Yesterday evening, Sociable Surveyors hosted its fourth annual awards event at the Spitalfields offices of international lawyers Allen & Overy.

The event was the largest of the year for young property professionals and attracted more than 350 people. The mixed crowd of students, graduates, and established professionals came along to hear British Land’s Chris Grigg and Hammerson’s David Atkins share their views on how to get ahead in the industry.

A week earlier, we had stood in warm sunshine at the Notting Hill Carnival, eating jerk chicken and watching the brightly-coloured floats pass by — the contrast was noticeable. Despite the audience of surveyors being a relatively diverse mix of people, it definitely wasn’t as diverse as the crowds we were stood in at Carnival last weekend. But it is a reflection of a changing industry.

Progress in this area is definitely underway. Awareness of the need to widen the cultural mix of the student intake is being championed by Property Week. The Changing the Face of Property (CTFOP) initiative launched in November 2013 by all the major agents clearly demonstrates a willingness to recruit from outside the traditional fold. The agents have agreed to engage with at least three state schools to encourage students to consider a career in property and each firm will recruit five apprentices annually.

Property Needs You, the CTFOP brand focused on bringing diverse young people into the industry, is exhibiting at numerous exhibitions over the UK over the coming months.

The Apprentice Network set up by Walé Sanusi — a bright apprentice at CBRE, who chose the apprentice route to gaining RICS qualification over an undergraduate degree — aims to unite apprentices across a wide professional spectrum that encompasses, law, finance, banking etc. Walé and his network should be congratulated.
Sociable Surveyors has recruited more than 150 interns globally for property companies and agents.

Our video application process allows talent to shine through, regardless of the applicant’s background. Many of these work experience hires have resulted in candidates going on to secure extremely sought after graduate placements.

And a great number of our previous interns have arrived via non-traditional routes. We’ve introduced many people to the industry who might not have historically had the chance to shine. Our hope is that this initiative will help companies to face the future with a more diverse workforce.

Diversity goes hand-in-hand with networking. Agents from all walks of life want to be the first property person who springs to mind at the next new tech start-up needing more office space.

Diversity has become a hot topic because the traditional client landscape is changing to match the ever-increasing international community involved in UK and global real estate. Our industry needs to better resemble the client base it serves, which has changed rapidly from 25, or even 10 years ago.

The benefits of a more diverse workforce are best illustrated in an everyday example: look what happens when you work on a large development project. Architects, asset managers, project managers, planners, agents and lawyers make up a positive carnival of players, each with opinions as diverse as their backgrounds.

Outside work, a party made up of property folk, designers, lawyers and people working in tech and fashion is significantly more fun than being stuck in a room with people talking about the same thing, isn’t it? If we are more accepting of people from different backgrounds, so our networks grow.

Everyone can play their part, by presenting property to people from all walks of life as an open and inclusive industry that is fun and rewarding. We should help people where possible to get work experience, not just in pursuit of winning new business or keeping clients happy, but to direct candidates towards entry points to the industry that are based on merit.

There are already plenty of networks in property that give access to more property people. But think about those whose own diversity and willingness to meet with those outside the property ‘club’ allow them a unique point of difference. Give them a few years and they will have networks that make the traditional ones look positively dull.

The Notting Hill Carnival creates an image of what a truly diverse workforce might look like. A new melting pot of skills and backgrounds from a wider pool of talent to the industry can only be welcomed, especially by those committed to equality, greater diversity, and the progression of our industry. As we are quick to be involved with emerging markets, so must we be quick to embrace an emerging pool of talent that will help shape the future of property.

Sebastian Abigail and Elliott Sparsis are co-founders of Sociable Surveyors