LH1 Global was one of the first three firms to sign up to Property Week’s Inspiring Diversity in Property campaign pledge. Rayna Hunter, its chief executive and head of global sales, spoke to Stephanie Denton about why it signed and what the pledge means to it.
How much of a challenge is diversity in the property sector?
Historically, the property sector has been very much, and is documented as such, a male dominated industry. It’s been a bit like the old boys’ club, and it goes back to those times with gentlemen’s clubs in London, and woe betide you if you’re a female going into those.
I would like to think whether I had 10 staff or 50, everybody has a voice. That is what diversity should be about. Hear my voice; you don’t have to agree with what I’m saying, but hear me out.
Why did LH1 Global sign up to the PW Inspiring Diversity in Property pledge?
Because people are coming together and recognising ‘I might be in the minority within my industry, but I too have a voice, and what I have to say could be very important, or assist others’.
It’s a key message we are trying to get across. We tend to judge books by the cover, but it’s about taking time to smell the daisies, to listen and ask questions. To get to know that person and see and listen to their opinion. Understanding diversity and being able to cope with diversity sometimes comes back to your own inner self confidence. Whether a woman or a man, we should all be judged on our own merits.
Property Week has taken the pin out of the grenade and thrown it out there. And I’m all about disruption. This will disrupt the industry and stop everyone being staid and old fashioned. There is an element of ’it’s not broke, we don’t need to fix it’. Sometimes we need to escalate the speed of awareness. From little acorns grow big oak trees.
What would you like to see change?
People need to have empathy. Perhaps there should be empathy in male-dominated property companies, when women might need a little bit more empathy because of what they might be going through, whether that be in their health, in pregnancy, subsequently, or later in life. These are basic, fundamental, good human morals and practices. It concerns me greatly, however, that in some cases, they must be identified before they can be actioned.
As a nation, the menopause has been an embarrassment. The male population probably doesn’t really want to know about the messy works of what a female is going through. As a nation, we’ve always tended to sweep those sorts of things under the carpet - less said, soonest mended. It still has a stigma. Whatever you’re discussing, it’s about educating people. Whether it be the menopause, someone suffering from cancer, depression or mental health issues in the workplace. All these things are about education.
Will any areas of the pledge be easier for LH1 Global to achieve because it is a relatively small, young company?
We are very much a tight team. We say to every new employee that comes to work with us - and please note ‘with’ us, not ‘for’ us - that we are like one family. We believe in equal opportunity. I want our team to grow and mature and have the life experience of learning the industry.
We’re quite traditional in our values. We have old fashioned morals. The business was originally named after my husband’s grandfather, and we wear our brand with pride. We believe we already embrace diversity - it’s in our hearts and souls. For us, embracing diversity is almost like the air we breathe, what we eat and drink, but even for us, Property Week’s pledge has made us stop and think. It has made us identify certain things we naturally take for granted and then look at other things that maybe we need to sharpen our pencil on.
I believe we always stop and think before we speak, because we’re conscious of someone else’s feelings in our office. But it’s not only in our office; we work with hundreds of agents investment agents, and independent financial adviserss throughout the world. I like to think we all come together with the same vested interest and that is the UK property market, because it’s perceived as a very lucrative, stable investment opportunity. Our peers in some regions we deal with are probably not as privileged as we are in the UK, but they recognise that they’re providing investors with the opportunity to diversify.
What areas will you be changing with the pledge?
Our recruitment is conducted by external recruitment agencies, but there are areas we can improve. We are planning to give a clear indication to our recruitment companies on what or whom we’re looking for.
Staff training is also a very important thing people need to be offered. Because we’re a small company, we can easily identify things that we could improve upon.
Are there any areas that might be more difficult to tackle as a small firm?
We have struggled to find the right female employees to come into our company. That might be because we’re based in Ascot and maybe there are not so many female professionals in the local area. We don’t have the pool of female executives to draw on, which is concerning to me. I came to the property industry late in life and I’m a great believer that it is not only about women in property, it is about mature people coming to the market later in life too.
How long do you predict it will be before we see positive change in the sector?
I’ve already seen change in the six years I’ve been in the industry; I’ve seen more women, and younger women, perhaps more in the north and London. I want women that are proud of their gender and ready to go out there and conquer. They’ve got so much to contribute, and so much to offer, and it comes back to the scales and balancing. I haven’t heard the word chauvinist for a very long time, which is good, because it shows the industry perhaps is recognising that it is an archaic word.
What would you say to people looking to join the sector?
I’m a big advocate of, ‘be bold, be brave, get out there’, whether you’re female or male, no matter what your race is, no matter what your age is, believe in yourself and embrace this industry.
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