As an industry we must do better

Those who attended last week’s Property Conference will be aware of the disruption during our Indigenous Design Panel on day one of the event, when a significant number of the audience left the room before the session started.


Our speakers – quite rightly – pointed this out and expressed their dismay at the disrespect demonstrated by so many attendees. Those who were in the room were visibly uncomfortable and at times embarrassed by what was termed a ‘walk-out’.

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt; it was a long 2.5 hour session between morning tea and lunch so many departed to use the facilities and returned, it was also a beautiful day on the Gold Coast so I am sure many made their way to the beach for an extended lunch break. But these two facts won’t account for everyone.

We’ve discussed this as a team in the days since and made many excuses for our members, questioning whether the topic was simply not relevant to some people and whether we could have placed it elsewhere in the programme or positioned it better in our marketing.

But there is no excuse.

The speakers had every right to be disappointed, for how are they to know this is anything other than public exclusion and a revolt against diversity? The truth is, while not everyone in the room is part of a design team, having respect for the people and culture in which we live, work, and develop is integral to property.

Was it because the speakers were female? Maybe. We’ve certainly had the odd informal comment that the programme felt “a bit woke”. And yes – both through design and circumstance via last-minute speaker changes – the programme was female-dominant. Overall, 65% of the speakers identified as female, slightly above our 40:40:20 Pledge, while 31% of participants were female.

About the 40:40:20 Pledge

We know that the best discussions, thinking, and productivity occurs when there is diversity. Many high-profile conferences, events and committees lack gender balance, despite there often being no shortage of expert women.

Property Council is committed to ensuring the women in our industry are visible and included. To support this, we implemented a 40:40:20 Pledge at all Property Council events, where we aim to have a range of speakers who are 40% male, 40% female and 20% either across local and national events, both as attendees and speakers.

We have also expanded this pledge to include Property Council executives and encouraged Property Council members to adopt similar pledges for their own organisations, including in recruitment, retention, management, and governance.

Personally, I think we could all do with being more inclusive.

I believe that property is an industry for everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, background or any other perceived ‘difference’. We know there is a war for talent, so let’s make our industry one that people aspire to be a part of. I believe that if you don’t embrace change, you stay stuck in the past. I believe if we’re going to increase the diversity of the people we attract to these events, and indeed to our industry as a whole, we need to put more diverse speakers’ centre stage. We’re here to show leadership, we need to provoke thought, discussion and debate – come back to our purpose – there are big issues at stake. A responsibility to lead, challenge thinking, ideas and progressing our sector. Respect for the country we were in and the people of the land.

To prove my point, I looked back in the Property Council files, delving into our 2013 conference programme which funnily enough took place in Brisbane, Australia. The programme is filled with everything you would expect, policy updates, discussions on the role of iwi, inspiring speakers, and economic updates. The speakers were also 89% male and according to the conference survey, not one single person commented on this imbalance. In fact, one of my favourite comments was “hats off to the ladies out the back”. I kid you not.

A sweep of the 2013 conference delegate list tells me this conference attracted 16% female attendees. There were quite literally more men named John, Mike, or Mark than there were women.

I’m sure to some people these were the good old days. To me they are just the old days, and I am grateful they are in the past.

Our industry, led by some exceptional visionary leaders, is keen to move forward, enthusiastic about making our industry a place where we all belong and is willing to embrace change.

That means we have to have conversations like this.

Even if they’re uncomfortable. Maybe especially if they’re uncomfortable.

One of my core reasons for taking the role as Chief Executive of Property Council New Zealand was this opportunity for inclusive change. Supported by our Industry Leaders, we have been on this journey since I took the reins in 2018 and I can promise you, we will continue to lead the horse to water, time and time again, until everyone takes a sip.

Who knows, maybe you’ll find yourself necessarily refreshed.

Be part of the change

If you’re saying to yourself, “that’s fine Leonie, but what can I do to help support greater diversity and inclusion in our industry, I’m just one person”, then I say, get involved with your industry association.

Here are four ways you can be a part of fostering this evolution:

1. Join the Speaker Hub

One of the many ways Property Council is embracing change is by creating one central hub where the wider property industry can come to find top industry talent to present at industry events, panels, and conferences.

One of the biggest hurdles to getting diversity in an event line up is talent hunting – we know there are hundreds of people out there who would make excellent speakers and we want to encourage them to put their hands up. To do so, we have developed this database of speakers – of all genders, backgrounds and ethnicities – which will be available for the wider industry to use as they wish. This offer is not exclusively for women or minority groups – as diversity comes in all shapes and sizes – this is an invitation to the property industry at large.

It is our hope that this directory provides opportunities for those members who have been under-represented in the past, meaning there’s no excuses for a lack of representation on panels and at industry events.

We’re looking for the thinkers, the doers, the idea-generators, the experts.

We’re looking for you.

2. Join our conference programme committees

Each of Property Council’s four national conferences (The Property Conference, Retail Conference, Reset and the Residential Development Summit) is backed by a dedicated group of members who help plan the event programme. This includes helping design and define topics and content and assisting with sourcing speakers, as well as having an overview of the entire programme.

Contact Catie Harris for further information.

3. Join a Member Taskforce

Property Council has several dynamic and engaged member taskforces, who provide insight and support our advocacy team on a range of issues, from Build to Rent and resource management reform, to infrastructure funding and changes to the building code.

These groups are ever-changing and are open to all members.

Check out our advocacy priorities to learn more:

4. Reach out to your Regional Manager

If you’d like to get more involved with your local membership in Auckland, Central (BoP and Waikato), Wellington or the South Island, please get in touch with your Regional Manager. We are always looking for assistance with event ideas, site tour options and event sponsorship, as well as learning more about the policy or advocacy issues you’re facing as a member.

Auckland | Tasch Dodson

Central | Sarah Rundstrom

Wellington | Nikki Livesey

South Island | Kate McLaughlin

Author | Leonie Freeman

Chief Executive, Property Council New Zealand

A well-respected industry leader, Leonie has extensive experience in the New Zealand property industry, having held top positions in both the public and private sector. From creating the concept of what is now realestate.co.nz, to buying and transforming her own residential property management business, helping establish the new Auckland Council, and managing asset development for Housing New Zealand, there’s not many areas of property that Leonie has not touched.

In 2011, Leonie was appointed to the board of NZX listed company Goodman Property Trust, and up until her 2018 appointment as Property Council’s Chief Executive, she dedicated her time to leading an independent philanthropic initiative to solve Auckland’s housing crisis.

Leonie holds a Master of Commerce, majoring in valuation and property management and is a life member of the Property Institute of New Zealand, a chartered member of the Institute of Directors, and a member of Global Women. In 2017 she was awarded the Property Institute’s Supreme Property Award, and the Property Council Auckland Property People Judges Choice Award, and in 2020 she received the prestigious Bledisloe Medal from Lincoln University.

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