Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Property companies are often criticised for the number of women they employ, with listed and unlisted property groups singled out for not having enough female executives.

The only female CEOs at listed property companies at present are Amelia Beattie of Liberty Two Degrees and Bronwyn Corbett of Grit Real Estate, while Ulana van Biljon is COO at Emira Property Fund. In the unlisted space, female CEOs include Marna van der Walt of Excellerate Services and Nomzamo Radebe of JHI Properties.

While many companies use the argument that the lack of female executives is because many women say they want more of a balance of work and family life than a male CEO who may be “married to his job”, things are shifting. Lara Schenk, a member of the Women’s Property Network (WPN) and a property consultant at industrial fund Improvon, says more women are pursuing roles across property companies than a few years ago.

She says the largest barrier to women entering the industry is actually a lack of knowledge about it. More education about what a job in property offers and what the jobs are would attract more women to key roles, she says.

“When we were looking at the ratio now for the student chapters [at WPN] it seems that not too much has changed with regard to the ratio of men to women from when I was at varsity. From a high school level, students need to be educated on the type of jobs in real estate in order to promote change and diversification in the sector,” she says.

Radebe agrees, saying that when many women consider where to pursue careers after they complete accounting, finance and engineering degrees, they tend to think property jobs are construction jobs.

“I didn't know what kinds of jobs were on offer in the beginning and what different property companies did. I assumed working in property meant you worked on construction sites but the industry has so many different parts to it.

"I believe if you tell women from a young age that there are opportunities in property, you will see more women enter the industry. Banking or advertising and other industries may seem sexier to people but there many exciting opportunities in real estate,” she says.

Schenk was first exposed to property as a child, because her family worked in the sector. “From a young age I was exposed to the property market. When most children were out playing on a jungle gym I was on a development site with my father.

"Learning to drive was also an opportunity to pick up new listings and conduct site inspections. My vacations were spent helping out in the office on the property management side of the business. From there it was only natural that I would pursue a career in property and complete my BSc property studies at UCT. I was incredibly lucky to be able to understand how dynamic the industry is a lot earlier than others,” she says.

Van Biljon says she moved into her COO role at Emira after the company’s former CEO, James Templeton, saw potential in her and made her a director. 

She says Emira tries to employ a mix of men and women and to pay people on merit. “I have not seen men and women getting paid differently. We work as a modern company which is progressive and employs and pays people based on their skill level and not their gender or sexuality,” she says.

Radebe says the WPN and other property professional bodies are doing necessary work in educating women about property work and opportunities.

As for discrimination, Schenk says she generally isn’t treated differently for being a woman but she hasn’t fully avoided pre-judgment.

“With the introduction of the WPN student chapters nationally I think that this will assist with promoting growth within the industry from a younger age and change the perception of the industry. I do still find it funny how many times I arrive at a meeting and it is assumed that I am the PA or secretary taking drinks orders,” she says.

andersona@businesslive.co.za