Addressing Unconscious Gender Bias in Organisations

It’s uncomfortable to face the fact that gender bias in the workplace exists, and the real estate industry isn’t immune. The first step in dealing with the issue is to recognise and understand it, and then delve deeper into how it might manifest within your business. It’s at this point you can then begin to look at ways of addressing unconscious gender bias, and this article will help on that front.

Understanding Gender Bias

Gender bias occurs when a person prefers one gender over another, and takes actions to support this preference, resulting in gender discrimination. It can happen at a conscious level, but more commonly unconsciously, so it can be tricky to deal with.

When it comes to gender bias in the workplace, it shows itself in a variety of ways and at a variety of stages. During recruitment, it might be when hiring managers unconsciously recruit those that are similar to them. Without a diverse hiring panel, women are at a greater disadvantage.    

On the job, it can occur when one gender receives more support than another in opportunities and/or resources, leading to a boost in performance and increased pay and promotion. An example of this is a study of stockbrokers (whose pay is determined by performance and commission, much like the real estate sector) that found women were unfairly assigned inferior accounts, even though they were proven to produce the same results if given equivalent opportunities.

How Prevalent is Gender Bias in the Australian Real Estate Sector?

Let’s start with the good news. According to the Property Council of Australia’s 2018 Grow the Talent Pool report, 79% of men and 70% of women surveyed believe the real estate industry has become more diverse and inclusive in recent years. Women now make up over half (52%) of the real estate workforce.

Now for the not-so-good news. Even though female representation in real estate is strong, they only account for 25.9% of those in senior property leadership positions.

Some further stats:

  • Pay

According to WGEA’s Australia Gender Equality Scorecard 2019-20, the national gender pay gap sits at around 15%. But those figures are higher in real estate, with women taking home 25.2% less than their male counterparts.

  • Perceptions

The Property Council of Australia’s report found women are less likely to believe they will hit  their desired career progression points (28%), while 51% of men do. It also found that women are twice as likely to believe attitudes towards female leaders need to change (63% compared to 32% of men).

  • On the job experience

The Grow the Talent Pool report surveyed women’s experience of gender discrimination at work. It found six common examples, such as insults masquerading as jokes, role stereotyping and assumptions that caring and careers don’t mix. Amazingly, 80% of women said they’d experienced one of these at work in the past two years.

The top spot for sexism was devaluing women’s views or voices, with over 60% of women encountering it in the past two years. This included men interrupting or talking over them; explaining things as if they had no prior skills or knowledge; and not listening to or supporting their views until they were re-stated by a man.

A third of women said the ‘boys’ club’ is the biggest barrier to career progression (33%), with 61% of women and 34% of men believing it discourages people from pursuing long-term careers in property.

What You Can Do to Address Gender Bias

While these statistics sound disheartening, there are plenty of things you can do to ensure women don’t face gender discrimination in your workplace. Here are a few key ideas:

1. Review your data

As a real estate professional, one of your core strengths is dealing with numbers. Apply that skillset to collating and evaluating some significant data. Ask yourself the following questions about your recruitment and work processes and practices:

  • Do a high proportion of women leave once they’ve reached a certain level at your business?
  • Do you lose a high number of women at any particular recruitment stage? If so, which one/s?
  • Is there a difference in male and female performance ratings, promotions and remuneration (consider the total package, including commission split)?

To get even more valuable data, consider running an employee survey about gender bias at your workplace. Keep it anonymous (i.e. don’t ask for specifics such as gender or job title) to increase the chances of honest feedback. Ask questions about pay, performance and promotions, as well as whether they feel they can speak up at meetings and their opinion is valued and so on.

If you’re not sure what to include, consider partnering with a professional real estate recruitment specialist, like us at RECD. We have plenty of experience designing employee engagement surveys that produce tangible results.

2. Critically assess and then address your workplace practices

There are many areas where a woman can experience gender bias at work. While it’s difficult to cover them all, here are a few along with tips to address them:

  • Meetings

Whether with clients or as a team, consider if your female employees have equal footing to share their views and actually be heard. Carefully observe and see if male participants talk over or dismiss them, whether they only ask questions of other males, or give credit to a male opinion that’s already been offered by a female and ignored.

If you find this occurring, you can speak to the person privately. You could also institute an ‘interruptions policy’ with clear guidelines for those that interrupt or dominate conversations. Aside from evening things up for female employees, an upside could be shorter meetings!

  • Office housework

There are a host of office admin and housekeeping tasks that need to be done. From tidying up after a meeting, to preparing a staff PowerPoint presentation, to collecting money for an employee gift. Who does these tasks in your office? Are they predominantly – and automatically – done by women?

According to a study published in this ABC article, women are almost 50% more likely than men to volunteer to do this work. There are plenty of things you can do to right this balance if you need to, such as rostering clean up duties so everyone takes their turn, including those in leadership.

  • Networking

As a real estate professional, building and nurturing your network is integral. Are your networking opportunities inclusive of both genders? Or are they skewed towards the golf course, at football matches or over beers?

  • Women’s career progression

Consider women’s career progression within your company. If you feel there’s a disparity between men and women in your business, it’s a must to address. One way could be through mentorship (see point 5).

What about your pathway back to work after pregnancy? Is there anything further you could do to make it easier on parents to return to the workforce, particularly mothers?

  • Work flexibility

The real estate sector has made great inroads over the past few years when it comes to work flexibility, a highly attractive feature for both women and men. A continued focus on outcomes rather than hours, is highly encouraged.

3. Review and tweak your recruitment materials

Your job advertisement and job description are usually an applicant’s first recruitment touchpoint with your company. As such, you want to do all you can to ensure they leave a positive impression on top female talent and draw them further in, rather than dissuading them from proceeding with an application.

It’s a smart move to pay close attention to the language you use in your job advertisement and description, so it doesn’t unintentionally exclude women. Rightly or wrongly, many words have a gender association, such as ‘competitive’ as male and ‘cooperative’ as female, with studies showing certain ones can either attract or deter female candidates. Job descriptions that are overly technical, rather than focusing on transferrable skills, are also likely to appeal to male applicants over female.

Crafting inclusive recruitment documents that don’t contain hidden gender bias takes time and considerable skill. If you’d like some further support in this area, feel free to let us know.

4. Ensure equitable hiring processes

Another great way to avoid unconscious gender bias is to blindly review applicant résumés. You can use software to remove identifiers that aren’t needed for job success, or ask your recruiter to do this for you.

A further way to level the female candidate playing field is to standardise your interviews. A consistent interview approach includes:

  • A standard set of skills-based, behavioural and situational questions
  • A ranking system for evaluating candidates (weighting years of experience, values, hard and soft skills)
  • An optional work or aptitude test

5. Consider a mentorship program

Most highly successful female leaders credit a part of their achievements to their mentor. If you want to help your female staff to move from a support or admin role into a leadership position, a mentorship program is well worth considering.

Whether it’s within the industry or someone from a different sector, mentors can provide invaluable support, guidance and inspiration for their female mentees. A starting point could be the Property Council of Australia’s 500 Women in Property program.

Extra Gender Bias Help

We hope this article has provided with you some actionable tips to address unconscious gender bias in the workplace. As real estate recruitment specialists, we’re committed to ensuring our female clientele are supported and championed in their careers, as we know the amazing contribution they make. If you’re looking for your next female talent, or would like to speak about your next career step, please get in touch.