By Louise Martin and Jaime-Lee Gardner, joint owners of Estate Living
Female representation in the property sector is a multi-faceted topic, as the property sector consists of many moving parts that revolve around the life cycle of a property – from the concept and architectural designs all the way to the delivery of the property, property sales, property management, and the services required to run and maintain a property.
When it comes to female representation, each division within the industry is evolving at its own pace, with some areas undergoing progressive and transformative change – like the role of a property practitioner, and the amendments to the Property Practitioners Act.
Other divisions have been slow to change, such as the role of the developer, which has seen very little movement when it comes to female representation. One of the roadblocks to fair representation in this space is access to the funding that is required for new development projects. Women continue to be marginalised when it comes to securing the financial mechanisms that unlock large-scale developments. Property development is costly and a risky business, so it is understandable that financial institutions want to back a tried and tested winning horse, but consumer needs and profiles are evolving. It is becoming apparent that unless financial institutions look beyond the traditional formulae, they will soon move from backing the winning horse to flogging it to death.
How do we know that the time for change is now?
Ten years ago, sitting in a property management meeting, we would look out at a sea of faces with one or two females represented in management roles. The argument? Directors and trustees didn’t offer employment opportunities to female managers because they argued that men are more equipped to manage the various aspects that go into running a development.
Although private residential estates have been available in South Africa since the 1980s, the 2010s saw rapid growth in the number of sectional title developments and residential estates available for investment. This growth has been driven by several factors, the main one being security. Investors were looking at both physical security and securing their assets.
The property development sector was quick to respond, and the ‘state-of-the-art security’ environment was born. The cornerstone of these projects was the promise of a safe environment for families to live, work and play, while the management of these types of developments attracted individuals who had security, policing and municipal backgrounds. If we couple the investors’ needs with the trustees’ views on management traits, female representation in management roles was next to zero.
Fast-forward ten years……
Today, sitting in a property management meeting, you can see up to 30% of the management roles filled by women (and this number is growing). This change, however, doesn’t stem from the industry scrutinising its gender equality policies, but rather it is driven by consumer expectations and where investors see value.
Investor demographic has also changed; they are more informed about rights and responsibilities, there is a wider range of properties to choose from, and investors no longer want to hide behind high walls or live in a policed estate but are rather looking for a wide range of facilities and a resort-styled lifestyle. They are prepared to pay a premium price but expect the delivery of excellent services.
It is the delivery of services and the running of a community that open the doors to female managers, who bring a level of EQ to the management role.
It’s not only the management of communities that is opening to female leadership. Despite disparities in pay and earning, data released by Lightstone Property in August 2021 revealed that South African women are reshaping the sector on the consumer side too. The stats here show a steady increase in women buying residential property over the past five years, with female first-time property buyers outnumbering both males and married couples.
So, if we are experiencing transformation from management as well as investors, why do we not see this being echoed in the role of the developer? Why are female development companies or female leadership roles not securing the large projects, like their male counterparts?
Well, this goes back to the major roadblock at the tip of the spear for gender equality reform in the property sector. Financial institutions continue to back the tried and tested techniques, and unfortunately that is where the bucks stop!
Louise Martin and Jaime-Lee Gardner are joint owners of www.estate-living.co.za