Tide turning for women in senior property roles

28 Nov 2012 | The Age
PROPERTY trusts have an average of 14.5 per cent of their senior workforce occupied by women, one of the highest levels in corporate Australia, according to the 2012 Australian Census of Women in Leadership survey.

While women feature on all the boards of the top 10 listed real estate investment trusts, many lag in senior female representation.

However, in what is a traditionally a male-dominated sector, the tide is turning, led by the recent appointment of Susan Lloyd-Hurwitz as the chief executive of Mirvac.

More women than ever are now employed in the real estate sector, from running a building site, to property-focused investment bankers and stockbroking analysts, to running large divisions.

Carmel Hourigan recently left Lend Lease to take up the senior role as head of investment management at GPT Group. She was replaced by the highly regarded property executive Kylie Rampa, who is the new managing director of Lend Lease's $8.8 billion investment platform.

In the leadership survey, Mirvac and GPT have the highest percentages of women in senior roles.

At Goodman Group's recent annual meeting, shareholders overwhelmingly voted for Rebecca McGrath as a director. Westfield, Stockland and many others have had female directors for years.

All property chief executives have made it clear they wish to increase the level of female leaders in the sector and that all appointments are made on merit, not gender.

But the survey reveals that the numbers of women at the upper levels of corporate Australia are still so low that it will take decades before women achieve any meaningful representation, unless organisations adopt a more disciplined approach and set targets at management levels.

The director of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, Helen Conway, said the census revealed that two-thirds of ASX 500 companies had no female executives, and only 12 had a female chief executive.

Disappointingly, Australia has the lowest percentage of female executives, compared to countries with similar governance structures.

"We've been conducting the census for 10 years and, frankly, you'd expect to see more progress," Ms Conway said of the survey.

"Companies have failed to develop and maintain a strong pipeline of female talent, and you can see this in the negligible growth in female executive management."

The survey did show for the first time a significant increase in the number of women on boards, with 61.5 per cent of ASX 200 companies having at least one female director.

But Ms Conway added that even when it came to boards, the number of women was still very small. Less than one in 10 directorships across the ASX 500 companies are held by women

"This should challenge companies to examine their gender equality record," she said.

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