Priya Aggarwal-Shah started BAME in Property a few years ago as a networking group borne from personal experience of cultural bias and a passion to change it. As more firms started asking for services including job advertising and workshops, it evolved into a company and then a year ago, Aggarwal-Shah quit her job at a communications agency to focus on the venture full time. She spoke to Property Week about the industry’s development in terms of fair representation and treatment of people from diverse backgrounds.

Priya Aggarwal-Shah

Priya Aggarwal-Shah

How can companies ensure they address equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the right way?

We must look at EDI through that intersectionality lens, because you could be a woman, part of an ethnic minority or LGBT, and it’s not really possible for any company to just focus on gender balance or increasing ethnic minority representation. You’ve got to focus on all under-represented groups. It’s not possible to say ’we’re just going to focus on women now, and then something else next year’, because you end up with resistance from majority groups. You want to ensure you’re providing support in different ways to lots of different groups. The companies that do well are the ones that collect data, because you need to be able to measure EDI to track progress. What doesn’t get measured doesn’t change.

Can you give an example of how progress can be measured?

When you’re going through your hiring process, it’s important to track those who aren’t getting through that first stage, to see who they are, what ethnicity are they, and what under-represented characteristics they have, and if there is a common theme. Are you missing certain people?

Then you can put policies in place to try and rectify it. Similarly, with those who get through the interview process, check who is getting through and who is going beyond the early stage career. If you’ve got real diversity at the early stage, which a lot of companies have, but that starts falling at management level, find out why who is leaving, why they’re leaving and how to rectify it.

Companies that do well track data over time, then put policies in place, coupled with EDI groups and so on. Companies that publicise salary ranges and their job descriptions probably do better as well, because there’s that transparency with what you can negotiate with. Companies that don’t do very well are the ones that don’t do any reporting and don’t publicise their salary ranges.

Should ethnicity pay gap reporting be mandatory?

If you think about the experience from when companies had to start reporting on the gender gap, and they could be publicly named and shamed, it was the impetus needed to push them to reduce that pay gap. It’s a bit of a no-brainer. It’s not just about competition between companies themselves, but it’s who they attract. An individual is going to go and work for a company that has a much lower pay gap, and a company is going to attract better talent because the message is ’we respect you and will pay you the same as somebody who’s doing exactly the same job’. But it is really nuanced, because two people could have the same job title, but varying levels of experience, so there probably would be a pay gap.

It’s important that we’re clear about reporting and what kind of measures will be in place to track it and how to rectify it. Once that has been resolved, we can probably have it as mandatory. Some companies are already reporting it voluntarily and the will is there more than it used to be. However, a lot of companies are in a bit of a crisis at the moment, so there are more pressing issues.

What else needs to change?

Ethnicity is important, but  perhaps social mobility is more important, because we forget that a whole group of people out there just don’t have the same opportunities, or in some cases any opportunity at all. We need to be looking at different ways to bring that into the wider discussion about EDI. It’s especially important, particularly in the UK, because a lot of ethnic minorities are from working class backgrounds so [by addressing that], you are meeting a lot of issues.

How can social mobility within property be improved?

By providing some different routes into the industry, like apprenticeships and supporting people with more talks at schools. It’s all well and good speaking to 16-year-olds and 18-year-olds, but you have got to get young kids inspired about the built environment and reframe the way in which we talk about it, looking at things like inequalities and climate change; things that motivate young people. We don’t do our industry justice, and we’ve got to talk about it in a different way to make sure we’re attracting the next generation of talent who are really passionate about these topics, but don’t know that they are related to property.