Data paints few women in property industry in the last five years, and women are adapting in their stride.
By: Yip Wai Fong
The property industry is represented in Malaysia’s Statistics Department (DOSM) as two separate sectors – construction and real estate services. Data from both shows a picture of a male-dominated industry. No surprise.
When the two are taken as a whole, women are being outnumbered by 6 to 1 in 2021. The good news is there has been more women in the industry since 2017 when the ratio was 8:1.
But of concern is, on the education side, the number of women enrolling in engineering and construction has declined since 2017. DOSM tabulated the enrolment in the fields of Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction at higher education institutions.
From 2017 to 2021, less than 200,000 women are employed in the construction sector, translating to less than 1% of the total national workforce.
The contrast is stark compared to men, where on average 89% of them are employed in the sector from 2017 to 2021.
According to DOSM, there are between 33,000 and 47,000 women active in real estate services from 2017 to 2021, or just about 0.3% of the total workforce in the country. Women’s participation has declined by 0.9% since 2017.
Gender parity is also pronounced in real estate services, where on average 44.5% of those employed are women from 2017 to 2021.
But even as the sector is more preferred by women due to its work hour flexibility (see Women’s Say), men still make up the majority of the workforce.
On average, 97,000 women enrolled for Engineering, Manufacturing and Constructions courses from 2017 to 2021. However, enrolment has declined over the period at the rate of 2.7%. Declining enrolment also occurred for male students at a rate of 3.2%.
There are more males enrolled compared to women, which has been consistently less than 40% over the period.
The decline in women’s enrolment might contribute to even fewer women joining the industry in the future.
When asked about how women thrive in an industry where they are the minority, they said that they adapted by embracing professionalism in their work.
Malaysian Institute of Estate Agents president Chan Ai Cheng said the most common misperception in her profession is that men were viewed as more competent when it comes to business dealings and are more able to close deals in commercial and industrial property segments, while women are better in the residential segment only.
“But at the end of the day, though stereotyping exists, it is easily overcome when one is knowledgeable, able to hold and carry themselves well and deliver the results,” she said.
Real estate agency iLP Realty chief executive officer Ivon Lai said being passionate about the industry has kept her moving despite having to put in extra hard work to prove herself and build her agency’s reputation.
“I needed to put in double, triple or even more effort to prove myself through results. Apart from (delivering) results, (building) integrity and reputation is very important. My passion for the property industry has kept me moving. I constantly keep myself up-to-date about market trends and review my company's (strategic) position. I’m always thinking out of the box and going towards the blue ocean strategy to provide total solutions for our clients,” she told StarProperty.
She also encourages women to join real estate businesses as it is advantageous to women in its own way.
“A real estate negotiator has flexible working hours so it’s beneficial to a working mother. Besides a lucrative income, a healthy work-life balance is achievable. This industry (allows) for more exposure (to a variety of) people every day. For women (who are equipped with) property investment knowledge, joining this industry can help them become an investor-manager of their own properties in order to achieve financial freedom,” she said.
Chan concurs that real estate is a suitable vocation for women, adding that female agents are viewed as more trustworthy by buyers and sellers as well as landlords and tenants.
“Generally women agents are more patient, show empathy and build rapport with clients. Real estate is a very suitable business for women. The ability to set your own schedule is ideal for women who have other responsibilities at home such as taking care of children or ageing parents. As real estate is a people-centric business, women can put into good use their communication and relationship-building skills. The monetary rewards correlate to the effort,” she said.
UEM Sunrise Bhd chief development officer Mardiana Rahayu said women are synonymous with the ability to multi-task, sensitivity to details, assertiveness and steadfastness. These are important qualities in the construction industry.
“Women are known to be assertive and no-nonsense in their views and opinions and tend to steer projects towards timeliness of delivery. Our inherent ability to juggle and manage priorities, and our resourcefulness are often needed to ensure cost is well within what has been allocated,” she said.
She said the challenges go back to the traditional societal expectation of women to be a homemaker and child-rearing while men are expected to be the breadwinner.
“This is still the case in 2023 Malaysia for many of us,” she said, adding that more women will be attracted to join the sector if the opportunity for advancement in terms of promotion and wage are improved for women.
“Statistics have shown that there is still a wage difference between men and women in the construction sector with men either earning more, getting promoted faster or simply given more opportunities to say, take on international roles that require frequent travelling," she pointed out.
Juggling at the top
Some jobs are not gender biased and are equally suitable for both men and women, based on their personal abilities, talents and skills. Occupations like architecture demand for both creativity and technical knowledge, and a methodological mindset, said Veritas Design Group vice president Lillian Tay.
From the design concept to resolving all the engineering, performance and regulatory compliances needed to construct a building, the architect’s work needs to get down to a myriad of technical details covering multiple disciplines including engineering, landscape, interiors and cost management.
Tay, who oversees design at Veritas and leads key projects in residential, hospitality and workplace architecture, transportation and urban design, said she sees that women and men are not different in terms of their abilities and perspectives.
“I believe there is no difference in the abilities and perspectives of men or women when it comes to architecture design. Great design comes from a constant spirit of inquiry, an innovative mindset to solving problems, a passion for beauty and proportion of forms and very importantly, a good understanding and care for how people can use and enjoy space,” she said, adding that the traditional norms for gender roles present more of a stumbling block for women rather than the profession itself.
“In many societies, it is often less common for most women to go out extensively to network to secure projects. That may set them at a disadvantage compared to the boys’ club when it comes to bringing in projects to grow their own practice. Getting the work is as critical as doing the work for any business, large or small.
“Also in many less developed or more traditional communities where families may have greater financial challenges, the harsh reality is that they are more likely to spend their limited funds on their sons rather than their daughters,” she said.
She observed that although women studying architecture at universities are about equal to male, reflecting a healthy level of interest among women, not many of the graduates ended up in the profession. Her observation is confirmed by the Malaysia Board of Architects (LAM), a statutory body that conducts the registration of architects, graduate architects and other related roles. A total of 5,854 professionals are registered with the boards as of February 2023.
According to LAM, while 41% of the registered graduate architects are women, women architects stand at just 25%. Tay suggests that to interest more women to join architecture, men should be incentivised to take up a share of responsibilities at home, besides more opportunities to work remotely for women.
“At universities, the ratio of males to females studying architecture is about equal. However, in the working world, the ratio of female to male architects is substantially lower, showing a high drop-out rate for women. It is hoped that today’s IT amenities can help incentivise more women to stay on by allowing women more opportunities to work remotely from home,” she said.
And instead of requiring more mandatory maternity leave for women which might work against them securing promotions or higher pay, it might be better to offer increased paternity leave for men to inspire them to take a larger role in parental responsibilities more equally at home, Tay said.
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