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Industry must face up to the gender gap, says leading estate agent

The good intentions around International Women's Day will mean nothing if agency leaders limit their definition of success to 'willy waving' sales metrics.

ellie rees estate agent

The irrepressible Chris Watkin has been posting a countdown of the top ten London estate agent firm by listings via Twitter.

At the same time, I’ve been posting gender statistics – pay gap, bonus gap, board composition – for these firms.

Why? Because I run my own estate agency with my husband: 50/50 in all aspects of work and life.

And I’ve been mansplained and patronised by surveyors, solicitors, and other agents – many only old enough to be my sons – many times.

Twice I’ve been mistaken for my husband’s PA but not the other way around. I wanted a way to quantify my experiences, and those of other women in estate agency.

Willy waving

I also felt that this obsession with listing numbers and volume in general, was quite a male one. Chris Watkin himself calls it ‘willy waving’.

What about quality over quantity? Or, if it must be about money, profitability over turnover? What about asking price achieved and listings retained? And what about customer care, buyer experience, employee happiness and job satisfaction? Where are these countdowns?

If there were more places at the table for women and more female voices and opinions being considered, perhaps this would all change.

So my journey into gender disparity in estate agency began. If only it were just willy waving. It’s much more serious than that.

C-suites

In an industry that’s always been very male, it’s no surprise that leadership teams are still extremely unequal – though a special shout-out to Winkworth, where the board is composed of five white men. According to their annual report, the directors ‘consider that the board is well balanced’! Really?

Where I did find women on boards, the vast majority were non-execs.

This is a good quick fix to improve the board’s diversity of thinking. But it’s no substitute for recruiting, keeping and promoting talented women to executive roles. We need female decision makers whose influence has meaningful impact.

Looking at the stats below board level, it’s clear it will be an uphill battle to get more women to the top.

Looking at the stats below board level, it’s clear it will be an uphill battle to get more women to the top.”

Many agencies are severely lacking women in senior roles – at Dexters, for example, women do just 28% of the highest paid jobs, and 75% of the lowest.

These disparities are reflected in gender pay data, where some of the gaps are astonishing. At Savills, for example, median pay for women is 43% lower than for men.

Estate agent bonuses

Basic pay is far from the full story, so we also need to look at the estate agent bonus gap.

Again, Savills stands out, along with Dexters. Both have median bonus gaps of 80%, meaning women receive 20p for every £1 men get. I’ll let that sit with you for a while.

Incidentally, many of the agencies I looked at haven’t reported gender pay data since 2019, because the requirement to report wasn’t enforced due to the pandemic.

Slow handclap to the government for making it clear how little importance it places on this issue and is not something that needs prioritising.

And yet it’s imperative we deal with this now. Foxtons has just reported its latest data and provided some extra analysis, painting a bleak picture of the impact of the pandemic on women’s careers.

The report is a snapshot on 5 April 2020 when almost 70% of the Foxtons workforce were on furlough – and at every level, use of furlough tilted massively towards women.

28% of the highest paid employees are women if you count everyone, but if you take out the people who were on furlough that drops to 17%. In the next quartile down, 47% are women – or just 26% if you remove those furloughed.

Of course, this is not just a problem at Foxtons – it’s true across all industries. The past year has left many women with gaps in their careers, while men have kept progressing.

What can we do?

I think a good starting point is for women to tell their stories, publicly and to each other, and to their male peers and employers, many of whom want to be part of the solution. And there should be open discussion about pay.

A lot of the challenges women face are unconscious, not malicious – but they are hard habits to break for an estate agent.

I’d like to see deep dives into company culture and reformed parental leave and pay. I’d like us to look at the way we recruit and mentor women. I’d like flexible working to become the norm.

Lastly, rather than accepting that the pandemic has made things worse for women, why not take this opportunity to make it better?

There’s been a dramatic shift in our working landscape, which could truly benefit working mothers.

The opportunity for ‘working with home’ has opened a space for greater shared parental and domestic responsibilities. And we need to ask men to step into that space.

It’s time to find out whether all those International Women’s Day posts about your wives and daughters were just empty words, or whether there’s genuine appetite in our industry to do better.

Women’s intelligence and competence in agency is no different from men’s. There’s no reason to accept such huge discrepancies on, or across, the board.


Ellie Rees is Founder & Creative Director of ethical estate agency Brickworks London.

Read The Negotiator’s recent Women in Power list.


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