International Women’s Day: What it means to the real estate industry

To celebrate 2023’s International Women’s Day, we spoke to some of the most inspiring and influential leaders in the real industry to find out how real estate has changed in recent years, what needs to be done better and their advice for women starting out in the industry. 

Elite Agent Managing Editor Samantha McLean interviewed Chief Executive Officer and Director of Laing+Simmons, Leanne Pilkington; The Agency General Manager of Sales – Victoria and Tasmania, Sally O’Connell; Director of The Property Collective and REIACT President, Hannah Gill; REIA CEO, Anna Neelagama; and General Manager – Customer Marketing at REA Group, Amy Read to get their insights on what International Women’s Day means to them.

The importance of celebrating IWD

International Women’s Day is an opportunity to call out the women in the real estate industry who are doing incredible things, Leanne says. 

“There’s a lot of women in the industry that inspire me, particularly the ones that have reinvented themselves and started businesses from nothing, and they’re all of a sudden doing great things,” Leanne says. 

Leanne Pilkington.

Amy says that she’ll be using International Women’s Day as an opportunity to talk to her children about past achievements and future goals. 

“One of the things that I like about the focus on International Women’s Day is (the opportunity it provides) to have a conversation with my children.” 

She added that it was an important time for reflection. 

“It’s not just the industry that’s changed, I think the whole world has changed,” Amy says. 

“I think we have come so far, but we’ve got an incredibly long way still to go.” 

Amy Read.

What companies can do to improve gender diversity 

Hannah Gill says there’s still room for greater gender diversity at the executive level of the industry. 

“If there’s a gap I’m mindful of, it would be the executive level of larger businesses, and I’d love to see more women getting on to their industry or with real estate boards or their real estate institutes and really contributing from leadership, governance or executive level,” she says. 

Hannah Gill.

Anna says that making a workplace more inclusive could be as simple as scheduling meetings at more appropriate times. 

“It’s (about) equal pay for equal work, a more flexible workplace, things like don’t start training and CPD sessions at 8am, start them at 9:30am,” she says. 

“It’s a genuine approach to flexibility and (making sure to) hire outside the box and be more diverse and open in your recruitment practices.” 

Anna Neelagama.

The hiring stage was a key area where businesses could boost their diversity, Sally O’Connell said. 

“It does come down to leadership and a big part of it is arming the leaders with the tools around how they can actually, from their recruitment process, ensure that they’re looking outside of their own networks to make sure that they’re bringing in a bit more diversity around gender and background,” Sally says. 

Another way to improve representation was to encourage women to actively pursue leadership positions, she added. 

“It’s encouraging people who wouldn’t necessarily step up for leadership roles,” she says. 

“Some mentoring around encouraging women to step up when the opportunities are there would also help.” 

Sally O’Connell.

In terms of improving diversity in the workplace, Leanne says companies need to focus on creating policies and procedures that work for everyone. 

“I think that people need to understand that their priorities are not necessarily the same as everybody else’s priorities,” she says.

“We all approach things differently, there’s more than one way to do things, and I think business owners just need to have a bit more flexibility.

“It’s not my way or the highway.” 

Advice for those starting out 

Amy says to “seek out your tribe” when you’re starting out your career. 

“There are so many ways to connect with women who can mentor you, who can support you, and the real estate industry does put a focus on that,” she says.

“There are no end of opportunities to connect with women and really make the most of that network.”

Having a network had been a big help for Hannah when it came to navigating difficult situations in her career. 

“I’ve been in the industry nearly 15 years and I think over that time there’s probably lots of difficult situations, especially when it’s the first time you’ve experienced it, or have to navigate them,” she says. 

“For me, when those things have come up over the years, it’s leaning on other people for advice and really communicating with my network and learning from them (that’s helped).” 

Sally says it’s also important to make sure the company you’re signing up with isn’t just talking the talk when it comes to inclusion. 

“Try and find people that are willing to invest in you, mentor you and give you a bit of a leg up into real estate (somewhere) where there’s a culture of sharing and leaving something for the next generation,” she advises. 

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