Gender and real property

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World view

In an issue of Property Management which is focusing on gender and property, it may be appropriate to start with a world view around which the five articles discussed here are framed in their very different ways. The theme which integrates the papers is essentially access to resources and their maldistribution on gender lines. Whilst gender is by no means the only cause of such resource misallocation, it is one which exacerbates many others and, to such an extent that, it is of major concern to the United Nations (UN Women, 2015a, b). Drawing on data from 219 countries, Gakidou et al. (2010) found that increasing formal education for women and girls makes a significant contribution to economic growth and it is reported that about half of the economic growth in the OECD over the last 50 years is as a result of improved access to education and improving parity with men in respect of female years of full-time education completed. However, as indicated in these papers under discussion in this issue, this has not converted to better labour market outcomes for a variety of indicators and in a range of societies at varying levels of economic and social development, supporting recent findings by the UN (UN Women, 2015a).


The five papers consider the relationships between gender and property in three different countries: Sweden; Australia; and Nigeria. The first paper, from Sweden, looks at the representation of gender in the annual reports of real estate companies – specifically public housing companies and commercial real estate companies. The research uses a powerful metric: images of gender as illustrated in annual reports; often the flagship publication of any organisation; and the most public. In a country which by many international standards is a world leader in labour relations, Staffansson Pauli reports an overrepresentation of women in service and support positions in the industry. By adopting images as the research lens, it is postulated that they “reveal aspects of an organization’s theories about its customers in a non-verbalized yet substantive way”. The images are indeed powerful and are organised by gender representing women and men as employees and non-employees, both separately and together. The results indicate that “stereotypical images of women and men serve to maintain the hierarchical gender order in both public housing companies and real estate companies”. The use of “token women” in positions of higher status is also demonstrated.

The next three papers use Australia as the locus of their empirical research. The first of these, authored by Dimovski, Lombardi, Ratcliffe and Cooper using a strong sample size, investigates the number and proportion of women directors in 35 listed real estate management and development companies (REMDs) and finds their incidence is low. Interestingly, a practical inference is highlighted: that as “female board representation is positively correlated to accounting returns and that there is a growing voice for legislation to impose mandatory proportions of women directors on boards around the world, it may be in the interests of REMD boards to consider appointing more women more quickly”. One waits with great anticipation but holding one’s breath is not recommended.

The second paper from Australia is authored by Warren and Antoniades and considers an increase in representation by women on boards of property industry organisations as an opportunity to support diversity at the policy level with its anticipation of promoting cultural change from the top down. Whilst it draws upon a much smaller sample size than the Dimovski et al. paper and focuses a little lower in the corporate food chain, it reviews the representation of women on ASX listed boards before looking more closely at the property industry and then concentrating discussion on several of the principal property organisations and their board representation by gender. It finds that both in the existing literature and from the authors’ empirical research that whilst legislative frameworks exist to encourage increased female representation “there is much rhetoric around gender equality but this has not been encapsulated in any firm policy directive”: essentially all talk and no action and this in a country (Australia) which ran second to Norway by its ranking on the UN Human Development Index for Gender Inequality in 2014. The paper concludes with the view that greater co-operation between government and the property industry organisations is the avenue to achieving a more reasonable representation by women on these boards with consequential benefits.

The third paper from Australia moves from heads that are hitting the glass ceiling to toes that are dipping in the water of this mixed property metaphor by considering companies’ and other organisations’ progress towards achieving equitable employment across a range of labour market metrics as indicated by such outcomes for entry-level women graduates in property and associated built environment professions. Whilst the empirical focus is the Australian labour market, strong and useful comparisons are drawn by Poon and Brownlow with the UK labour market and there is discussion and analysis of the variations between Australian states. In common with the preceding papers, Poon and Brownlow found from their analysis of the Australian Graduate Survey data that the existence of supportive legislation aimed reducing sex discrimination in employment in property over the past 30 years has fallen far short of its aspirations and that male graduates’ employment is far more favourable across a wide range of indicators. One point of interest which is considered for further research by the authors is that of enquiring into the motivation of female graduates regarding their employment preferences as both part-time work and appointment to clerical and administrative roles in the property industry are higher than that of their male counterparts.

Shifting from a focus on women’s employment to broader issues of women’s rights as illustrated by analysis of their access to land rights, most specifically in the context of home ownership, the paper by Adegoke, Adegoke and Oyedele investigates the situation in Nigeria. With a population of about 180 million, the seventh largest in the world, it reveals a far more challenging scenario than that prevailing in Sweden or Australia. Recognising the benefits to the community of a more balanced resource allocation between the genders and strongly in line with the themes raised in the aforementioned papers, the authors drew on an extensive range of international literature to frame the empirical research and generated a survey questionnaire which was administered to female university staff. The survey identified ten factors influencing home ownership and found four to be significant: cultural norms and traditions; income; unemployment and structural inequalities. The paper concludes by nominating recommendations to policy makers which indicate that there is much that needs to be done to improve the situation, such as: not treating a woman as a part of her husband’s property; normalising and formalising women’s rights to land and property ownership and inheritance across the country by legislative change; improving employment opportunities for women – of which are recognised as having a multiplier effect on the family and the economy for the benefit of all.


What contribution – the “so what” question by which academic research seeks self-validation – can enquiry into gender equality in the context of property achieve? So often we identify only more questions for further research, investigating more of the problem invariably without providing practical solutions. However, as academics and educators – often of only a small elite of the broader population of any society – can we actually promote the amelioration of the issue of gender discrimination and the associated resource maldistribution? By contributing to improving access to the resource of information and its transformation into knowledge, educators and academics as well as politicians and policy advisors can work towards challenging and changing the cultural norms that underpin the behaviours supporting the current system of inequity. Each of the papers in this issue make such a contribution in a most informative and persuasive manner.
Original languageEnglish
JournalProperty Management
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 15 Feb 2016


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