This week at its London HQ, CBRE hosted the second Real Estate Balance event to a packed audience comprising a wide array of men and women from the world of real estate, from property companies and funds, through to surveyors, lawyers and accountants and many others.

The Real Estate Balance vision - to achieve a greater gender balance at board and executive management level across the real estate sector by 2021, through supporting in a practical way the development of an enduring female talent pipeline across the UK real estate industry.

Chaired by the affable Damian Wild, a panel comprising of Helen Gordon (Grainger CEO), Bill Hughes (Head of L&G Real Assets), John Spurling ( Consultant, Spencer Stuart) and Lorna Walker (Director, CBRE Capital Markets), hosted a debate entitled Untying Tomorrow’s Talent, examining the factors preventing women from moving through the career pipeline.

After an introduction by Sue Clayton, executive director and Chair of CBRE's Women's Network, Vivienne King, Chair of Real Estate Balance spoke about key differentiators of this group; recognising that in order to achieve its aims, Real Estate Balance will take a practical approach, harnessing the power of senior male and female members to change organisational cultures so that women can thrive and stay in companies, forming a significant portion of the pool from which senior leaders are selected across the breadth of the real estate industry.

Helen Gordon spoke of the inherent challenge of getting more women into senior positions in the real estate industry. Although Grainger last year became the first FTSE 250 company to appoint women to its three most senior board positions, Helen believes within the property industry, there is still more that needs to be done, as the pace of change compared with other industries is still comparatively low. The problem she believes lies in the culture of organisations.

Culture change was a theme echoed across the panel. All agreed it was necessary for businesses to both think differently and adopt policy solutions for example to integrate flexible working into their business model, not just for women but critically for men, as well as championed by men, allowing for positive male role models across the industry. The play hard element of the work hard environment also needs to accommodate the demands on women as carers, who are prevented from participating in Impromptu drinks and other networking.

Bill Hughes recognised improvements in the industry but retaining women until board level remained challenging despite an entry level cohort of 50:50; though he felt encouraged by the attitudes of the “30 somethings” rising through the business. Diversity generally can be thought of as a risk management tool, which overcomes The risk of group-think where people hire people who emulate themselves.

When asked by an audience member what companies should do to encourage change, Lorna Walker thought that improved paternity leave and working flexibility for men would be beneficial, whilst Bill Hughes suggested the profiling of successful women could help to encourage change. John Spurling advised companies to start the career dialogue with women early in their careers and keep them engaged with advice and support.

As for advice; Helen suggested that women should be brave and be encouraged to take risks throughout their careers, stretching into unfamiliar areas. All agreed that experience was also essential and that women should look for non-exec and other roles outside their own business to help them broaden their business acumen and progress in their careers.

As for the thorny issue of quotas, John expressed concern over people being hired other than on merit, though it was felt that targets, if thoughtfully employed, can help things to move in the right direction.

Vivienne King commented: “It is encouraging to see the audience thoroughly engage with the important issues at hand. It is only through debate and discussion that we can learn how to create change and develop and maintain the talent pipeline that supplies the leaders of the future.”