When I was 16 years old, my school’s career advisor told me I was lucky. I would be part of the very first generation of women where no career or opportunity would be closed to us. “I could have it all” was the message she was giving me.
Later on, when I’d joined the world of employment and started out in financial services, I didn’t even immediately see a conflict with the next piece of advice I was given – “if you keep your head down and work hard, they won’t even notice you’re a woman”.
So I did work hard – I worked to be accepted, recognised and rewarded for reliable, high quality output. And I was careful not to be too “girly” – I didn’t even use a pink highlighter – so that there was no excuse to treat me differently.
I didn’t rock the boat and I didn’t complain. By and large this worked for me until I chose to have children –then it was too difficult for any of us to ignore the fact that I was not a man.
But I came to realise that in not speaking out for myself I was failing others too – my friends, my colleagues, and the generations to come. I was failing my daughter and my son.
I would speak of being my young children’s advocate and yet on this important subject I wasn’t even being my own. Worse yet – I realised that my silence, my fear, enabled others to carry on unchecked.
So I found my voice and started speaking up.
Because maybe I am part of a generation of women for who can “have it all” – not all at once and not without a great deal of struggle – but perhaps more than the women before us.
But gender inequity and lack of inclusion in our workplaces and broader communities isn’t a “woman’s problem” to be fixed.
I believe that to truly allow everyone to meet their full, unhindered potential, we need to bring men and women along on the journey.
I believe in widening the gates of opportunity, not lowering the bar.
This is achieved by a proactive effort to find, welcome and promote talent wherever to comes from, and however it looks.
So I consider myself to be fortunate to now work in an industry that has genuinely committed to becoming diverse and inclusive. I have been encouraged by the Property Council’s willingness to create change and not just talk about it.
I want to share with you some recent examples of my own experience of that commitment in action.
Last year I was supported and championed by my manager Diona Rae to join the inaugural 100 Women in Property program, which is sponsored nationally by GPT. The initiative includes a personal commitment from Property Council members to champion women in their organisation or business.
I was supported by my GPT colleagues, who went out of their way to facilitate networking opportunities and introductions.
For me, the 100 Women in Property program is an example of widening the gate – the program presents opportunities but it is also up to the participants to make it happen.
The interest in this program has been incredible.
The aim was to have 100 women take part nationally in 2016 and the program had more than that number in NSW alone. This year we have more than 500 women participating nationally.
It shows how significant the interest and appetite is from women in our industry to grow their networks and contribute.
As part of the program, participants can attend a Property Council committee meeting. This creates opportunities for women to gain industry insights, and to take part in debating and shaping Property Council policy.
For me, that opportunity led to being selected to join the NSW Diversity Committee.
The Committee members, made up of men and women, have focused on increasing the participation of women in the industry, and the number of women in leadership roles.
In just five years since inception the NSW members before me have designed and implemented a suite of programs, resources and tools, including the 100 Women in Property program.
This year we launched the inaugural Girls in Property program, working with the Department of Education. For a week in May the Property industry here in NSW hosted 120 Year 10 girls from 4 public girls schools – Cheltenham, Riverside, Mackellar and Asquith.
The initiative aims to raise awareness, challenge stereotypes around career opportunities and ultimately contribute to greater participation of women in the property industry.
We were hoping to lay down the foundations of a talent pipeline but the week completely exceeded our expectations.
Not only were the girls engaged, articulate and enthusiastic, they were not afraid to ask us the tough questions including how we stack up on gender equity and inclusiveness across the board.
There are many great things happening so I was recently asked where I thought the challenge still lay given so much progress has been made on the “gender issue”.
While I personally don’t see this as one “issue”, my response was that our greatest challenge is to achieve a tipping point.
To be honest, it was right here, at this point in preparing this talk that I almost became overwhelmed by the scale of how much there is still to do.
And I wondered – how long is it acceptable to wait? How many years could I accept that it will take to reach equity?
Here we are, some of the smartest people, from the biggest organisations in one of Australia’s largest industries. We design and construct amazing, world-class buildings.
We manage globally sought after assets. We’re working on smart cities of the future and planning the infrastructure to support them.
But at times it feels we’re closer to bringing those plans to life than we are to making equity a reality.
I want you to think – how many years do you believe it is acceptable to take to reach gender equity?
In which year will we be able to demonstrate a sustainable pipeline of female talent distributed evenly throughout our workplaces and industry?
Can you personally commit to a target year that you are confident enough to discuss with your friends? Your colleagues? Your new graduates? Your daughters?
Ask them if they think that is an acceptable amount of time to wait to be paid the same as the other half of the population, to receive equal support in caregiving, to progress equitably up the career ladder.
Ten years? Twenty? One hundred?
If gender balance truly is a business imperative, as important as profits, health & safety, sales or market share then let’s set some targets with teeth – and let’s commit to some timeframes.
Our Property Male Champions of Change have been unpacking some of the gender issues they see in our industry and are working towards some tangible outcomes for their own organisations and more broadly. We should challenge them and we should absolutely support them.
But we also don’t need to wait for their efforts to flow down – we can all start the conversations, we can all champion change. We can set our own targets with teeth and timeframes.
Harriet Beecher Stowe once said, “Never give up – for that is just the place and time the tide will turn”.
And we all know, time and tide wait for no one.
This speech was given by GPT Group Risk and Audit Director Natalie Wray at the Property Council of Australia’s Diversity Lunch in Sydney on July 25 2017. Natalie is a member of the Property Council’s NSW Diversity Committee.
The event was held the day the Property Male Champions of Change, which includes GPT CEO Bob Johnston as a member, published its progress report for 2016-2017.