Property Congress Gold Coast 2022: A masterclass on evolving our understanding of inclusion

The 2022 The Property Congress, Australia’s number one property conference, kicked off with a Masterclass on diversity and inclusion, sponsored by SHAPE.

The Property Council of Australia’s annual event, held this year on the Gold Coast from 24 to 26 October 2022, brings together leaders in the industry to discuss the big issues driving property development and investment in Australia and globally.

The Masterclass on ‘Evolving Our Understanding of Inclusion’ was facilitated by Kate Evans, Group Executive of People, Brand, and Communications at SHAPE. With Kate was Michael Manikas, a Biripi and Worimi man and General Manager at DLG SHAPE, a proud Aboriginal fitout and construction services specialist, minority owner by SHAPE. The session was hosted by Chloe Philp, Diversity and Inclusion Manager at Property Council of Australia.

Together, striving for inclusion

The Masterclass opened with a video sharing the experiences, challenges and learnings around diversity and inclusion for 10 industry professionals, from Property Managers to Project Managers and Electricians.

The group shared insights on the positive changes they have seen during their time in the industry, what makes them feel excluded and their outlooks for the future of the industry.

View the video below.

Shaping a diverse, inclusive workforce

Taking a deep dive into SHAPE’s diversity and inclusion journey, Kate spoke about the business’s key milestones and learnings over the last 11 years.

SHAPE begun its commitment to diversity in 2011, when an aggressive culture emerged due to rapid growth in a short period of time. Back then, SHAPE’s engagement score was low, at just 68 per cent, and business performance sat at 73 per cent.

At the time, SHAPE only measured quantitative data around gender diversity. Its female participation rate was also low, at 19 per cent, and 26 per cent of women were leaving the business. In response, initiatives such as an additional 12 days of annual work-life balance leave, a Fair Pay Policy and additional parental paid leave and childcare allowance were introduced to try increase its gender diversity. Though, there was still a perception within the business that there was a culture of favouritism and playing politics.

By 2014, SHAPE realised that to fix its culture and increase diversity, it needed to focus on developing its leaders. The business invested in a Leadership Development Program to increase leadership capabilities and change behaviours.

In 2016, SHAPE started measuring its organisational culture on top of employee engagement through the research-backed Organisational Culture Inventory assessment, conducted by world-recognised organisational change group Human Synergistics. Although SHAPE’s balance scorecard – the way SHAPE measures and drives success – and its female participation rates were increasing, inconsistencies were still apparent across its seven branches.

A correlation was discovered between leadership, culture and business performance. As a result, culture was added to business performance measures, which are linked to the Senior Leadership Team’s KPIs. During this year, SHAPE also developed its first Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) to support and increase the participation of Indigenous Australians in the industry.

In 2019, SHAPE had a further ‘Aha Moment’. It realised that an inclusive culture would result if the business put a focus on the individual. To do this, SHAPE redesigned its performance system, developed a Sponsorship Program for diverse employees and expanded its Leadership Development Program to all people managers. Each state developed a unique ‘Leadership Commitment’ to enable consistency across the board around people management. SHAPE also held unconscious bias training to education its people on identifying and eliminating biases.

SHAPE’s female participation rate has increased to 30 per cent (up 11 per cent). Its employee engagement score has increased by 20 per cent, to 88 per cent, and business performance is up 17 per cent, to 90 per cent.

To ensure it continues to strive toward its vision to be ‘the place where everyone wants to work’, SHAPE collects qualitative and quantitative data to measure its organisational culture annually and “how employees feel” through an employee engagement survey three times a year. Employees are also surveyed during the onboarding process and when they leave the business. SHAPE uses this data to ensure it continues striving to toward this vision and meet the changing needs of its employees.

Supporting Tools used by SHAPE:

  • Leadership Development: Lifestyles Inventory (Human Synergistics)
  • Team Effectiveness: Group Styles Inventory (Human Synergistics)
  • Organisational Culture Measure: Organisational Culture Inventory (Human Synergistics)
  • Employee Engagement: Culture Amp & Great Place to Work

The Masterclass on ‘Evolving Our Understanding of Inclusion’ was facilitated by Kate Evans, Group Executive of People, Brand, and Communications at SHAPE. With Kate was Michael Manikas, a Biripi and Worimi man and General Manager at DLG SHAPE, a proud Aboriginal fitout and construction services specialist, minority owner by SHAPE.

Increasing Indigenous employment and inclusion

As one of three Aboriginal quantity surveyors in Australia, Michael understands the need to not only increase but support the participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the built environment.

To demonstrate how underrepresented this group is, on one slide in his presentation, Michael revealed all the university graduated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working in the industry – a total of 15 professionals, from architects to interior designers, project managers, quantity surveyors and leasing agents.

Michael shared his own personal journey of being the first descendant of his extended family to graduate from university. His mother, who is one of sixteen children, and his father, who is one of six, both finished their education around 14 years of age. Many of their siblings, too, did not have the opportunity to finish school let alone attend higher education.

Through his completion of university, Michael has encouraged future generations of his family to strive to finish secondary education and seek tertiary education, with many now seeking a future in the property and construction industry.

Michael has been instrumental in helping to increase the participation of Indigenous employees at SHAPE, particularly through the establishment and implementation of SHAPE’s Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan. Understanding the barriers some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may face to enter the industry, and once they are in, to feel supported and included, has helped him to become a key mentor for SHAPE’s Indigenous employees.

Echoing Kate, a key insight Michael shared was the need for an individual approach to developing and mentoring careers. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, like any other group, may have certain culture practices and expectations that may differ to employees from other backgrounds. An inclusive culture is only possible if you understand these varying needs among employees and take steps to help them achieve their own career and individual goals.