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News & opinion

27 MAY 2019

Business diversity: A key to unlocking competitive advantage?

Le-Anne Lim

Le-Anne Lim

Head of Communications and External Affairs, Asia Pacific



Companies must leverage every social and economic asset to compete and win in a dynamic and global marketplace.

Far from being considered a strategic business imperative, firms that are championing gender diversity into their business practice and hiring policies, remain few and far in between. The issue of gender diversity is especially prevalent within the built environment sector with female representation at only 15% of the workforce in property and construction.

The corporate real estate (CRE) sector faces fast-paced technological and social change due to major shifts shaping cities and urbanisation. New ideas to accelerate digital transformation, innovate with future-proof solutions and rethink how it addresses market uncertainty is critical to maintaining competitive advantage.

However, only an estimated 9% of commercial real estate C-suite positions are held by women. For a sector undergoing deep and rapid transformation, this underrepresentation carries significant economic impact. It is a prime example of a sector that critically needs to improve gender diversity, particularly at senior levels.

Responses from the recent RICS and Macdonald & Company Rewards & Attitudes Survey 2019 suggests that the issue does not lie in the gender pay gap, which appears in favour of females at lower age ranges — perhaps with a view to encouraging females into the sector.

However, survey data indicates that this trend reverses by the time employees reach 46 to 55 age range, with males earning an average base salary of US$103,500 — 26% more than females, who earn an average base salary of US$82,140. Such data suggests that the issue lies not as much in attracting women into CRE but in retaining them over the course of their careers.

Interested in seeing more stats from the 2019 survey? Read and download the full summary

While there is growing momentum around corporate diversity and inclusion efforts, resulting in more women being appointed to C-suite positions in CRE, there is still more to be done to "break the glass ceiling".

"Team dynamics can have an impact on career progression, particularly when bonding is done over typically male pasttimes," says Josephine Lee, Director of Regional Business Development, Knight Frank Asia Pacific. "Without a critical representation of females, it is challenging to be in a male-dominated environment as female professionals find themselves outside the circle of communication and opportunities."

Organisations that are truly inclusive actively build environments where diverse and underrepresented people feel welcome, safe and supported. That is the difference between diversity and inclusion — being invited to a house and being able to rearrange the furniture.

In April 2018, McKinsey Global Institute published 'The power of parity: Advancing women's equality in Asia Pacific'.

The report states that "$4.5 trillion additional annual GDP in 2025 could be added to the economies of Asia Pacific by advancing women's equality, or 12% above business-as-usual GDP in 2020)". McKinsey Global Institute’s calculation is a supply-side estimate of the size of the additional GDP available from closing the gender gap in employment.

Read and download the full report

Who's leading the way

Key global property players, such as Colliers International, JLL, and CBRE, have been recognised for their ongoing efforts to promote equality in the workplace and to advance women and/or culturally diverse employees within commercial real estate.

In Southeast Asia, Singapore property giant City Developments Ltd (CDL) was notably selected for the 2019 Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index (GEI) in recognition of its commitment to transparency in gender reporting and advancing gender diversity in the workplace.

Read more: Bloomberg Gender-Equality Index Doubles in Size, Recognizing 230 Companies Committed to Advancing Women in the Workplace

Female employees form 70% of CDL's workforce and 47% of its department heads. In 2018, the number of female department heads in CDL increased by 60% compared to 2017. CDL established an internal Diversity and Inclusion Task Force in 2017, complementing its CDL's Women4Green network, a first in Singapore, which inspires and empowers women to create a financially, environmentally and socially sustainable future.

"Our diversity across genders, age groups, cultures and geographies has given us a strong strategic advantage," says Sherman Kwek, Group CEO, CDL. "We will continue to support the professional development of all employees."

Rebalancing for competitive advantage

Men and women complement each other in the workplace in terms of different skills and perspectives, including different attitudes toward risk and collaboration. Diversity is vital to success in today's challenging business environment. Inclusive workplaces are not just more resilient, but also help strengthen connections between employees and clients.

An industry-wide cultural shift must occur so that diversity and inclusion is not just seen as a corporate core value — it must be viewed as a key to unlock competitive advantage that is driven by those in leadership positions... whether they be men or women.

Le-Anne Lim

Le-Anne Lim

Head of Communications and External Affairs, Asia Pacific



Le-Anne drives the optimisation of communications as a strategic management tool for enterprise performance and success. To establish RICS as the leading professional body in the built environment sector, Le-Anne leads efforts to amplify RICS’ brand, reach, influence and engagement in the Asia Pacific region. This involves partnering and engaging internal and external stakeholders across a wide spectrum of activity, including media relations, digital and integrated marketing as well as industry outreach.

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