International Women’s Day: Celebrating the progress of women in property - Total Landlord Insurance

March 7, 2024
International Women’s Day: Celebrating the progress of women in property - Total Landlord Insurance

Celebrated annually on 8 March, International Women's Day (IWD) is a global event focused on recognising the social, economic, cultural, and political accomplishments of women. IWD serves as the perfect opportunity to explore the challenges and highlight the progress of women in property.


Breaking down gender barriers in property

Working in property has traditionally been a male dominated enterprise. Whether as a business manager or owner, or independently investing, letting, managing or developing property, very often women have been sidelined or even discriminated against. As recently as the late 1970s, women in Britain could even be refused a mortgage without a male guarantor.

But like many other walks of life, there are very few occupations that don’t now have a more equal mix of men and women; whether that’s driving buses or running farms, large corporations or police forces, and the property sector is no exception. 

In the Government’s latest English Private Landlord survey, 55% of landlords identified as male, whereas 44% identified as female. Female landlords were more likely than male landlords to own one property – 55% of landlords owning one property were female, compared to 45% who were male.

You could say that property has been one of the last bastions of male domination, and these figures show that it is still skewed that way. But the gap is narrowing as women are increasingly breaking into the realm. Just as modern mechanisation allowed women to carry out roles that previously required a large amount of brawn and muscle, brainpower and business savvy are not something women are lacking when it comes to competing on equal terms with men when buying, selling, financing, letting, managing and developing property.

The representation of women in property agencies

Yet despite this, in the world of agency - estate agency, finance and lettings - there is still some way to go to reach parity. According to the findings of the ‘Real Estate Balance Industry Survey’ released in February 2023, the gender gap between middle management and senior leadership had not only persisted but worsened since their first survey in 2016.

A report on the survey stated: “Based on company responses, between 2016 and 2022 women represented approximately 40+% of the UK real estate workforce for graduate entry level to middle managers, but after that the numbers drop sharply at senior levels. Worryingly, this drop-off appears to be following a downward trend since 2016.”

This is despite studies that have shown women actually score higher than men in most leadership skills and so, it would seem, actually have a natural advantage over men. While many agencies are now predominantly staffed and run by women, particularly in customer-facing roles, there needs to be more support for women to take the step from these roles to running the businesses, performing other key professional roles in the industry and independently investing in property. Especially since improving gender diversity by having women in leadership roles improves business outcomes.


Women in the property and construction workforce

There is still a good degree of male domination in the property industry, particularly in the construction trades and related professional roles, where women still lag behind. But as companies strive to address their ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance) credentials this should improve. As one Oxfordshire-based property developer and building contractor, Lynda King, cited by the has said:

"It's better than it was, but it's not as good as it should be. It's a hard nut to crack."

According to the same magazine, market estimates from 2021 show that women make up just 15% of the property and construction workforce in the UK.

In other industries things are very different. The finance company MSP Capital has a team comprising 48% women, almost at parity, and women are strongly represented in its senior leadership team and board of directors. The company, however, still believes that more can and should be done across the property industry to make sure more new talent is brought in.

Creating a gender-equal industry

In support of the women’s cause, MSP Capital, the Poole-based specialist lender, arranged for a group of senior women in property to come together to voice their opinions and say what challenges and issues they have faced in their careers to-date.

The women interviewees represented a host of essential services across the property industry, namely surveying, development, building contracting, finance and investment. The researchers wanted to know what more could and needs to be done to achieve a gender-equal industry, “free from bias, stereotyping and discrimination.”

These invitees cited instances of where they had been made to feel excluded and marginalised, and expressed emotions that they felt represented “a major stumbling block for women trying to progress.” They also cited a general lack of understanding or support from management around issues including pregnancy, motherhood and the menopause.

Rachel Bartlett MSP's Marketing Manager at MSP is quoted by as saying:

"We have been working hard in the background to ensure our ESG strategy has a clear direction and focus, which enhances and supports the industry as a whole. We are proud of our journey so far and the learnings from this research have helped us to define the next steps to bringing balance to our industry."

Julie Murley a researcher from White Tiger, the independent research consultancy that conducted the women’s group interviews, presented her findings back to MSP Capital last year, and said:

"The women I spoke to offered first-hand insight. They identified a clear juxtaposition whereby women want more balance and equality but do not want to be showcased or rewarded based on their gender. They are craving real change from grass roots upwards."

While the women’s group agreed that the number of women working in property has risen considerably and is now on the rise, they felt that more still needs to be done to raise awareness in women and girls that the industry is an attractive career option, especially for younger women just starting out, from school, college or university.

Women in property investment

Not only working in property, but investing in property can be a really liberating experience for both women and men. Property investing enables an individual to grow wealth and build financial independence which ideally suits their specific situation, on their own terms, outside of the corporate environment.

There are a wide range of investing strategies that women can employ. There’s something in property investing for everyone, whether it’s running an Airbnb, a holiday cottage business, renting out a single let, student and multi-occupation lets, building a large portfolio of rentals or developing properties for re-sale. Our ‘Ultimate guide to buy to let property investment’ is packed with advice for anyone looking to get started.

Many people get into renting out property by accident - for example through an inheritance that means you have a property on your hands standing idle, having to move quickly before you can sell your own home, or having children away at university who need a home – often buying a student house to rent out with your child as a resident is a great way to solve the problem of providing a student home. Read our ‘Ultimate landlord guide to student properties’ for more information on being a student landlord.

A steady income and independence

Rental property brings in a steady income - which can be a great help to support a growing family -  while its demands on time are flexible. Even developing properties for sale or rental can be project managed around family or a more flexible lifestyle. And once experienced, the freedom this gives means there’s no going back, often it leads to the desire to build a bigger portfolio.

It’s so surprising that it’s only relatively recently that women were able to act independently and run their own businesses. While the Sex Discrimination Act was passed in 1975, outlawing the discrimination against women or marital status by employers and banks. As already mentioned, demanding a male guarantor on a woman’s mortgage application was common until almost 1980, just over 40 years ago.

Also, independent taxation for married women didn’t arrive in the UK until 1990. Before then, married women didn’t have a separate personal allowance or own a basic rate band in their own right. Married women couldn’t even submit their own tax returns. While UK equality laws have come a long way in the last 40 years or so, women in many other countries are not so lucky. Although we now have legal equality in the UK, there are still many countries around the world where women and girls don’t have the same rights to own title in and inherit property, as do the men and boys.

International women’s day

International Women’s Day on 8 March is a day to celebrate the contributions that women make around the world. It’s also a day to celebrate the progress that women have made in the working and investing sphere and the importance of continuing the fight for genuine gender equality.

Genuine equality in work is empowering, and even more so the ability to invest in and independently manage one’s own property. IWD is a reminder to us all to recognise the importance of empowering women and commit to creating a world where all women can live and work with dignity and respect.

The empowerment of women has become a critical issue in today’s society. In the past it’s been overlooked when it comes to careers and in financial investing. But the traditional underrepresentation of women in the property industry, and their inability to invest in and manage a business on an equal footing, is becoming a thing of the past. There are now many ways that women can take control of their lives and their financial futures, in work and as empowered investors.

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