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Inside Business | 2 min read

Addressing the Gender Imbalance in Real Estate

Alex Cohen

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Alex Cohen

With over three decades in the industry, Leanne Pilkington is the only female managing director in real estate franchising in the state and one of only a handful in Australia. grow catches up with Pilkington to talk about her career, as well as the gender imbalance in real estate.

grow: You began your career straight from school, was there ever any doubt about following in your family’s property business footsteps?

It was actually the last thing I wanted to do! I ran out of money during the end of high school on the Gold Coast, and my father lent me some on the proviso that I worked in his business until I started at teachers’ college. I was so determined not to be a salesperson that when I decided to defer college, I studied to become a valuer. While I did ultimately become a valuer, I realised early on that it wasn’t me and that sales, dealing face to face with consumers, was what I was good at.

You’ve had such a long and successful career, what do you think has kept you engaged over the years?

Variety. I have moved from residential to retail, commercial, property development and corporate. I have been with Laing+Simmons for over 20 years in a corporate role, but because we are a small franchise my role is wide-reaching, meaning I still get a huge amount of variety day-to-day. Coupled with the great people I work with, why would I ever need to change?

As the only female managing director in real estate franchising in New South Wales, and one of only a handful in Australia, why do you think more women aren’t working at the top of the real estate industry?

It is certainly better than it was 10 years ago, but still the majority of senior leaders are men. I think there are a number of reasons behind it, not least of all the ongoing challenge for women still bearing the majority of the responsibility of childrearing. Some women just don’t see themselves in these senior roles, when in fact there are plenty of capable women out there. I put myself in this category – it never occurred to me that I would one day run this business, but I was working for business owners who saw my potential, nurtured it and then pushed me into the deep end. Having mentors that support you rather than colleagues you are competing with is really valuable.


What do you think can be done to change this dynamic?

Women first need to realise they can do it and then decide that they want to do it. Then it is a matter of realising that you don’t have to be 100 percent confident in a particular role to be able to do a great job at it, and you can always reach out to people to mentor you – or even just have a coffee with!

How important to this shift in attitude is your role as a mentor in the Real Women in Real Estate (RWIRE) program?

Encouraging women to step outside of their comfort zones and do something that challenges them (either professionally or personally) has empowered so many women within the RWIRE group to achieve things they never thought they would do. This increased confidence has far-reaching effects.

What has been your greatest career achievement so far? 

I can’t limit it to one, so I’ll have to give you my top four:

  • Being appointed managing director of Laing+Simmons after starting as the franchise coordinator in 1995
  • Co-founding the RWIRE group to have it spread nationally, and now to the US in less than two years
  • Being appointed president of the REINSW (Real Estate Institute of New South Wales, starting November 2017) 
  • Winning the REB Industry Thought Leader award 2017.


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