David Mann, a member of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, takes a look at diversity in the property industry.
According to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, 50 per cent of its global membership is over 50 and only 14 per cent is female.
It is not surprising the property industry – particularly in the UK – is referred to as “male, stale and pale”.
I hate that expression, especially as a 47-year-old, white, male, middle-class, Chartered Building Surveyor. I also just happen to be gay.
The lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender (LGBT+) community has traditionally kept a very low profile in the construction and real estate sectors or avoided it completely as a career choice. I believe this was because there is a perception, real or implied, that there is institutional homophobia. We have all heard banter in the office and on site, whether meant in jest or as a form of bullying, but it has resulted in the majority of LGBT+ people remaining closeted in the workplace for fear of abuse or career limitation.
Surely, feeling safe to be yourself is one of the most basic human rights. We spend an average of 10.3 years of our lives at work and employers need to work hard at creating an environment where everyone regardless of age, race, religion, gender or sexuality are encouraged and given equal opportunities. In fact, managers who demonstrate strong commitment to diversity encourage high levels of engagement between employer and employee. This boosts productivity.
The facts also show that inclusive and diverse organisations are more successful. Diverse boards deliver stronger corporate oversight. They are also 27 per cent more profitable and have 39 per cent higher levels of customer satisfaction.
Four years ago, myself and Saleem Fazal, a construction litigation lawyer at Taylor Wessing, started Freehold, a networking and support group for LGBT+ real estate professionals. We were motivated by the almost complete lack of positive gay role models in property and no forum for us to meet and talk about our personal experiences.
By creating Freehold, we effectively “outed” ourselves to an entire industry which I have to admit was pretty scary at the time as we had no idea what sort of reaction we would get from our clients, colleagues, employers, professional institutions or the press. I did not want to become “the only gay in the industry”.
Well, thankfully we were embraced and have been overwhelmed by the support we have received. Our membership has just topped 800 and we are represented in almost every major employer. In fact LGBT+ colleagues meeting at Freehold events have been the catalyst for many organisations starting their own LGBT+ employee networks. We have had events supported by most of the large surveying practices, law firms, The Crown Estate, British Land, LendLease, as well as RICS and RIBA.
A significant evolution for LGBT+ equality in the built environment is the RICS Inclusive Employer Quality Mark launched last year. This lays out some clear benchmarks for increasing diversity in the sector, but it starts with leadership and vision.
RICS – as one of our leadership bodies – is playing its part both through the Quality Mark and its vocal support of Freehold. The Inclusive Employer Quality Mark is a major initiative by RICS to encourage companies in the land, property and construction sector to be more inclusive and diverse. It asks employers to pledge their commitment to adopting and continually improving against six principles including leadership and vision, recruitment, staff development, staff retention, staff engagement and continuous improvement. This is genuine progress.
A modern profession needs to reflect the communities that it serves. Many of our clients recognise this and now look for organisations that exhibit best practice in recruitment, training and development of staff regardless of age, race, religion, gender or sexuality, often requesting specific statistics as part of services procurement procedures.
We pride ourselves on being a “people industry”; let’s just make sure that includes everybody. The welcome must be for all or it means nothing.
David Mann is a Chartered Building Surveyor and Partner at independent property and construction consultancy, Tuffin Ferraby Taylor. He is also Co-Founder and Co-Chairman of Freehold, LGBT+ property network and support forum.
Check out RICS’ upcoming Coming Out event on September 12th, here.