By Jane Kelly | 8 Mar 2016

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Director of Planning and Diversity Board member, Jane Kelly will take you through Urbis’ journey towards championing workplace diversity and cultural change.

At Urbis, it is a quest that is founded on the commitment to ensure everyone is provided with the opportunity to develop, advance and perform to their very best, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, physical ability or religion.

The Urbis Diversity Board was established after feedback received from the 2012 staff survey revealed very different perceptions between men and women around opportunities for career progression. The survey also confirmed that women weren’t progressing to senior roles at the same pace as their male colleagues. Managing Partner John Wynne and the Urbis Board saw the gap between male and female perceptions and opportunities for advancement as an incredibly important issue, not just around gender diversity, but for the future growth of the business and retention of its best talent.

The Diversity Board's aim is to elevate awareness of the importance of Urbis’ commitment to diversity, and to implement actions driving meaningful change throughout the company. A target was set for the number of female directors to increase to 40 per cent by 2019.

The Diversity Board’s aim is to elevate awareness of the importance of Urbis’ commitment to diversity, and to implement actions driving meaningful change throughout the company. A target was set for the number of female directors to increase to 40 per cent by 2019. This figure currently stands at 26 percent.

Director of Planning Jane Kelly joined the company in 2003 and currently works part time after taking time off to raise two children. Jane sits on the Urbis Diversity Board and has assisted the company better understand the benefits of a diverse workplace and has provided insights into practical ways this can be achieved.

“One of my passions is to improve the workplace experience and to facilitate a career path for all staff, particularly those working flexibly or part time. In my role on the Diversity Board I am proud to assist the company improve policies and procedures to facilitate flexible work arrangements for both men and women, and to assist staff reach their potential, regardless of their work arrangements,” said Jane.

The Diversity Board reviewed the factors that influenced career paths for women in the business, company policies around returning from maternity leave, flexible work arrangements and promotion to senior leadership. The Board researched how other companies supported the progression of women into senior roles, but found that there is no single solution.

“It takes a whole package of tools and approaches, most of which are dependent on cultural change being driven from the top.”

diversity infographic

A snapshot of Urbis’ diversity stats from 1 July 2015. While the overall gender split is 50/50, the gap widens the further up the management ladder. Source: Urbis Diversity Annual Report FY16

I believe that for the Urbis Diversity Board to be successful, support and recognition for workforce diversity, inclusive leadership and flexible work practices must come from the leaders of the organisation.

It’s great to see this culture of diversity now becoming more entrenched across the business and many of our male partners are now leading the charge on this issue.

Our Managing Partner, John Wynne, initiated and chairs the Diversity Board and his passion and commitment to this important issue has been instrumental in challenging and changing some traditional views. It’s great to see this culture of diversity now becoming more entrenched across the business and many of our male partners are now leading the charge on this issue. 

To assist Urbis to drive its change agenda, it has initiated unconscious bias training for senior management to help them identify their own biases, and to provide them with the tools to break the connection between bias and action. Managers are encouraged to challenge their biases when making decisions to hire new recruits or considering staff promotions and opportunities.

The company also needed actual role models like Jane, who were in leadership positions, and could successfully do their jobs while being able to work flexibly.

It’s a very exciting era. I’ve been working part time for eight years now and I’ve seen significant improvements for staff seeking both flexibility and career advancement, and a real willingness for change, not just within Urbis but throughout the industry as a whole.

One of my passions is to improve the workplace experience and to facilitate a career path for all staff, particularly those working flexibly or part time.

Part time staff often have to perform the juggling act between family and work commitments, meaning activities such as career planning and networking are often put aside.

Urbis’ flexible work arrangements are intended to help staff balance work and personal commitments, from part time work to job share, working from home, negotiable work weeks, and phased return to work and retirement schemes.

For me, the key to active and conscious career planning is good communication. “This involves regular discussions with your manager to ensure you have a clear understanding of what is required to advance and how you’re tracking. Mentors are also invaluable to test ideas with and explore the possibilities of the journey ahead.”

Time must also be allocated to strategic networking. Networking is often seen as a luxury for part time staff, but it is important to give this some focus in your career planning. Attending industry and client events will help maintain contact with clients and industry colleagues, increase your professional network, and raise your personal profile.

In early 2016, Urbis introduced SOAR, a flexible sponsorship initiative designed especially to support high potential female Associate Directors and Directors to progress their career in the company. It is part of Urbis’ ongoing commitment to attract, retain and develop key talent with a specific focus on senior women.

The property sector still has some way to catch up with other industries, but I’ve seen a real desire to change.

The SOAR sponsorship program builds off the work of the Diversity Board and is aimed at achieving the company’s goal of 40 per cent of Directors being women by 2019.

While I believe that a target of 40 per cent may be seen as ambitious, Urbis is making great inroads in striving towards that goal, and is committed to putting the framework in place to provide its best chance of success.

 

I am encouraged by the momentum for positive change in the property industry and the work of the Property Council in the area of diversity.

Initiatives, such as the Property Council of Australia’s Male Champions of Change and Women and Diversity committees signify the broader appetite to achieve change to gender equality issues in organisations and communities.

The property sector still has some way to catch up with other industries, but I’ve seen a real desire to change. Some of our clients are now mandating targets and some have a requirement for their consultants to have diversity policies in place. These initiatives can only lead to positive change in our work places and society as a whole, and I’m looking forward to continuing to assist Urbis and our industry to become recognised as promoting opportunities for all .