Friday 15 November 2019

The right moves: Why so few female agents?

Pat Davitt, Chief Executive of Ireland’s Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers
Pat Davitt, Chief Executive of Ireland’s Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers

Paul McNeive

Male, pale and stale is a criticism famously levelled at Britain's Tory Party but the same comment could also be applied to the property industry in Irelandwhere just 20pc of property professionals are women.

Approaching International Women's Day, it's worth considering why female participation in the sector is so low and what are the prospects for increasing diversity?

Both the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI) and the Institute of Professional Auctioneers and Valuers (IPAV) confirmed to me that just a fifth of their members are women, although in both cases they say that the trend is improving.

Conor O'Donovan, Director of Policy and Communications at SCSI told me that there is a steady increase in the proportion of female members.

IPAV chief executive Pat Davitt said that before 2012 they were seeing just five or six new women members each year but that that has now increased to 25 females per annum.

One beacon of hope is the election of Pauline Daly as the first female President of the SCSI. Ms Daly, a director with JLL, opened her speech at the recent SCSI annual dinner by telling us that increasing the numbers of women in the business would be one of her priorities.

In the colleges, however, the trend is not encouraging.

DIT head of real estate Martin Hanratty said that whilst overall student numbers are increasing strongly again, the proportion of women students has dropped to approximately 30pc, down from its traditional average of 50pc.

The low numbers of women coming through is surprising, considering the availability of jobs and interesting career options within the sector. It appears they may have been more discouraged at the battering the image of the profession took through the recession.

It's also interesting to look at how women's careers progress: According to the National Women's Council, just 10pc of private company board directors in Ireland are female but the property sector seems to do much better than that.

This is partly due to the particular skill set which they are seen to bring to residential agency and the boards of the firms that specialise in selling houses have more women than their commercial counterparts.

In residential agency, there perception is that women are seen as having greater empathy and rapport with the client and the most influential client in a house sale is usually female.

For example 47pc of SherryFitzGerald's residential board directors are women whilst it's 30pc at their commercial wing, DTZ. Noteworthy for gender diversity are JLL, who are commercial agents only, but where 42pc of the directors are women. There is an absence of them generally in the very top positions but Anne Hargaden is chairman at Lisney.

On the commercial side of the business there are opportunities for women in all the sectors although again it appears that more are being drawn towards the retail sector.

Worldwide there is a particular dominance of females in acquiring office space for tenants-"tenant rep" as it's known.

Again I suspect this is down to women's greater empathy and multi-tasking skills with those clients.

One wouldn't have to be a pop psychologist to work out why very few women seem to be attracted by the "glamour" of trucks and sheds in the industrial market.

I spoke to some women at the top of the market in Ireland and there's a view that property is still a very male dominated business.

"Most of the clients are men" I was told and especially in the banking and accountancy sectors which have been the core business here for over six years.

"Developers are all male too and the only woman you'll meet is a lawyer", I was told.

At the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) 23pc of members are female although in 2012 Irish female architects were presidents of the RIAI, its British equivalent the RIBA and the Architects Council of Europe.

From my experience of the property business worldwide there is a lack of gender and ethnic diversity which is at odds with the client base. But the global scene is changing and in a market increasingly dominated by US corporates, culturally diverse and often led by women, Irish firms must continue to move from "male, pale and stale".

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