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Challenges for Women in PropTech, and How Your Organization Can Change It

By Emma Callahan

28.6.22

It is no secret that PropTech is an ever-growing vertical full of expansion and funding. It is becoming a thriving ecosystem of organizations dedicated to advancing the cross-section of traditional real estate and technology. Last year alone, funding hit a record high with investment accelerating in H1 of 2021 to $9.7 billion USD, an increase from the $8.8 billion in funding that was seen in H1 of 2020 (Vincent, 2021). With all these funding and new start-ups constantly growing, it is interesting to see how women founders are sometimes forgotten about or less recognized in this space.  

 

This thought piece all comes from a post I saw from a popular PropTech news subscription service I follow. The article featured “The most influential leaders in PropTech”, however, out of the 13 recognized, not one of them was female. This seems shocking, since I know many women within the space driving innovation and creating products that are changing the landscape. How can not a single woman be recognized as influential? While this article has been rectified and wrongs have been righted, what characteristics in the industry cause women to not be recognized as readily as men? To understand this, we must not only understand the entirety of the industry, but also investigate why women in power are less likely to receive accolades over their male counterparts.  

 

First, let’s look at women in leadership positions in the United States. A report by Catalyst (Catalyst, 2022) says that women in the Fortune 500 companies now make up only 14.6% of executive officers and are only 8.1% of the highest-paid in these companies. Additionally, under 5% of these companies have women as CEOs. This translates to the other 95% of CEO positions at top firms being filled by men. The lack of gender diversity in high-ranking organisation positions can cause several problems. Firstly, not seeing women in leadership positions can lead other women to feel demotivated, believing that they are unable to make their mark higher up in companies. Furthermore, it can bring on feelings of self-doubt, disincentivising them to strive for promotions to higher up positions within the leadership team. 

 

Another reason that women are not moving up in organisations is due to what is called “unconscious bias.” Per the University of California, “Unconscious biases are defined as social stereotypes about certain groups of people that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by categorizing” (UCSF, 2022). Many times, without even being aware, employees or hiring managers may have unconscious biases towards female employees. This falls under the category of stereotypes, particularly regarding their language used and perception of women in the workplace. Women in workplace leadership positions are affected by several unconscious biases, including what is called a “double-bind bias.” This is when what is expected from a leader and what is expected from a woman misaligns. Research has shown that this fits under two specific biases of “descriptive” and “prescriptive” biases. “Descriptive bias is the labels we attach and associate with certain social groups and communities, and prescriptive bias is how they are expected to behave. When someone does not conform to these prescribed roles and behaviours they can be penalized or punished” (Agarwal, 2018). Traditionally, women in the workforce are expected to be emotional, caring, and warm, while men are expected to be assertive, competent, and objective. When an organization assesses who to promote, this bias plays a crucial part in who they see internally as the better fit for a leadership position (while most times, not the case when reviewing work achievements), causing them to automatically pick the man.  

 

Additionally, for women in leadership, they might be regarded as going against the status quo. When a woman is direct and commanding, she may be perceived as abrupt or demanding. However, when men display this type of behaviour, they are given praise and acknowledgement for their ‘leadership qualities’. “This is the problem of “likability”, where women who are not assertive and don’t fit the gendered stereotype of a woman as being gentle and caring are liked more but not considered as leadership material (Agarwal, 2018). This all plays into women being less likely to be given the chance to advance to management positions. 

 

Specific to the PropTech vertical, it is estimated that only around 10% of PropTech founders are women (Donati, 2019). However, there is no readily available statistical data. Going back to bias, there is an interesting statistic explaining why this number is expected to be so low. “A report done by the British Business Bank revealed that female founders get 157 times less funding than men” (Donati, 2019) since there are fewer women-founded businesses in PropTech, this was not what was analysed. Research showed that if a start-up has even just one more woman on their founding team, they are less likely to get funding in comparison to a company with a male-dominated team. Additionally, leadership teams made up solely of women are less likely to be given a “warm” introduction to a VC. This all leads back to women-led businesses having a lower probability of funding and being able to get their businesses off the ground, leading to fewer women in the space (Donati, 2019).  

