How to achieve an internal cultural shift as a woman leading a male-dominated business

Anna Thomas, Chief Operating Officer of real estate network Stockdale & Leggo

Gender equality seems to be the topic on everyone’s lips – yet despite an increase in awareness and such extensive media coverage, it’s something that many businesses still struggle to achieve. As women in leadership roles of male dominated businesses, what can we do to inspire an internal culture shift?

When I first stepped into my role as Chief Operating Officer of Stockdale & Leggo, I experienced a wave of sexism and discrimination that I was not at all prepared for. Although I was relatively new to the real estate industry, I knew that my extensive experience in business made me an excellent candidate for the role – and I had to wonder whether a male with the same background as mine would have been met with the same animosity that I endured.

My initial experience painted a pretty grim picture of the current organisational culture, and I knew quite quickly that these attitudes were certainly not going to facilitate the growth of the group. If we were going to be able to continue on as a successful real estate franchise, we needed to act fast and inspire a serious cultural shift.

Here are the top 5 strategies I used to shift an 80-year-old organisational culture within 12 months.

Provide ongoing education

One of the most crucial components of inspiring a major cultural change such as this is to ensure you offer ongoing education and support. As part of this process, present the facts about gender equality in the workplace and make time to map out exactly what this will look like in your business.

Often, it is all too easy to presume that everyone at the table has had the same life and learning experiences as us, however that’s rarely the case. Granted, we are in the age of information and ignorance is hardly a valid excuse, but if you want to achieve a smooth transition you should try to avoid accidentally alienating people who may require some additional support and education.

 Set achievable targets

When tackling the issue of gender inequality, it’s important to set achievable goals and targets that can be tracked over time. Businesses can start out with excellent intentions to change their internal culture, however failure to monitor their progress can result in their initial goal being forgotten.

At Stockdale & Leggo, we set a long-term goal of achieving a 50/50 gender ratio split in our franchises by the year 2025. Currently, we are only at 20/62, but we have put the necessary wheels in motion and are well underway to achieving our goal. Only 5 years ago we had only 3 female franchisees so we are certainly moving steadily in the right direction.

Encourage team building

To ensure that everyone is on board with your intention to overhaul the internal culture of your business, it’s important to encourage team building on all levels. As the old adage goes, we are only as strong as our weakest link!

Allow your employees the opportunity to get to know one another on a more friendly level, without the constant need for competition. Consider making it part of your plan to host regular team building events and social gatherings – even something as simple as the occasional team lunch!

 Adopt a zero-tolerance policy

Unfortunately, I have found that there are always those who refuse to see reason and fail to take responsibility for their own actions. In the event of sexism or discrimination, I believe adopting a zero-tolerance policy is the only way to eradicate these behaviours from your business.

While some have questioned my tough approach, it’s imperative to take a strong stand on this kind of conduct if you want to transform the culture of your business and put an end to gender-based inequality in the workplace once and for all.

Be patient

Lastly, my final piece of advice is to be patient. In recent years, women have managed to achieve a great deal but there is still a long road ahead of us. Ending gender inequality in the workplace is something that takes time and careful planning. It is not something that is going to happen overnight, but if we continue to work together towards building a more unified workforce, there is truly no limit to what we can achieve.

About the author


Anna Thomas is the Chief Operating Officer of major Australian real estate network, Stockdale & Leggo. She was recognised as a Telstra Business Women’s Awards Finalist in the Corporate and Private Award in 2016, a 2017 Finalist in the Real Estate Business Awards ‘Industry Thought Leader of the Year’ Award and a Bronze Stevie winner in the Woman of the Year category in the 2017 International Business Awards. She is also the Founder and Brand Ambassador of the ‘Empowered Women in Real Estate’ initiative, a community empowering women to believe in themselves and step forward into leadership roles.