The climb

The Australian - The Deal - - Front Page - Story by: Sa­man­tha Hutchin­son Pho­to­graph by: Steve Bac­con

The women who are scal­ing the lad­der

It’s a good ques­tion Ming Long, the Malaysian-born mother of two asks. Ming leads the $3.3 bil­lion In­vesta Of­fice Fund in an in­dus­try re­puted to be the na­tion’s big­gest lag­gard in gen­der equal­ity. Data from pro­fes­sional ser­vices firm EY shows women have less than a quar­ter of man­age­ment po­si­tions and less than 10 per cent of lead­er­ship roles in the $182bn in­dus­try.

Fif­teen years af­ter Qan­tas’s Mar­garet Jack­son be­came the first woman to chair the board of one of Aus­tralia’s top 50 com­pa­nies, women lead just two out of the 17 largest listed prop­erty groups. Fe­male ex­ec­u­tives in the sec­tor still com­plain of high drop-out rates of moth­ers, par­tic­u­larly af­ter the birth of their sec­ond child, and the chal­lenges of work­ing in a sys­tem by-and-large run by men who are able to man­age the mul­ti­ple de­mands of busi­ness and fam­ily, largely by the grace of stay-at-home wives.

“We work in an in­dus­try and in a sys­tem that has been de­signed by men, for men, and it’s as if we’re the wrong shape for the po­si­tions that we have to fill,” Ming says. “Which means that at ev­ery step we have had to bend our­selves, shape­sour­selves to fit.”

But there has been a vast im­prove­ment in the past five years, with Mir­vac’s Su­san Lloyd-Hur­witz and Ar­dent Leisure’s Deb­o­rah Thomas emerg­ing as the sec­tor’s first two fe­male chief ex­ec­u­tives. Else­where in the sec­tor, the ap­point­ments of Carolyn Viney to head builder and devel­oper Gro­con, and Raynuha Sin­nathamby as the head of Greater Spring­field Land Cor­po­ra­tion have chal­lenged the age-old car­i­ca­ture of the hard­ened con­struc­tion and de­vel­op­ment boss.

Sus­tain­abil­ity cham­pi­ons in­clud­ing the Green Build­ing Coun­cil chief ex­ec­u­tive Romilly Madew, Lend Lease sus­tain­abil­ity ex­ec­u­tive Anita Mitchell and Mir­vac board

mem­ber Sam Mostyn are also pi­o­neer­ing new stan­dards and prac­tices in build­ing and con­struc­tion.

“The re­al­ity is it’s not just the lead­ers, but the na­ture of the in­dus­try that’s rapidly chang­ing,” says Prop­erty Coun­cil of Queens­land ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor Kathy MacDer­mott. “When you look at the size and the weight of money and in­ter­na­tional in­vest­ment flow­ing into it, you can see that the skill base is far dif­fer­ent from what is used to be … it re­quires a whole new set of skills.”

Take, for ex­am­ple, Ar­dent Leisure’s chief ex­ec­u­tive Deb­o­rah Thomas, who left a 20-year ca­reer in pub­lish­ing to work un­der a board that is con­vinced her skills in sales and mar­ket­ing and her in­com­pa­ra­ble media nous are ex­actly what the theme park and cin­ema owner and op­er­a­tor needs. An­a­lysts, while sur­prised by the ap­point­ment, noted that 85 per cent of the book­ings made through the com­pany were women and for that rea­son made sense. And, It’s a re­al­i­sa­tion more and more com­pa­nies are hav­ing, says Stock­land di­rec­tor Carol Schwartz.

“These com­pa­nies are far more com­plex than they have ever been be­fore, and they know they’re need­ing a far bet­ter equipped ex­ec­u­tive than they have ever had be­fore,” she says. “Di­rec­tors know that to get the best pos­si­ble in­sight, their man­age­ment teams need to re­flect the cus­tomers.”

Schwartz, who is also a di­rec­tor of pri­vate devel­oper Qual­i­tas and a for­mer pres­i­dent of the Prop­erty Coun­cil of Aus­tralia, is a chief pro­po­nent of the Male Prop­erty Cham­pi­ons of Change pro­gram. The pro­gram – the first in­dus­try spe­cific Male Cham­pi­ons of Change – is chang­ing at­ti­tudes, she says. But in­dus­try change and ris­ing com­pe­ti­tion is also bring­ing about a more di­verse ap­proach to hir­ing.

