Instead of thinking of ‘gender equality’ as a women’s issue, Kylie Davis explains why we need to reframe the conversation and talk about confirmation bias.
This blog first appeared on Real Content. Click here to view.
Let’s stop talking about women in real estate. Instead, let’s talk about confirmation bias. And groupthink. And a host of other accepted norms that are blindsiding us and holding us back from fulfilling our potential as an industry.
According to Psychology Today, confirmation bias is when wishful thinking motivates our decision making. It’s when we would so much like a certain idea or concept to be true, that we end up believing it to be so. This error then leads us to stop gathering information that might provide evidence to the contrary, while ignoring, or rejecting, information that casts doubt on it.
Groupthink is when a group of well-intentioned people make irrational or non-optimal decisions because they place the desire for harmony and conforming above all else.
Both phenomena are dangerous because they are an indicator of complacency and delusion in how we see ourselves as an industry. When these biases appear in our thinking, perspectives are not challenged, we shut down objectors and we lose our ability to respond creatively as our thinking gets narrowed.
At a time when real estate is facing unprecedented challenges from technological disruption, falling commissions and a changing business model, new thinking is exactly what we need in the industry.
So how is this playing out in real estate?
Women outnumber men in real estate according to the ABS figures from 2016. A typical real estate agent is most likely to be a young woman in her 30s with children, working full time and earning a mere $58,468 per annum. Women make up 57% of agents in Australia. You can read a great summary of the data here from Elite Agent.
These numbers would indicate that equality is alive and well in real estate. In fact, if anything, the blokes should be a little worried.
But underneath this top-line data, there is a whole different story. Let’s take a cold hard look at the numbers.
• 82% of the property management team are women
• 70% of sales agents are men
• 63% of principals are men. Just 37% are women
• Attend any real estate event and 80-90% of speakers will be men
• Only 20 of the Top 100 REB agents are women
• There are only two female CEOs in a major real estate franchise in Australia
• Women are seven times more likely to hold an admin role in real estate than men.
So while women now make up the majority of workers within real estate, the data shows our roles are overwhelmingly in support and administration – helping the boys to do their thing. Tidying up and holding the fort while the fellas go off to slay the mammoths and do the warrior work of earning the GCI and appearing on the main stages to talk about their success.
And sure there are exceptions to this rule, but there are too few exceptions for an industry with this many women working within it for this long and whose work literally is the bedrock of value in the industry.
Analysis by Macquarie Bank shows 70% of the value of a real estate business is determined by the recurring revenue of its property management business. Property management teams, overwhelmingly run and staffed by women, are the single biggest determinant in how successful a real estate agency business will be. It’s women’s work that determines agency success, not the mammoth hunting of GCI.
Now before you accuse me of being a hairy legged feminist (I am) or a man hater (I am not), remember we are not talking about sexism in real estate. We are talking about groupthink and confirmation bias in this article. Nice, non-threatening, completely gender neutral topics.
I mean, I couldn’t be sexist. God knows I LOVE men. I’m married to one and I have two sons. I work with some wonderful men and some of my best friends are men.
Gosh that sounds weird, doesn’t it? One minute I’m pointing out that the data around gender and equality in real estate clearly demonstrates that while more women than men are employed in our industry, men overwhelmingly hold the positions of power and dominate in roles of higher earning potential, training and the story telling of their success, even though the heavy lifting of value building in our businesses is done by women.
The next minute I’m explaining how calling this out can’t be problematic because of my personal relationships. And really, I don’t want to rock the boat because that might upset the blokes I know and love.
This is why it’s weird. It’s weird because how I personally feel about the men in my life is absolutely irrelevant to the facts demonstrated in the data and my obligation to act upon them.
If I insist that how I personally behave towards the men in my life is the only qualification required to make me immune from acting or responding to inequality or preventing me from speaking out, then I am guilty of both groupthink and confirmation bias.
If you are a bloke reading this article, I ask you to consider this.
The respect and love that you show for the women working in your teams, offices and homes is wonderful. We genuinely love you for it. But it is not enough. It hasn’t been for a long time, but we’ve waited and hoped that you’d notice how hard we’ve been working and how worthy we are in the belief that that might be enough to affect a change. But that change has been glacial. We need you to open your eyes, speak out and do more.
The standards we walk past every day are the standards we accept and will be known for. Both men and women need to start consciously – and collectively – addressing the biases and misconceptions in real estate.
EY reveals there is 15 years of global research that demonstrates that gender diverse leadership teams constantly outperform the industry average. It also conclusively demonstrates that the current debate around gender diversity in real estate is being undermined by “myth, false assumptions and unconscious bias”.
And when you boil that down, it’s because as an industry we exhibit doubt that gender diversity is a problem that requires fixing, we see no need to change what we’re doing, we hide behind excuses like merit, a lack of candidates or natural selection, and we fear speaking out for being labelled outspoken or aggressive or emotional. This is out and out groupthink and confirmation bias.
A more diverse real estate industry is one that is clever enough to resolve issues like flexible work that allows both male and female sales agents to take time out for new babies, family emergencies or just being proactive around mental health which is a significant issue within our ranks, according to Jet Xavier’s wellness report.
A more diverse real estate industry is one that is proactive about telling the stories of the depth and breadth of our combined experience, not just the pale, male and stale narratives that 57% of the industry currently struggle to relate to. We need to speak out when we see this in conference programs and demand new voices.
A more diverse real estate industry is proactive about training everyone within their teams and have reward systems that recognise contribution across the business, not just the high flying sales performers.
A more diverse real estate industry is excited and pulls together around the technological changes that are challenging us as an industry and puts our best thinking forward on how to embrace and drive our own transformation.
A more diverse real estate industry is one that refuses to be complacent, or offended and opens its eyes to the data and embraces the idea that we can do better.
Because we can. The data conclusively proves it. And we all have a personal role to play.
Happy International Women’s Day!