Whilst Britain may be one of the most culturally diverse nations in Europe, diversity in property still has a long way to go to fully represent the UK population. The issues of occupational inequality and the barriers to entry into the industry, has been well-documented but, despite a much-lauded rhetoric about focusing on diversity, the industry has continued to fall short in shrinking the disparity between male and female employees, the disability and cultural employment gap and championing support for those from LGBT communities.
The Property Week and Deverell Smith Open Plan “Increasing Diversity in Property” Survey revealed of the property professionals surveyed, those that felt diversity issues were having a negative impact on their career, sited Age (33%) and Gender (28%) as the biggest factors. 40% of those who took part in the survey reported entering their property career through a friend or family member. This recruitment route has severely limited the diversity of entrants to the industry.
Another survey, by Estates Gazette ahead of the LGBT Property Business Diversity Conference, revealed that just 3% of respondents were yet to ‘come out’ generally, but a much larger 10.5% had not come out at work. Moreover, of those not out at work, a staggering 83% said they would like to be. Whilst a positive 78.5% said their workplace provided a safe place for LGBT staff to come out, that left 22.5% that were not; this was further supported by 62% of graduates claiming they went back in the ‘closet’ upon leaving university and starting their career as they felt it would hamper their professional progression. When you consider the size of the property industry, it would seem there are a lot of businesses failing to adopt LGBT-friendly attitudes.
There are a growing number of charities and organisation supporting individuals in the property industry; some of the most prominent being Property Needs You, Stonewall, Women in Property and Freehold.
Property Needs You is a UK wide initiative, launched by a small group of leading property companies to challenge the stereotype perceptions of property careers. They seek to remove the barriers to entry for the next generation of property professionals by addressing accessibility to ensure it is a viable and approachable career path for students from all backgrounds and cultures. The group works with a number of other stakeholders to engage with students and teachers in schools and academies to help them understand the career opportunities available to them.
Stonewall was established by a small group of people who had been active in the struggle against Section 28 of the Local Government Act, an offensive piece of legislation designed to prevent the so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality in schools; as well as stigmatising lesbian, gay and bi people. Since its formation, Stonewall has helped achieve the equalisation of the age of consent, lifting the ban on LGB people serving in the military, securing legislation which allowed same-sex couples to adopt and the repeal of Section 28. More recently, Stonewall has helped secure civil partnerships and then same-sex marriage and ensured that the recent Equality Act protected lesbian, gay and bi people in terms of goods and services.
Freehold, run by international law firm, Taylor Wessing, and leading building and property consultants, Tuffin Ferraby Taylor, is a property specific networking forum for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender real estate professionals working within the real estate sector. With the backing and support of Stonewall, the aim of Freehold is to address the equality gap for the LGBT community within the property sector.
Women in Property is an organisation with the sole aim of ensuring women are equally represented alongside their male colleagues across the property and construction industry. WIP run initiatives and offer volunteers to encourage girls to pursue a career in property and they support women in property through career focused events and mentoring. In 2015 WIP joined forces with the former DTZ (now Cushman and Wakefield) to create “Unconscious Bias” to help train their members on how to acknowledge and overcome UB.
A survey carried out by Estates Gazette revealed how the property industry as a whole is addressing the issue of diversity. Of the firms surveyed, just 25% said that they ran a formal diversity monitoring programme, with just 16.7% saying they were considering setting one up. However, the nine firms that do have formal programmes in place are fully invested in promoting diversity in their businesses and, encouragingly, almost 42% of agents have introduced policies that promote the rights of lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual employees within their businesses with a further 11.1% considering setting a policy up.
Companies such as BNP Paribas are leading the field with diversity initiatives, they have several internal networks aimed at combating all forms of discrimination. One of the groups is PRIDE, an employee-led LGBT (Lesbian, Bisexual, Gay and Trans) and Straight Allies network which helps to create a supportive working environment where all LGBT employees feel safe, respected and valued by all. It also has MIXCITY, an action that helps achieve gender equality in the workplace.
JLL are another firm adopting a full integrated diversity strategy to form part of their “Building a Better Tomorrow” philosophy. Their initiatives include Building Pride, a network to promote LGBT diversity within JLL to empower employees, Race for Change to help attract and develop minority employees and Working Parents Network, which offers working parents an opportunity to share their experience and discuss their challenges.
The best place to start if you want to make real, positive steps towards an equal opportunity strategy that effectively promotes inclusion and diversity within your business, is to ask your employees. Hold feedback interviews and run anonymous surveys to obtain as much information as you can in order to recognise and address the issues. Set up employee led initiatives that seek to promote inclusion and equality and ensure these are actively communicated internally to provide employees with the positive benefits of the support networks. Collaborate with external organisations to show your support and encourage other business to do the same, as real change can only happen if everyone steps up.