We welcome the heightened transparency on gender equality in industry. Responding to new regulation, our UK business reported a gender pay gap of 26 percent which reflects the higher number of men we have in senior leadership positions. We need to do more to support the recruitment and progression of women at all levels.
To recruit more women into our business, we have set a 50:50 gender diversity target for our graduate, placement and apprenticeship programmes. The number of women joining the company through our graduate programme in South Africa reached 50 percent this year, while the number of women in our UK graduate scheme grew by 14 percent compared to last. Partnering with local schools, we are also working to encourage more young people to consider apprenticeships and construction-related degrees.
The challenge now is retaining our female talent and empowering them to succeed as leaders. In every region, we are taking action to drive inclusive leadership, facilitate flexible working and provide support and sponsorship through mentoring programmes. To attract talent back into our business, we are also piloting a returnship programme in the UK, which is open to anyone who takes a voluntary career break.
We actively support and promote participation in internal networks that bring female colleagues together for mutual support and development. Our HR teams and decision-makers engage with these networks around policies and procedures that are designed to support greater work-life balance and promote diverse leadership. In the USA, our leaders have made the strategic decision to voluntarily report on the gender pay gap next year, leading the way on greater transparency for industry change.
As a result of proactive and targeted efforts, we have achieved an equal proportion of men and women in our South Africa team and have been recognised in the Conscious Companies Awards shortlist. Judges commended our commitment to diversity and inclusion and the professional progress of women.
In Australia, we are involved in several industry networks, including 500 Women in Property, an initiative of the Property Council of Australia. As a member of the council, we make a commitment to championing women in our organisation, enabling them through networking and professional development opportunities.
We know that our business and our industry as a whole has a major challenge with female representation. Whether we are encouraging women to join the industry or actively removing barriers that hinder progression, we are tackling this issue head on. In the coming year, we will grow our efforts and encourage others to do the same, so that together we can benefit from diversity and reduce gender inequality in society for the long term.
This page is part of our corporate responsibility report 2017-2018