How to equalise leadership gender equality in the built environment

Gender equality in organisational leadership has a strong track record of generating significant commercial, cultural and innovation gains across the business landscape.

  • Companies that embrace gender diversity on their executive teams were more competitive and 21% more likely to experience above-average profitability. They also had a 27% likelihood of outperforming their peers on longer-term value creation.1
  • A 30% share of women in leadership positions was associated with a 15% rise in profitability.4
  • Companies with higher representation of women in their senior leadership teams had a 35% higher return on equity and 34% higher total shareholder return than male-dominated companies.3
  • Companies with more diverse management teams have 19% higher revenues due to innovation.4
  • 47% of millennial workers are actively looking for diversity and inclusion when choosing employers.5


When looking at the built environment, gender diversity has moved forward significantly in recent years. However, there are still many challenges being faced, particularly by women looking to become a leader or continue to lead in the sector:

  • 72% of women in the built environment experienced gender discrimination in 2019.6
  • 43% of sector boards have not had women on their board of directors.6
  • 49% of construction sector workers have never had a female manager.6


There is a mismatch here between the clear business advantages of gender equality in leadership and the realities being experienced in the industry, which raises the following questions.

What is going on here?

In the psychological literature, there is a rather famous hypothesis that uses robust meta-analysis to demonstrate that males and females are similar on most psychological variables, except for some motor functions, elements of sexuality and aggression. That is, men and women, as well as boys and girls, are more alike than they are different. Therefore, if this gender inequality in leadership is not being driven by any discernible differences in psychological capabilities then it leaves arbitrarily constructed social views, biases and cultural norms as being the primary suspects behind leadership gender inequality.

Blayze Consulting Group’s years of experience in the built environment sector along with our talent assessment data and industry research suggest that these biases, views and norms take the form of several key challenges that women in leadership face:

  • Uneven reward & recognition packages.
  • Bias against agile working practices.
  • Exclusion from organisational stakeholder networks.
  • Misogynistic team members that are unwilling to follow female leadership.
  • Bi-polar expectations around how female leaders should behave i.e. Ruthless yet Approachable.
  • Heightened critique of their leadership style and capabilities.
  • Business jargon used as a communication barrier.
  • Limited developmental options for female talent.

These challenges are multi-faceted, persistent and pervasive across the built environment industry and form the high walls of a ‘Glass Labyrinth’ i.e. the complex and irregular career journey filled with a multitude of obstacles that stand in the way of women attaining promotion to a senior role.7

How can the challenges be overcome?

It would appear that there are two key ways in which leadership gender equality in the built environment can be attained:

1. Reducing the complexity of the glass labyrinth through culture change.

2. Equipping women to effectively navigate the glass labyrinth thought accelerated leadership development.


These two approaches are symbiotic, in that if you reduce the complexity of the labyrinth (culture change) then there will be greater gender equality, and there will also be female leadership equality if you empower your female talent in the right way (accelerated leadership development), thus increasing the number of women at the top who can truly stimulate culture change.

When reviewing the industry research, it’s clear there are cultural challenges (as detailed above), but there are already ‘green shoots’ of culture change:

  • 9% increase of women in management roles in the industry.6
  • 8% decrease in gender discrimination in the workplace.6
  • 95% of built environment sector professionals believe that having a female manager would either maintain or improve the built environment.6

These cultural change indicators as cracks in the glass labyrinth which can be opened further through the empowerment of female talent through accelerated leadership development and the research supports our conclusion:

  • Only 10% of organisations offer collaborative development groups for women.6
  • 30% of organisations believe a lack of female role models is preventing women from entering the construction sector.6

Ultimately, we believe that the way to equalise leadership gender equality in the built environment is to provide an environment that significantly enhances female leaders capabilities to apply best practice business leadership skills in a manner that also helps to neutralise the gender equality barriers they face, stimulating culture change. Therefore, we developed GEL, our Gender Equality in Leadership programme that solely focuses on releasing the potential of female leadership talent and turning the built environment glass labyrinth into something that looks more like an ornamental hedge maze.

Get in contact below for more information about our GEL programme.

Harvey Gretton: / 07970 921 425
Lauren Chandler: / 07483 062 515

DOWNLOAD: GEL – Programme One-pager



1) McKinsey & Co.

2) Peterson Institute for International Economics

3) Catalyst

4) Boston Consulting Group

5) Deloitte Insights

6) Randstad

7) Harvard Business Review