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Need to see more women in leadership in SA’s property sector

MAIN IMAGE: Nonhlanhla Mayisela, Chair of the Women’s Property Network.

Great effort is being made to encourage black women to enter the property industry, but the sector’s senior management is still very male-dominated says Nonhlanhla Mayisela, chair of the Women’s Property Network and CEO of Izandla Property. She shares her views on gender transformation in South Africa’s property industry and what needs to be done to keep the wheels of change turning.

What is your view on the state of gender transformation in South Africa’s property industry?

Gender parity in our industry still has a way to go. We’ve made significant strides in the last decade and there is visible progress of women being integrated into various roles within different segments of the sector. The biggest challenge we still face is in ensuring that women are represented in senior roles within the industry.

Do you think that more female property professionals are entering the sector now than they were ten years ago? And to what extent is there representation at a senior level?

Absolutely, there’s great effort being made to encourage females at an undergraduate level to pursue property studies. Therefore, there’s a natural transition of women entering the sector, but there certainly isn’t enough female representation at the senior level. If one looks at the listed sector, there’s only one female-led Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) company in a pool of about 30 REITs. Apart from this company, the composition of senior executives is still very much male-dominated. We need senior women in key decision-making roles in order for visible and sustainable change to continue.

Has there been a progression in female-led businesses within the property industry?

There certainly has been progress but not nearly enough. The biggest challenge that female-led businesses face is access to markets and the ability to sustain and grow a solid client base. Most female-led businesses are in the services segment of the property sector, which is still very male-dominated. We need to get to a point where we achieve critical mass where women are meaningfully participating along the full value chain of property.

To what extent are these businesses accessing the necessary support and markets to grow their business?

Businesses require varied support depending on where they are along their journey. To a large extent, there’s been a significant focus on enterprise development for these businesses. This is great as a starting point because it gives these businesses a kick-start and the necessary support in their early stages. However, the remaining challenge then lies in ensuring that there’s a transition from business-support to providing access to markets where these businesses can operate independently.

What do you think has helped to aid or hinder this transformation?

There are a number of factors that have both enabled and hindered progression in this area – some of which I’ve already mentioned. Transformation in its entirety is complex and emotive – there’s certainly an acknowledgement that although significant strides have been made, there’s still much to do in this area.

What are some of the stumbling blocks or barriers that are still in place on the road to better transformation and inclusivity in the industry?

Barriers to entry are perpetuated by those in positions of power who simply refuse to make decisions to bring about change. In my view, one of the prevalent barriers that exist is the inability for big business to make gender parity a strategic imperative within their organisations. The only way we’ll see change is if the leadership team enforces the importance of gender diversity at all levels within the organisation.

Admittedly, another barrier is perpetuated by women themselves. That is, we not only lack the belief in ourselves, but we also don’t take the necessary steps that will ultimately ensure that we make progress. The reality is that we often operate in hostile environments that don’t naturally embrace change. This means we have to equip our minds to forge ahead despite opposition. By doing this, change will eventually come!

Another major stumbling block is the lack of support that exists among women. I think women are naturally wired to ‘grin and bear it’, which results in us trying to solve and overcome every challenge on our own and not seek help. Like all human beings, whether male or female, we need support and guidance, which comes in different forms. But at times that is the difference between success and failure.

What more do you think needs to be done in order to see more women progressing in the property industry, particularly in leadership roles and as business owners?

We need to acknowledge that it’s already happening. It may be slow, but the wheels have started to turn. Gender parity is a lifetime battle. I think women should continue pushing the boundaries without relenting, and big business needs to buy into the importance of having female representation within the work environment. Eventually, we’ll get to where we need to be.

What advice do you have for other female property professionals who are perhaps finding it difficult to establish themselves and thrive within the industry?

Firstly, they shouldn’t isolate themselves – they should actively seek people, men and women, with whom they can engage to get advice and the necessary support. Secondly, business is about relationships, so we need to acknowledge that an important part of our growth is about building strategic relationships within the business environment.

Do you have a motto or philosophy that you’ve lived by that has helped you on your path to success within your career?

“Relationships and credibility are my currency.” Every opportunity that has come my way has been through relationships built over time.

More on Nonhlanhla Mayisela: She is the Chief Executive Officer of Izandla Property Fund. With 15 years’ experience in the property industry, Mayisela specialises in commercial property investments, developments and fund management. Prior to her appointment as CEO of Izandla Property, she was responsible for driving the property development and marketing strategy for the four international and five regional airports owned and managed by the Airports Company South Africa. Mayisela is the National Chair of the Women’s Property Network, a board member of the Property Sector Charter Council and a member of the South African Property Owners Association. Lastly, she is also a 2014 Fellow of the Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellowship Programme (ALTP).

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