“The re­al­ity is that there’s a busi­ness case for di­ver­sity, and it’s been con­clu­sively proven time and time again,” she says.

Nu­mer­ous stud­ies, in­clud­ing a re­cent sur­vey of 366 public com­pa­nies in North Amer­ica, South Amer­ica and Bri­tain by McKin­sey & Com­pany, re­port a sta­tis­ti­cal re­la­tion­ship be­tween com­pa­nies with more women in their up­per ranks and bet­ter fi­nan­cial per­for­mance mea­sured by earn­ings. Busi­nesses with a more gen­der di­verse lead­er­ship were 15 per cent more likely to de­liver re­turns above the na­tional

in­dus­try me­dian, ac­cord­ing to the McKin­sey study. Eth­nic di­ver­sity de­liv­ered an even more strik­ing find­ing, with the most eth­ni­cally di­verse com­pa­nies 30 per cent more likely to de­liver earn­ings higher than the in­dus­try me­dian.

“More di­verse com­pa­nies are bet­ter able to win top tal­ent and im­prove their cus­tomer ori­en­ta­tion, em­ployee sat­is­fac­tion, and de­ci­sion mak­ing, lead­ing to a vir­tu­ous cy­cle of in­creas­ing re­turns,” the study au­thors wrote.

Other ad­vo­cates list di­ver­sity as a pow­er­ful driver of more sus­tain­able, re­silient or­gan­i­sa­tions. Sam Mostyn, a lead­ing sus­tain­abil­ity prac­ti­tioner and di­rec­tor of Mir­vac, Transur­ban and Vir­gin Aus­tralia, says di­ver­sity is not only a pre­req­ui­site for per­for­mance, it is in­valu­able for risk man­age­ment.

“We tend to think about risk in the neg­a­tive and be fear­ful, but it can be seen as an op­por­tu­nity,” the prom­i­nent ex­ec­u­tive wrote in the book New Women, New Men, New Econ­omy: how cre­ativ­ity, open­ness, di­ver­sity and eq­uity are driv­ing pros­per­ity now [see ex­tract on Page 19]. “The more di­ver­sity you have, the more per­spec­tives to chal­lenge some of the things that lead to blind spots.”

Narelle Hooper, the au­thor, agrees: “There’s re­ally no ex­cuse for ig­nor­ing the gains from di­ver­sity any­more … if com­pa­nies are fo­cused on per­for­mance, they should be fo­cused on it.”

But if the busi­ness ben­e­fits of di­ver­sity are ap­par­ent, per­haps the big­gest chal­lenge has been the ef­fort to demon­strate what di­ver­sity means. Take the events of April 30 in Syd­ney. The Prop­erty Coun­cil of Aus­tralia had signed up 22 of the in­dus­try’s heav­i­est names to head its Male Cham­pi­ons of Change pro­gram, and in the packed ball­room of Syd­ney’s Westin Ho­tel, they were as­sem­bled for the first time to spruik the fruits of their ef­forts. It didn’t get off to an aus­pi­cious start. One pan­el­list told the au­di­ence they needed to get more fe­male team mem­bers in­volved in Fri­day beers. Another sug­gested he would re­store the bal­ance by teach­ing fe­male col­leagues how to play golf.

“It was ap­par­ent some of them were very much at the be­gin­ning of their un­der­stand­ing of gen­der eq­uity,” mod­er­a­tor on the day, Hooper, says. “But see­ing an im­bal­ance is some­thing that you can’t un-see … and when it’s fi­nally pointed out to them, they see it ev­ery time.”

The change is al­ready be­ing felt in re­tail and shop­ping cen­tres, where ex­ec­u­tives, in­clud­ing GPT’s Michelle Tier­ney and Mir­vac’s Su­san Mac­Don­ald, have emerged as some of the in­dus­try’s most for­mi­da­ble strate­gists with their abil­ity to un­der­stand their cus­tomers.

But there is more to the ris­ing tide of fe­male lead­er­ship than moves to achieve di­ver­sity alone, says the Prop­erty Coun­cil's Kathy MacDer­mott. The fact that de­vel­op­ers in­clud­ing GPT, Dexus, Lend Lease and Mir­vac are likely to be just as re­liant on prof­its from of­fices and bil­lion dol­lar man­aged funds arms as they on churn­ing out thou­sands of apart­ments each year, is also a fac­tor chang­ing the per­cep­tion of who can do what roles.

