Challenging his own unconscious bias has driven Property Male Champion of Change Bob Johnston to lead the charge towards a more diverse, inclusive industry.
When Johnston, GPT Group’s chief executive officer, told his daughters he’d been asked to join the Property Male Champions of Change, they were less than impressed.
“They laughed and asked me what I knew about diversity. This was a real lightbulb moment for me – because I thought I was a ‘gender-friendly’ person. But they pointed out some of my unconscious biases, and I realised that these were perceptions we all had.
“While I have led a number of diversity initiatives over many years, I recognised that we hadn’t made the inroads needed to change a very ‘blokey’ industry. Initiatives had come and gone, but we hadn’t done anything to change the game.”
Johnston says the Property Male Champions of Change, established by the Property Council in 2015, is that game changer.
“As an industry, we’ve been missing out on attracting and retaining incredibly talented women because we haven’t created the right environment. A collective discussion about diversity will achieve far more than individual attempts to address diversity within our own organisations.”
Johnston has been inspired by the commitment around the table when the 21 Property Male Champions of Change meet. “It’s becoming a deep, rich conversation about how we change the landscape.”
Six action groups have been established, and Johnston is part of the team looking at how to mainstream flexibility by challenging industry norms and introducing structures and practices that support work life balance.
“Our action group has studied best practice, both within and outside our industry, and we are agreed that flexible working is essential to attract and retain female talent.
“However, we don’t want this to be about women. We want men to adopt flexible working too – because only then will we take away the stigma that working flexibly means you’re not serious about your career.”
The Property Male Champions of Change now have a series of actions they need to put in place in their own businesses. “And we’re holding each other to account,” Johnston adds.
In his own organisation, Johnston has set a target of 50 per cent female representation at board and management level – and he freely admits GPT Group is “not there yet”.
“To reach any target, you need turnover – and this means approaching the task in a measured and considered way. We have a view that our organisation will be better for having gender balance across all levels, but we want to do it in a thoughtful way that doesn’t disenfranchise our existing workforce.”
Generous paid parental leave, childcare subsidies and unconscious bias training are just three of measures recently rolled out at GPT. A ‘return to work’ program is helping employees stay connected with their jobs while on parental leave.
Australia’s oldest real estate investment trust, GPT Group is changing the workplace culture, Johnston says, so that “it’s not about the hours spent in the office, but the output. If people can do their work, and balance family life, they’ll have a longer and richer career with us.”
GPT Group has also recently committed to sponsor the Property Council’s national 100 Women in Property program, which encourages established leaders to sponsor talented women within their organisation or business sphere.
“Our industry needs to do more to create a pipeline of high-potential female leaders, and the 100 Women in Property does just that. We’re proud to play our role in supporting outstanding female talent,” Johnston says.
“Our industry is the second largest employer in Australia. Creating companies that are diverse and inclusive will attract the best people – and strengthen our industry for the future.”