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Women in real estate: Breaking barriers and shaping the future

Women are reshaping the real estate industry in the Arab world, fostering innovation, and leading the way towards a more inclusive future

Women in real estate: Breaking barriers and shaping the future

In the Arab world, where gender equality is still a work in progress, there are inspiring women who have defied societal norms and refused to let anything hold them back. Especially in the competitive real estate industry, which has typically been male-dominated, women are stepping up and making a positive impact.

Take the late Zaha Hadid, also known as the “Queen of Curve”, whose influence on the UAE’s ever-changing skyline is still felt today. She broke boundaries in the design world, leaving behind a legacy that continues to inspire.

Meanwhile, in the Kingdom, Sarah AlSuhaimi is breaking barriers as the first Saudi woman to chair the Saudi Tadawul Group, the largest stock market in the Middle East. She is connecting Saudi capital markets globally, in line with Vision 2030, to boost real estate development and investment in Saudi Arabia.

Then there’s Sheikha Hanadi Nasser bin Khaled al-Thani, a powerhouse from Qatar who is responsible for the launch of Al-Waab City, a multibillion-dollar real estate project on Salwa Road in Doha, covering an area of more than 1.2 million square metres.

Hence, it’s fair to say that women in the real estate industry, consistently demonstrate resilience, creativity, and unmatched dedication to their work. But how exactly do women impact the real estate sector? What hurdles are still in their way? And how can we create a more inclusive environment that encourages more women to join the field? Keep reading to discover the answers.

What do women bring to the table?

Women hold an innate ability to connect and understand people in more ways than one. “Women stakeholders bring a unique perspective and skill set to the real estate sector, contributing to innovation, creativity, and inclusivity. Their presence fosters a more collaborative and holistic approach to projects, often leading to more thoughtful and user-centric designs,” says Saniya Kantawala, principal designer and founder of Saniya Kantawala Design (SKD).

Saniya Kantawala, Principal Designer and Founder of Saniya Kantawala Design (SKD)

“Their ability to think creatively, manage complex projects, and build strong teams has proven invaluable in delivering successful developments. At our organisation, we have over 60% of top agents who are female, demonstrating their expertise, professionalism, and dedication to excellence,” elaborates Abdullah Alajaji, founder and Managing Director of Driven Properties.

Moreover, the real estate world has evolved beyond just building structures. It now plays a significant role in the economy, thanks to ESG commitments, green solutions, innovation, and workplace design. Female experts are making a big impact in these areas as well, bringing valuable expertise and shaping the industry.

Opportunities still abound

While progress has been made, there is still much work to be done to achieve true equality in the industry. For instance, there is still a lack of gender balance at a leadership level, with only 29% of women holding leadership positions globally.

Women also point out that desiring flexibility is a common source of criticism from peers of both genders. The pursuit of work/life balance can be wrongly interpreted as a lack of ambition, commitment, or even ability.

“Women in the construction industry face challenges such as poor infrastructure and lack of amenities at project sites, hindering their ability to advance in their careers. Gender bias and a patriarchal mindset also contribute to women not receiving the roles they deserve, as their strengths and capabilities are often underestimated. It is assumed that women will prioritise their homes over work, perpetuating outdated notions that must be changed for women to succeed in the industry and beyond,” explains Sankey Prasad, Chairman & Managing Director, of India & Middle East Project Leaders, Colliers.

Gender bias, unequal opportunities for advancement, and lack of access to networks and mentorship programs remain other notable hindrances for women in real estate. “As a woman in the real estate sector myself, it’s not been easy to navigate that voice and make sure it goes beyond the boardrooms. Hence, there is great value in bringing together experienced and aspiring women in real estate through industry initiatives,” says Sevgi Gur, Chief Marketing Officer, Property Finder.

Sevgi Gur, Chief Marketing Officer, at Property Finder

She further goes on to add, “Mentorship and advisory play a crucial role in achieving success, and having women in leadership positions promotes inclusivity and diversity. Including more women in advisory councils can lead to a more promising future for the industry by providing diverse perspectives and better catering to female property seekers. Leveraging industry connections and supporting the growth of women in real estate through mentorship programmes can help women share their experiences and navigate industry challenges more effectively.”

Looking ahead

Research shows that a broad range of experiences and perspectives in decision-making builds a strong foundation for any business, driving better performance with less risk and volatility.

In the fast-paced environment of today’s real estate industry, expanding the diversity of ideas is especially important, driving the greater innovation necessary to navigate disruption and capitalise on change. Men still outnumber women but, by and large, today’s real estate leaders see the benefits of developing and empowering women at all levels.

And today, ideas are turning to action; many real estate companies are pushing gender diversity initiatives to the top of the strategic agenda. With broad support for change and new approaches, programs, and initiatives beginning to emerge, slowly but surely, the real estate industry is making progress. “The old belief that some men preferred to work only with other men and didn’t take women seriously in business is slowly fading away. People are starting to look beyond gender and instead focus on the skills and advantages a professional can offer to a company,” believes Ilnara Muzafyarova, CEO of Colife.

“The current climate presents an opportunity to drive forward towards gender equality. In 10 years, I hope that on the occasion of International Women’s Day, we will no longer need to focus on issues such as gender inequality, pay gaps, or gender-specific issues, instead, the real estate industry will be more diverse in every aspect,” concludes Tamara S, a Doha-based real estate realtor.