Last month I attended a research breakfast held by the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA), an organisation for which I am on the board, and being part of a largely male-dominated industry, it really struck a chord with me.

Australia is #1 in the world for female participation in education1.  As a nation we therefore clearly have a huge investment in women, but this is largely unused.  If we utilised this investment, it would be worth $4 billion to the economy – a staggering statistic to consider. 

Women in leadership have a very different approach to their role than men.  They approach risk very differently – they approach it in the context rather than as a whole.  Generally they are more effective board members as they engage more, represent better their constituents and key purpose, and show enhanced governance.  The problem is that we as an industry, and as a wider business community, are not seeing what isn’t there, i.e. we are looking only at men for the leadership opportunities instead of widening our perspective.  It’s not even completely about equality, it’s evidently good business practice. 

In our recent Bower project at Manly, I encountered this high level efficiency first hand.  Within our project team of 11 members, all were women other than myself, my Development Manager and the architect Koichi Takada, and it was one of the most seamless, organised and efficient design development and project launches I've been involved in. 

The speaker at UDIA’s Breakfast, Professor Robert Brown, was talking largely about the concept of an “unconscious bias”, “a consistent tendency to respond in a particular way”.  The key for gender diversity is to break that unconscious bias, and see it as an adaptive challenge instead. 

Getting back to something particularly relevant to our industry, Professor Brown reminded us that safety used to be seen as an adaptive challenge.  Not that long ago, it wasn’t the norm to wear high vis vests and consider safety as a top priority.  The industry now accepts that this is now not a choice but an essential aspect of our business, and we need to approach gender diversity in the same manner.

Another interesting statistic is that women globally control at least 64% of global spending and in some countries over 70% of household spending decisions.  Presumably having women involved in a business’s management team would give them an advantage over their competitors.  Corporate leadership really should reflect the diversity of the customer base.

Let me go on the record to say that at CostaFox, we are dedicated to approaching this key issue the right way – managing development opportunities within our business appropriately and offering leadership positions to our female staff, we are committed to asking counterfactual questions, using tools and processes to encourage women to excel, slowing down our thinking.

The UDIA breakfast was a great start by the industry to tackle the issue of gender diversity.  However, in a room of 120 attendees, I was one of only 15 men.  We clearly have a long way to go. 

[1] Report by international consulting and management firm Booz and Company, 2012