Moving On: From Gender Diversity to Gender Equality

On 15 April, ULI Europe held a seminar entitled Moving On: From Gender Diversity to Gender Equality. Panellists and attendees shared their insights from the real estate, insurance, finance and recruiting sectors on how gender balance can benefit businesses.

The seminar was chaired by Judi Seebus, PropertyEU Editor in Chief, and supported by keynote presentations by outstanding speakers including Robert Baker, Senior Partner and Global Client Director at Mercer & Board member of the Professional Women’s Network; Martina Malone, Senior Vice President, Client Relations Europe at Prologis; and Barbara Schönhofer, Senior Vice President and Chief Executive Officer at Global Executive Search – The Jacobson Group and Founder of The Insurance Supper Club (ISC).

Starting from the premise that men and women equally contribute to a company’s success, the objective of the seminar was to discuss how to implement equality-supportive corporate strategies that augment a business’ bottom line.

Robert Baker opened the seminar with a quantitative approach, highlighting key conclusions of Mercer’s study on “When women thrive”, which analyses 647 survey submissions from 42 countries with data covering 3.2 million employees. 3 top trends arise from the survey findings:

  • Current hiring, promotion and retention rates are insufficient to create gender equality by 2025
  • Organisations are failing to build future pipelines of female talent
  • While there has been an increase in women’s hiring rate, there are not sufficient practices to retain them

The survey also showed that women have competences that are key in an organisation and in which they score higher than men, including flexibility, emotional intelligence, problem solving, and inclusive team management.

Robert highlighted the importance of taking action now: hiring and promoting women, supporting them in their health and financial needs, engaging men who need to see equality as a win-win integrating gender data into the business process and rethinking job roles and definition taking into account women’s unique competences. Robert shared his own experience of having benefited  from being involved in women networks, which helped him to better understand colleagues and clients.

A focus on the real estate industry was presented by Martina Malone of Prologis. Martina highlighted the share of female representation on boards in the real estate vs. other industries;  18%  in real estate vs. 26% in Europe overall. While select countries in Europe have set up quotas for women representation on Boards and that progress has been made in other areas, much more still can be done.

On the Prologis side, the focus on gender diversity is strong: the organisation  is working to increase the number of women at all levels, since they strongly believe that diversity brings  better financial results, higher engagement and retention of employees and since female specific competences are crucial to the company, they want to tap into the entire talent pool to build a company of enduring value. Gender balance is not a women issue but a business issue, and by joining forces with other industry leaders, Prologis  aims to raise awareness for the benefit of all.

Prologis has launched Breakthrough, a gender diversity initiative, aimed at supporting a culture that encourages gender equality at all levels through recruitment,  training and measuring results over time.

Barbara Schönhofer presented her view of diversity in the insurance industry through her experience of founding the Insurance Supper Club. She believes that balance and leadership at all levels of an organisation is essential to diversity and inclusion and it is essential to engage men on the issue and to collectively change business thinking and to help businesses fundamentally change culture, and that since business disruption is everywhere, different thinking is now required.

Barbara analysed gender networks: many are forming; however, fatigue around diversity and inclusion is evident. She strongly believes they are good for business but it is crucial that they have a purpose.

Years ago, Barbara started talking to the very few senior women that were in the insurance market on what they could do to improve the culture aiming at gender equality. They started 8 years ago with a group of 12 women meeting in restaurants, and now The Insurance Supper Club has reached 400 members operating in Europe, US, Canada and Switzerland, supporting women to meet their aspirations while doing cross border  business together. There is a strong sense of belonging in the Club and they are now engaging with the UN governments to build a global programme aimed at supporting women at risk.

Barbara believes that increasing networking everywhere and collaborating with male leaders will help women to achieve their goals.

A very interesting panel discussion followed, with Sarah Churchman, HR Director at PwC; Kate Grussing, Founder and Managing Director at Sapphire Partners and member of the 30% Club; Elisabeth Teo-Pennell, Managing Director, Business development & Client Relations, Europe at Pramerica Real Estate Investors; and Jon H. Zehner, Global Head of Client Capital Group, LaSalle Investment Management.

The panel addressed the topic of women networks, focusing on the importance of men and women sharing best practices, and that men are engaged in women networks through the discussion of business topics of common interest. The importance to have more women talking with one voice and approaching the gender diversity topic from a business perspective, analysing its return on investment also emerged. The quotas issue was addressed, recognising the importance of boosting the number of women in an organisation.

On the topic of role models, the importance that women learn to tell assertively about their skills, achievements and aspirations was also highlighted.  The interesting experience of reversed mentoring was shared, where each senior partners of an organisation has a younger, or female, or ethnical minority member of the organisation as his/her mentor. And the usefulness of having mentors from outside the organisation was also suggested.

Lisette van Doorn, Chief Executive at ULI Europe, closed the seminar, addressing the focus that ULI Europe is taking on diversity from multiple angles; developing educational programmes meant at enhancing the advantages that diversity brings at all levels. For example, the UrbanPlan programme helps young people understand the role real estate plays to revive and regenerate urban areas and better understand the communities in which they live.

The seminar was organised in collaboration with M&G Real Estate, with Senior Research Analyst and ULI member Vanessa Muscara taking on the key role of instigating it and working thoroughly with the speakers and with the ULI team on the whole programme, closely supported by the Prudential Women’s Professional Network.