Southpoint Teaser Masthead

Why diversity adds depth

Catherine Carter

This week the Property Council is thrilled to be hosting Catherine McGregor for our annual Women in Property end of year cocktail party.

McGregor (pictured above) underwent gender transition while immersed in two male-dominated worlds: the Australian army and global cricket.

Along the way, she’s reflected on the nature of being male and female in our society, and how our narrow ideas of gender can prevent people from reaching their potential.

Diversity has become a hot button issue throughout the property and construction industry in recent years. Just 13 per cent of employees are female – and this has remained static for a decade.

This is worrying, as 15 years of global research has found that companies with gender diverse boards and leadership teams outperform their competitors.

“If you really want your business to be successful, why would you only look to hire from only half the talent pool?” asks Madeline Dermatossian, chief operating officer at Defence Housing Australia.

Madeline Dermatossian

Madeline Dermatossian

“By removing gender obstacles you are actively empowering your employees – both men and women. And that’s how new thought leaders are born.”

Dermatossian’s focus on what she calls “gender economics” has “opened the door to a wider sphere of thinking, allowing us to be more creative and leading to greater innovations.”

Time and again, research confirms that greater diversity in leadership teams enriches decision-making and reduces a company’s volatility, which is ultimately reflected in share price returns.

Diversity is also a good recruitment strategy.

“Diversity is about differences, while inclusiveness is about embracing and leveraging these differences,” says EY’s Senior Manager Mary O’Neill.

Mary O'Neill

Mary O’Neill

O’Neill says diversity makes good business sense, as it increases productivity, engagement and retention of valuable talent.

A diversity strategy offers a “better return on the investment that we make in our people by being able to retain the best talent for the longer term,” she adds.

Matthew Smee is a principal consultant with recruitment giant Hudson.

He understands better than most the challenge organisations face in securing – and retaining – the top talent.

Smee says recent research from Hudson has found that both men and women have specific – and different – ways of operating which do for the most part align to common perceptions.

“While neither gender has a monopoly on behaviour, some of the qualities most closely associated with a more female style of leadership – for example, their more open communication style and the increased attention females tend to pay to social relationships – would help companies aiming to boost their collaboration,” he says.

Matthew Smee

Matthew Smee

Smee adds that companies with a narrow model of leadership – such as the traditional ‘old boys’ network seen on Wall Street – are being put to the test by the diversity issue.

“Without a doubt, a diverse team is a more challenging one to manage. But the potential rewards are compelling. By bringing different skills and perspectives to the table, your business will be better able to cut across diverse markets and audiences, keep up with the rapid pace of change and grow in interesting ways. And that can only be good for organisation’s success.”

It’s interesting to note that the phrase ‘diversity’ has become a proxy for ‘gender balanced’, and yet compelling evidence finds that true diversity makes for more productive teams and more profitable organisations.

The University of Illinois in Chicago has found that each percentage increase in the rate of racial diversity leads to an increase in sales revenues of around nine percent.

As Danielle Mildren, a partner with Clayton Utz says, embracing diversity is not just about gender but about “thought, background, experience, personal circumstances, education, religion, sexuality, age, ethnicity and ability/disability.”

Danielle Mildren

Danielle Mildren

“Diversity helps our people to generate new ideas, creates more effective teams and relationships, and is a key enabler for us to attract, develop and retain the very best people,” she says.

At Clayton Utz, this means actively encouraging an inclusive culture that encourages people to “be themselves” at work.

That idea of people being about to “be themselves” is something we should all aspire to cultivate. As Fiona Doherty, a director with Rider Levett Bucknall says, “diversity adds the colour to a painting or spice to a meal”.

Diversity adds depth to an organisation – and to our society too.

Catherine McGregor will be speaking at the Women in Property end of year bash on Wednesday, 25 November at the National Portrait Gallery. Find out more and book tickets online:

Catherine Carter is ACT Executive Director of the Property Council of Australia


Catherine Carter

A lover of books and beauty, a seasoned traveller and a creative thinker, Catherine Carter is passionate about Canberra. Head of the Property Council of Australia’s Canberra office for more than a decade, Catherine now provides specialist business and communication consultancy services with a focus on urban environments, new forms of collaboration, community building and diversity. Catherine was the recipient of the Telstra Business Women’s ACT Community and Government Award in 2010 and the National Association of Women in Construction Crystal Vision Award in 2017. More about the Author