 

So what can be done to improve these statistics? Firstly; more recognition. Key leaders in the space need to make it their mission to feature and shed light on diversity, women included, within the PropTech space. Starting with recognizing women through podcasts, articles, and blogs. This will assist in showing other women that progression is possible. This awareness will break the stigmas and biases that we have regarding women in power or on leadership teams. Additionally, recruiting can help with this, especially increasing DE&I within the PropTech space.  

 

An article published by the SHRM stated that “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) will be a continuing focus area for recruiters, especially because more candidates will make job choices based on their assessment of a company’s visible DE&I commitment, according to experts” (SHRM, 2021). Companies now more than ever are being assessed and scrutinized by not only internal stakeholders, but also external governing forces on their DE&I efforts. So, what solutions can be implemented to assist in changing these narratives? Firstly, by bringing on a recruitment firm, companies can make sure that there is an effort towards diverse, inclusive hires. LMRE has partnered with many clients looking to diversify their talent. It would also be worth holding internal unconscious bias workshops within the organization to shed light on what unknown stereotypes are being carried. Additionally, on a yearly basis, companies should strive to analyse their organisation from an outside perspective and complete a DE&I report. This can include what the current workforce looks like and what blockers exist in the current hiring process, and therefore what can be done to increase diversity at leadership level. It is crucial that companies communicate the importance of creating an inclusive company culture from the beginning. This includes the hiring process, resourcing, recruitment, and what the teams look like internally. This will help the organizations, and LMRE in turn, attract diverse talent. By diversifying hires, companies can break the stigma and increase women receiving the praise they deserve.  

 

Overall, in order to change these shocking statistics, we need to shed more light on women within this vertical industry. LMRE is committed to be a driver of change in DE&I and we are excited to be showcasing women both in our podcasts and case studies, but also in our new global DE&I programmes that will be rolling out in the next few years. This will include panel discussions, spotlight interviews and other content on addressing unconscious biases in hiring. I think it best to end this thought-piece with influential women making leaps and bounds within the world of PropTech and subsequently inspiring those around them.  

 

Pronto Housing 

This seed stage company was founded in 2020 and has already raised $2.5M in funding. Founded by Christine Wendell and KC Crosby, they produced the first and only off-the-shelf affordable housing compliance SaaS platform, ensuring a higher quality of living is accessible for the more than 11M Americans facing housing instability, while still enabling asset managers to meet their financial goals. This product stems from Christine’s passion about prison reform, particularly the foster care to prison pipeline. KC has spent time around children and adolescents that have addiction issues, advocating the need to address these issues earlier in life rather than later to help them lead fulfilling, productive lives  

 

Bridgit 

This ConTech was formed in 2013 by Lauren Lake and Mallorie Brodie. Their product is a workforce intelligence for construction, assisting the industry to maximize profits and reduce risk by taking a people-first approach. Under Mallorie’s leadership as CEO, Bridgit has built Bridgit Bench, their flagship product, which helps contractors get the most out of their workforce. Lauren, their COO, has a degree in civil engineering, meaning her first-hand knowledge within the AEC space has helped Mallorie build and establish Bridgit bench. This series B has now raised $36.6M in funding and is continuing to grow.

 

Qualis Flow 

This analytics SaaS ConTech was founded in 2018 by Brittany Harris and Jade Cohen. Their product allows construction teams to track and manage their social and environmental impact. They are on a mission to become the market leading system for UK construction projects to not only capture but also utilize material and waste data on live sites. Their data is collected on a platform for construction projects that has now created one of the industry’s most comprehensive datasets for the socio-environmental impacts of construction activities. This seed start-up has already raised $3.3M and is pioneering the construction industry with green initiatives.  

 

Switch Automation 

Deb Noller co-founded Switch Automation in 2012. This company is a global real estate software company that helps property owners and facility managers reduce operating costs, improve energy efficiency and deliver exceptional occupant satisfaction. Their comprehensive smart building platform integrates traditional building systems as well as Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to analyze, automate and control assets in real-time.Deb has over 20 years’ experience in technology, sustainability, and commercial real estate which she now averages in her role of CEO of the Switch Automation team. She helps large enterprises apply technology for more efficient business operations, resulting in millions of dollars in cost savings for Fortune 100 companies. This series A has raised $11.8M. 