“His­tor­i­cally, build­ing com­pa­nies be­came de­vel­op­ers and then evolved into some­thing else, and now be­cause of the emer­gence of funds man­age­ment, prop­erty is evolv­ing into another part of the life cy­cle … it does open your tal­ent pool,” says MacDe­mott.

‘There’s a busi­ness case for di­ver­sity, and it’s been proven time and time again’ CAROL SCHWARTZ

But more needs to be done to en­sure a pipeline of women keeps com­ing through. None of the women in­ter­viewed for this ar­ti­cle ever an­tic­i­pated they would lead a com­pany. All pro­fessed to be­ing driven, to hav­ing a her­culean work ethic and a pas­sion for busi­ness. But none ever set out from day one with their eyes on the top job. Much of their suc­cess is due to be­ing in the right place at the right time. Mir­vac’s Su­san Lloyd-Hur­witz cred­its the years she spent at Lend Lease in the late 1990s as those that po­si­tioned her best for even­tual as­cent to be­come an in­dus­try leader.

“It was the sort of place where there were just so many op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple who demon­strated tal­ent and a ca­pac­ity to work re­ally hard,” she says.

It’s a phe­nom­e­non Schwartz calls the job lottery: “It’s when you get a re­ally good boss or a re­ally en­light­ened or­gan­i­sa­tion that it makes a world of dif­fer­ence to the tra­jec­tory of your en­tire ca­reer.”

For Lloyd-Hur­witz, it was open-minded man­agers who were pre­pared to make bold de­ci­sions when del­e­gat­ing work. For In­vesta’s Ming Long, it was an en­vi­ron­ment where em­ploy­ees were en­cour­aged to speak their minds with­out fear of be­ing talked down.

“It’s not as if we’re per­fect, but its col­lab­o­ra­tive … we welcome peo­ple’s views and if they’re dif­fer­ent – that’s great. I hadn’t come across any­thing like that,” she says.

Other re­spon­dents agreed that In­vesta had a rep­u­ta­tion for in­clu­sive­ness. Other com­pa­nies were men­tioned too, in­clud­ing Lend Lease and Mir­vac which has a new sus­tain­abil­ity push with its “This Changes Ev­ery­thing” pro­gram that has a range of di­ver­sity tar­gets.

Proac­tive hir­ing de­ci­sions have a role to play as well. In funds man­age­ment, the high-pro­file ap­point­ment of for­mer GPT fund man­ager Carmel Hourigan to lead AMP Cap­i­tal’s prop­erty busi­ness along­side AMP’s re­tail port­fo­lio head Louise Ma­son and aged care head Sally Evans has been re­ceived by an­a­lysts as a master stroke pro­pel­ling the al­ready high per­form­ing prop­erty busi­ness to the in­dus­try’s best.

But while change is afoot, oth­ers say it’s not hap­pen­ing fast enough.

“It’s in­ter­est­ing you see it as an un­prece­dented num­ber of women, be­cause I look at it from the other way around and say we haven’t come far enough,” Lloyd-Hur­witz says. “It’s a con­stant bat­tle to keep it on the agenda. If any­thing has changed it’s from years and years and years of peo­ple push­ing, be­cause I don’t be­lieve any­thing in the in­dus­try has fun­da­men­tally shifted.”

Pri­vately, ex­ec­u­tives still talk of a rev­er­ence for the “prop­er­typrop­erty per­son” in hir­ing de­ci­sions – in­dus­try short­hand for lead­ers such as Lend Lease founder Dick Dus­sel­dorp or Frasers Prop­erty Aus­tralia chief Bob John­ston who rose through the ranks af­ter start­ing as an engi­neer or de­vel­op­ment man­ager on a build­ing site, or a city-based leas­ing agent.

“Some peo­ple talk about it, but it’s def­i­nitely fad­ing,” MacDer­mott says. “The re­al­ity is when you’re run­ning a bil­lion dol­lar man­aged funds busi­ness along­side all the nor­mal oper­a­tions of a devel­oper, you can’t af­ford to think like that.”

‘Prop­erty is evolv­ing into another part of the life cy­cle ... it does open your tal­ent pool’ KATHY MACDER­MOTT

At the top of their game: Adri­enne Re­vai, left, Su­san Lloyd-Hur­witz and Deb­o­rah Thomas

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