The proportion of women on the supervisory and management boards of Europe’s listed real estate companies rose to 28% in 2017, up from 22% two years before, according to new research from an industry body.

The European Public Real Estate Association (EPRA) published the study at its annual conference in Berlin as part of its drive to promote more diversity and inclusion into the property sector.

Helen Gordon, chief executive of the UK’s largest listed residential property company Grainger, presented the results and said: “Company boards and investors should by now be aware of the extensive body of research which shows that, on average, firms with diversified management teams produce stronger results.”

She said the industry was making progress on this, but added that it felt quite slow.

“The problem that we have in the real estate sector is not on the entry, we have about 50% of people coming into the workforce are female; it’s at the executive managerial level,” she said.

The 2017 study showed that women only accounted for 22% of executive management at the businesses, she said.

All in all, 140 companies were assessed for the study, though the figure for executive management female representation was derived from a sample of 125 companies.

Looking at individual countries, the best performing in terms of women in executive management last year were the Nordics and France, compared to their overall market size.

In Sweden, 45% of executive management were women, followed by Norway with 38%, Finland with 31% and France with 28%.

At the other end of the scale, Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany had 23%, 15% and 12% respectively.

Some 34 companies, corresponding to 50% of market cap in the study, had put policies in place to promote diversity by gender, ethnicity and talent potential, according to the survey, but only 11 firms were revealed to have set targets for diversity.

Asked why so few had specific goals for this, Gordon said she thought there was a certain nervousness about it.

“My own company has debated it,” she said.

“I think it’s because there was a concern — and we have to be very careful about this — that by setting a target you start making poor management decisions in order to hit the target as opposed to really supporting and examining the barriers to women in the organisation,” Gordon said.