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It’s a man’s world...

publication date: Nov 28, 2012
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In the 1990s, women accounted for less than ten per cent of the UK’s workforce (Cartwright and Cooper, 1994). 20 years later, much has changed, with females now representing just under half of the UK’s working population. However, does this change mean that everything is now equal, and the balance has been redressed?
Simply looking around at any industry events will answer this question and a closer look will reaffirm the idea that many quarters of the property industry are still the reserve of males. Take residential sales, for instance. The 2012 Workforce Survey by Deverell Smith Recruitment, a comprehensive study of the features and attitudes of the UK residential property market’s labour force, revealed that 73 per cent of sales negotiators in the UK are male with men also dominating in the lettings, property management and finance industries. In fact, DSR’s survey found that the only area where females were the dominant force was in administrative functions, where they account for over 80 per cent of the workforce.
Redressing a gender balance, as governments and businesses worldwide will no doubt attest, is undoubtedly a tall order, with trends driven by hard-to-change perception and attitudes. In order to effect mood changes that will drastically alter the gender composition of the labour force, draconian measures such as positive discrimination are needed, so just why do so many try so hard to achieve an equal gender mix? Indeed, if men are more drawn to an industry than women, what difference
does it make?
The answer, of course, is that it makes a big difference. It will not come as a great surprise to many that to alter the gender balance of an industry will change the culture, but perhaps more surprisingly, recent research has shown that it can make a significant impact economically. Geraldine Huse, a senior vice president at the multinational conglomerate Procter and Gamble recently oversaw an experiment that introduced a number of female staff to a heavily male-dominated department so that the team had a fifty-fifty gender mix. Almost overnight, the atmosphere of the team changed, becoming far less combative and far more collaborative. What’s more, the experiment showed that the qualitative improvements were reinforced by quantitative ones – financial performance improved by five per cent within months of the changes.
The outcomes of the P&G experiment illustrate well the attitudinal differences exhibited between males and females across the residential property industry and the wider economy. According to DSR’s research, male attitudes tend to be driven by financial and social aspirations whereas females take a more holistic approach to workplace satisfaction. When asked what was important to them in a job, DSR found that women were more likely to answer that they wanted to work amongst colleagues who shared their values as well striving to attain a good ‘work/life’ balance, whereas men were driven more by financial elements and by status, with the ability to reach a senior position, and the prestige of the company being some of the strongest drivers of their satisfaction.
Indeed, many men are successful in their desire to reach the top of an organisation, and the majority of directorships in UK residential property are currently help by men. DSR’s research would suggest, however, that work is being done to redress this balance, with over 40 per cent of surveyed females having been promoted at least once within the last two years and the rising prominence of women in senior positions in undoubtedly a positive trend. A report commissioned by Catalyst, the leading research organisation, found that companies with better female representation amongst their senior managers experienced better financial performance that those with the lowest female representation. Indeed, Catalyst’s research showed that those firms where women are well represented experienced a return on equity that was over 35 per cent higher than in comparable companies where women are in the minority
As well as gender imbalance, a pay gap between genders is a feature of the UK’s labour market with the Office for National Statistics finding that men’s median earnings stand at 10.5 per cent higher than those of their female counterparts. The property industry is no exception to these disparities, and when looking at basic salaries, DSR’s research pointed to a number of alarming statistics such as the earnings of a male sales director, which were some 60 per cent higher than the earnings of a female in the same position with a similar story in lettings, and property management. 
However, despite the wild disparities at director level, further down the chain, the shoe was on the other foot. Surprisingly, the survey reported that an experienced female property manager was likely to earn over 25 per cent more than a male property manager with comparable experience, and yet more surprisingly, female trainees in lettings earned a staggering 75 per cent more than males in equivalent positions. So what do these inequalities do for satisfaction? 
Occupying the most senior positions in the industry, and in the main earning more, one might expect that males in the workforce would be the most satisfied. Surprisingly, examination by DSR show that the reverse is true, with 40 per cent of those surveyed expressing dissatisfaction at their current position, with yet more dissatisfaction prevalent amongst those men occupying the most senior positions. Indeed, 31 per cent of male directors intend to act on their dissatisfaction are committed to leaving their current position within the next twelve months. 
These high levels of dissatisfaction and desire to change jobs will make an alarming read for many business owners, with the prospect of many senior managers moving away not an attractive one. On the flipside, however, this bubbling exodus could well represent an opportunity for women in the sector. With shifting attitudes and the rising influence and presence of women in property, perhaps these soon-to-be vacant positions could be filled by females. Maybe it won’t be a man’s world any more.