Women in property: lessons from the flex sector


The flexible workspace sector attracts proportionally more female staff than other real estate sectors, which is reflected in the number of women in senior roles. Undoubtedly, there is still more work to be done in delivering gender diversity among flex office staff, but the broader property industry can learn some valuable lessons from the sector.

Flexspace as a growth industry

Flexspace is a growth sector. Operators are moving into developments and offices via leases or management agreements, and developers are also testing the waters by creating this offer to activate and support a diverse leasing strategy.

The sector has already taught the industry how a different commercial model like this can work and how space can work as a service. The skills required are more akin to hospitality than traditional landlord/tenant leasing skills.

The importance of community

A friendly, community atmosphere is at the heart of a good flex space experience. It’s what customers comment on most frequently, and that is down to the hospitality skills of the front-of-house staff.

Given the high number of women who work in hospitality, it’s no surprise that more women are working in serviced offices as the skills are transferable.

Working in a flex space requires a high degree of organisational and people skills. It requires attention to the minutiae, as you will typically be handling everything from deliveries, chasing payments and fixing the printer to making sure the cleaners have done a good job.

It also requires teamwork, delegation and a level of customer service – that warm welcome and can-do attitude, for example.

These aren’t skills exclusive to women, of course, but they are skills women often have, especially if they have come from the hospitality sector, and they are good skills and expertise for any commercial real estate business to have and foster.

Flexspace career opportunities

The flex sector also seems better at retaining and recruiting women into senior roles. However, it is still disproportionate to the number of women working on-site in customer-facing roles.

There are further discrepancies. It is easier to point to more women working at board level for flex space operators compared with traditional property companies that have moved into flex offices. More traditional property companies tend to be more male dominated. But that doesn’t mean there is a natural transition for women up the career ladder. Hospitality jobs don’t generally require a degree, which can be a barrier to moving to more senior roles.

There may also be a gap in practical business skills which might be a barrier to more women working in flex at a senior level. The lesson here is in developing appropriate pathways through the business for people from a wider range of educational backgrounds and ensuring skills gaps are plugged. There is also space for mentorship and good role models to inspire and drive career aspirations.

Investing in people

More investment needs to be made in people development to capture the talent and retain it. Given the growth of the sector, does it need an apprenticeship scheme?

If property companies take service and hospitality and what that represents to heart and let it inform all aspects of the business, it will inevitably open the door to more women working in the sector at all levels – and that’s the most important lesson real estate can learn from the flex sector.


This article was first published in BE News.

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