It’s encouraging to see so many important discussions about diversity in the Real Estate industry and conversations about what we should be doing to make this industry more inclusive. Over the last 10 years, as a society, we have started to make progress in understanding how the structures we operate within can create real disadvantages for those from certain backgrounds. There is still a lot of work to be done to take real steps to change the face of the Real Estate industry.
Many real estate firms are making a clear commitment to improve diversity by creating employee led diversity groups, putting diversity and inclusion policies in place, partnering with diversity organisations and charities to look at their recruitment policies and how these can be modified to remove influences of conscious and unconscious bias but we cannot stop there. Diversity policies and initiatives need to be assessed for their effectiveness and their results. Real estate firms need to ask the difficult questions about how welcoming their different working groups are. The focus should not just be on recruitment but also on doing the internal work to change the attitudes of the members
of their workforce. There is a strong focus on “pipeline issues” (being people from certain
backgrounds not being aware of the multitude of career paths available in the industry) but as the Bridge Group in their 2020 report note, the real estate sector does create its own barriers and inequalities.
Real Estate firms need to work actively to create safe, equitable and welcoming environments for their employees of all backgrounds. The Bridge Group stated in its 2020 report that many employees “still perceive the sector as led mainly by white, middle-class men” and that many employees believe that an “employees’ socio-economic background affects significantly how senior leaders (and especially White men) choose to grant access to the resources and opportunities that enable these qualities to
develop.” Real Estate firms need to address these working practices and put in place policies which prioritise the creation of a level playing field for their employees.
Equality in society and the workforce is an urgent and pressing issue. The impacts of Brexit, Covid 19 and the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 have intensified the focus on addressing inequality, bias and discrimination. We need to actively work to dismantle the perception that there isn’t a place for everyone in the real estate sector. We need to have an understanding that a diverse industry will have a positive impact on how property is developed in this country through diversity of thought and lived experience. Sadie Morgan made this point well in Property Week when she stated that, “If you want inclusive design, you have to start with the brief, and you have to start right at the beginning and communicate with those who will be affected by your development,” We will only get this right if we have a diverse industry which seeks to include the voices of people from all parts of society.
There are some very practical habits Real Estate firms can adopt throughout all parts of their businesses
Real Conversations – diversity initiatives should centre the experiences of a firm’s diverse employees. Where an initiative is linked to a particular demographic, that initiative should be developed around the genuine needs and desires of the members of that demographic. Diversity initiatives should be regularly assessed and modified to ensure that they are effectively in the same way businesses would approach the services they provide or their working practices in order to stay relevant and attractive to clients. A mentoring scheme is a great initiative, but it isn’t effective if the demographic it seeks to assist would prefer to participate in a different programme.
Widening the focus - there is a very strong focus on gender and sexual orientation in conversations about diversity in the workforce but these focus needs to all improving diversity in other areas such as ethnicity, socio-economic background and disability. We also need to understand the role intersectionality plays in the lived experiences of those working in the real estate industry. Everyone needs to feel that their experiences are valued and important. Real Estate firms should be allocating equitable effort and focus to different categories of diversity and where necessary should be confident in trying to improve diversity where it is urgent and critical to do so.
Transparent work allocation and promotion – having clear promotion policies and routes in place ensures that everyone who works hard is adequately rewarded and incentivised to continue to remain working in the sector.
Creating safe environments – employees need to know that discrimination in their working environments will be taken seriously and their voices will be heard when they express concerns. Real Estate firms need to ensure that the commitment to creating an inclusive work environment is accepted in every level of the business and leadership teams need to regularly communicate how important diversity is. Exclusion of team members, banter and jokes should not be tolerated.
Natalie A Carter is a commercial real estate lawyer at a US firm in London. She is a committee member of Black Women in Real Estate a non-profit organisation seeking to advocate for Black Women working in the Real Estate industry.
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