap between men and women at the start of their careers tends to be narrow. In property (as with many other sectors), this rises dramatically once employees reach a certain age.

The Property Week Salary Survey, published in February, found that while the gender pay gap is narrowing, men are still paid an average of 25.5% more than their female counterparts. The gap between male and female employees aged 23-26 was £896 a year, but rose to £11,816 for those aged above 56.

“There is a very marked discrepancy between male and female salaries once you get beyond 35,” says Rhys Jones. “Earlier on in your career it’s more transparent. Starting salaries for graduates are usually open. It’s not only easier to get the same pay but it’s easier to know what that should be. As you progress through your career, it becomes more difficult to identify salaries and easier to get away with unfair payment practices. There is a lot of work to do to make equal pay for equal work a reality.”

On the topic of women’s promotion prospects and access to the top levels of the industry, Rhys Jones adds: “The vast majority of women who have become presidents of professional institutions are women who run their own businesses. There are very interesting questions to be asked about what employers and businesses are doing to recognise their rising stars. That is one of the challenges that hasn’t properly been addressed.”

Rhys Jones oversees a mentoring scheme that provides advice to women at any stage of their property careers. This gives women access to role models — a key recommendation made in the One Year On report. However, Rhys Jones would like to see support given by employers, which could help them reach positions of influence.

According to the One Year On report, forward-thinking companies should look at setting up in-house mentoring and sponsorship schemes, as well as ensuring that there are positive role models for women. Gender-friendly policies such as flexible working are also encouraged.

DTZ is one property firm pursuing this type of programme. A year ago it launched the Curzon Group, an initiative aimed at improving all forms of equality across the business. Its core focus so far has been gender and the goal is to make The Times’ list of Top 100 Employers for Women by 2015. Elspeth Burrage, head of group events at DTZ and chairwoman of Women in Property (left), says: “We have taken great leaps forward over the past year. I’m really quite encouraged.”

Burrage says workshops have been held for senior directors aimed at tackling ‘unconscious bias’ and that the firm has sought to identify greater opportunities for flexible working. It also sponsors the Women in Property student awards, and has this year offered placements to four female students.

It is hoped that DTZ’s approach could spur others to follow suit. Burrage says “there’s been a lot of talk in the property industry about gender equality but perhaps not a lot of application. We got together and decided we really needed to do something.”

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