 

Casafari 

Mila Suharev helped found Casafari in 2017 and now serves as Co-CEO and CPO. She is an entrepreneur with over 15 years of technology experience and 7 years of senior management experience in data-driven high-growth internet companies. Their product solves chaos and information asymmetry in real estate by applying machine learning and deep AI to index and analyze in real time more than 75,000,000 property listings from 14K+ different data sources into one clean and complete platform. They have expanded their operations to Portugal, Spain, France, and Italy serving over 1500 clients and over $15k+ professionals. They have funded over €119.2M inf total funding.  

 

Sugar 

This Seed start-up formerly known as Jetpack was founded in 2019 by Fatima Dicko. Fatima holds a BSc (Bachelor of Science) in Chemical Engineering from Columbia University and an MBA from Stanford. Prior to Sugar, she worked as the youngest senior engineer on a product innovation team at Proctor and Gamble. Sugar uses technology stacks to power modern buildings and transform the residential experience. Their product works with a smart intercom device that unlike other smart locks is revolutionary, as it does not require any lock replacement. They partner with real estate investment groups and property management companies to deliver amazing resident living experiences. This company has raised $3.5M in funding.  

 

WeMaintain 

Founded in 2017, Jade Francine co-founded WeMaintain and now serves as the COO. This french PropTech is a tech-enabled elevator and building maintenance organisation that created an end-to-end solution for building operations. Essentially, simplifying the current lift and elevator maintenance operations. Their product dedicates an engineer to each building so when things go wrong there is clear communications and swifter resolution. Prior to starting WeMaintain, Jade begun her career in business law working in Shanghai, helping entrepreneurs to start and set up their businesses. This Series B has raised over €38.8M in funding.

 

Built-ID 

Built-ID was founded by Savannah de Savary in 2015. Upon graduating from university, she went into a career in real-estate development. She grew frustrated with the lengthy and bureaucratic inefficiencies that limited access to critical data for developing real estate projects to whom you know rather than what you know. She felt there was a real need to democratize the planning process and started Built-ID. Their platform enables consultants from the build environment to share their views and connect with decision makers easier. It also allows professionals to collaborate with global projects. This seed venture has raised $1.4M.  

 

The Future Fox 

Annette Jezierska co-founded The Future Fox in 2017 to create an all-encompassing insight-driven digital engagement platform called PlaceBuilder to help citizens lead the future of their cities. This GovTech/PropTech wants to accelerate the development of smart, sustainable, people-focused cities and places. Prior to being the CEO of this organization, Annette Jezierska processes a MSc in Natural Sciences from Cambridge and has a background in supporting and advancing major sustainable transport infrastructure.  

 

Equiem 

This company launched in 2011 in Australia and was co-founded by Gabrielle McMillan. Their platform allows property owners/managers to better connect with their occupants and enhance tenant experience. Their portfolio now includes over 100 premium and A-grade office assets. It has now grown to a global company that has ‍175,000+ users and is used by over 9,000+ companies. The company has now raised over $8.4M and is continuing to grow.  

 

IMMO Investment Technologies 

IMMO is Europe’s first technology-led residential real estate platform, designed to create portfolios of quality from existing single-family rental (SFR) housing at scale and at speed. They have built a unique capability in the form of an end-to-end service solution, providing institutional investors with everything from sourcing, acquisition, and portfolio management to lettings and property management, to drive performance and maximize returns. One of the Co-Founders is Samantha Kempe, who also serves as the Chief Investment Officer. Prior to IMMO, she has 16+ years of real estate experience and is a Chartered Surveyor, MRICS in Real Estate Finance and Investment. In 2010, she was fast-tracked to one of PwC’s youngest managers in their Business Recovery team before moving into private equity at The Blackstone Group. 

 

References:

Dr. Pragya Agarwal (October 23, 2018), Accessible at: https://www.forbes.com/

Catalyst (June 9, 2022), Accessible at: https://www.catalyst.org/

Angelica Krystle Donati (April 14, 2019), Accessible at: https://www.forbes.com/

SHRM (Feb 1, 2021), Accessible at: https://www.shrm.org/

UCSF – Office of Diversity and Outreach, University of California (2022), Accessible at: https://diversity.ucsf.edu/

Matt Vincent (Aug 25, 2021), Accessible at: https://www.smartbuildingstech.com/

 

Get in touch with Emma Callahan to discuss this further.

LMRE are specialist PropTech recruiters, if you need help growing your business or making any key hires please get in touch via the form below!

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