When discussing diversity and inclusion in the built environment, the market keeps returning to one point: change does not happen within an organisation without the involvement of its leaders. This is a reminder of both the power of leadership and the potency of leaders.

Roxane McMeeken

Roxane McMeeken

Unfortunately, in the property sector, there is very little ethnic diversity at the top. Real Estate Balance’s most recent survey found a significant ethnicity gap: fewer than 5% of its members who are at board director level are of non-white heritage, compared to 15% of the UK population.

Leaders can make the difference. They set the tone within the organisation and are its external face. They influence who is hired and how they are treated. They often have platforms allowing them to influence opinions across the sector and beyond. In the built environment, they shape the very spaces in which we live, with huge potential influence over equality and inclusion across society.

Greater ethnic representation in top-level positions is needed urgently. So how can the property sector diversify its leaders?

Last year, the Elevate programme was launched, providing communications advice on a pro bono basis to support leaders of emerging firms raise their profile and increase their chances of success. The aim is to enhance their credibility and authority by helping them communicate, with impact and consistency, the values, skills and experience underpinning their approach.

Elevate is open to companies in the built environment sector with up to 15 employees and at least one founder or leader from a diverse ethnic background. The 2024 programme will open for participants soon and they will be offered an intensive and completely bespoke package of support, including an in-depth workshop session with our consultants, followed by regular check-ins and an ongoing relationship with our consultants and presence in our network.

The 2023 Elevate alumni are now rolling out their own PR programmes and you may meet them at networking events, hear them speaking at industry events and see them in the news. For example, Stephanie Edwards, co-founder of co-design specialist Urban Symbiotics, spoke at The Festival of Place industry event last summer and Beyondesign will be at Mipim this year.

There are several initiatives that seek to improve representation by focusing on the origins of exclusion, education and recruitment, such as Blueprint for All’s bursaries for architecture students. Essential consultancy and knowledge-sharing can be found at BAME in Property and Real Estate Balance, among others.

Diversity should not be about profit, it is just the right thing to do. But there is evidence that leadership diversity is linked to other aspects of good corporate governance – and may even be a useful indicator of how well a company is run, and how well it can respond in a challenging business climate.

McKinsey has been researching diversity within organisations for almost a decade, and has consistently found that diverse organisations perform better. Its latest report, Diversity Matters Even More, went further, uncovering a link with other forward-looking qualities of successful businesses. “A striking new finding is that leadership diversity is convincingly associated with holistic growth ambitions, greater social impact and more satisfied workforces,” it said.

Systemic change can only be driven at leadership level. The good news is that by supporting greater ethnic diversity at senior levels of the real estate sector, we can all help to make a positive impact, not only for our industry, but for the communities it serves.

Roxane McMeeken is director at ING Media and founder of Elevate