Expo Real: More diversity in real estate, but still lonely at the top

Renata Osiecka, Managing Partner, Axi Immo Group

It is still lonely at the top for women in real estate but the industry has made significant progress, experts agreed at Real Asset Media’s Diversity in Real Estate briefing, which was held in the International Investors’ Lounge at Expo Real in Munich yesterday.

“According to PwC figures the percentage of women in top positions in the real estate sector is still only 20%, so there’s a huge potential for growth,” said Renata Osiecka, managing partner, Axi Immo Group.

There is more work to be done, but the situation has improved in the last few years.

“I remember when I was the only woman at MIPIM and we’ve come a long way since then, which is something to celebrate,” said Claudia van Haeften, founder & CEO, Sociëteit Vastgoed. “Now, looking around at trade fairs like Expo Real, the percentage is still not 50%, but there are many good professional women and they are being taken seriously.”

Some countries have made more progress than others.

“It was not long ago that at real estate conferences there were one or two women in the room with 700 men and that was normal then,” said Marcia Schless, founding partner, Pink Line Real Estate Consultancy. “Things have improved in the Netherlands, although we are still behind Poland and Central Europe.”

Poland has a higher level of representation, with around 30% of women in top positions and many intermediate roles filled by women, especially in property management.

Claudia van Haeften, founder & CEO, Sociëteit Vastgoed

“The reason for this is that CRE in Poland is a young industry, so women played their part from the very beginning,” said Osiecka. “We still need to get more women in top positions, but it is a good working environment for women.”

Regulation can be very helpful in moving things along, but not by imposing 50% compulsory quotas, experts agreed.

“The imposition of targets can be artificial and counter-productive,” said Sylwia Ziemacka, head of membership & partners’ network, SHHA. “Numbers are not as important as seeing role models in action. If there are women in top positions they will mentor and open doors for younger women.”

It is about the visibility of role models, which leads to a positive mindset in younger women, a belief that they can achieve their goals.

“Seeing a high percentage of women in good positions is an encouragement to young women and a signal that they can aim high,” said Osiecka. “It helps them overcome that mental barrier.”

Legislation can help women in the workplace

Legislation can help women in the workplace in other ways, for example introducing paternity as well as maternity leave to allow both parents time at home with the child, which means that women can return to work earlier.

“Sweden, Norway and Iceland were the first to implement equal parental leave, giving each parent 6/7 months at home with the child,” said Ziemacka. “Now Spain has introduced shared parental leave and this will have a big impact on the jobs market.”

The real estate sector has some specific issues that it needs to work through to attract and retain women.

“Our US colleagues tell us that remuneration in real estate is commission-based and doesn’t support maternity leave,” said Osiecka. “This clearly deters women from getting selling positions in real estate, which is a loss for the industry”.