Last week a male principal at a public sector user of property services publicly admonished an agent for fielding an all-male team when pitching for work.
Peter George is programme director for Enfield council’s 20-year Meridian Water programme to build 10,000 homes over 210 acres in the Lee Valley near Tottenham. He is a man of considerable influence, working for a council committed to equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI), with prizes to prove it. George has been rightly lauded for his role in promoting the policy.
In 2018, the council dispensed with odd couple Barratt and SEGRO as its JV partners and took direct control of the scheme, an adventurous decision, but one not hard to understand.
Is it right for a public body to reject a fee bid on grounds og gender alone? No.
George took to LinkedIn to tell followers he had rejected the fee proposal “from a well-known property consultancy” because they had put forward six men for the job. To be fair, he did ask: “What if they were the six best people to do the work?”
Good question. But George then questioned his own question, saying: “But are they really?” This prompted me to respond, with what I prefaced as a “genuine question, not an attack”: “How would you have reacted if all six on the team were women?” There has been no answer to date.
Doesn’t matter. This hypothetical question is worth mulling in a wider sense. Not for an answer; more for the way it bends the mind towards asking further, more difficult questions, some of which I can offer a male opinion on. Then there are the questions that I don’t know the answers to. Genuine questions – not attacks – but questions that need airing a little more, as the best in the sector grope along the long road toward gender equilibrium and colour-blind diversity.
Should the council have EDI clauses woven into their bid documents? Yes, of course. Was it right of George to challenge four other bidders on the same point, a while earlier, and force them to ‘promote’ women into their teams? That’s surely a point for the bidder to judge – OK, at their peril. Is it right for a public body to reject a fee bid on grounds of gender alone? No. Imagine if the all-male bid had been at 20% less than the next highest. What would the National Audit Office have to say? Has Enfield’s position on EDI led it to overreach? I think so. It does not feel equitable to reject bids on the basis of gender alone.
Now, the questions for which I am unqualified to offer answers. Should a big firm of agents – assumed to be doing their best to promote gender equilibrium – be rejected because the small team selected for the job are all male?
If the best team was all female, should you add a male or two to even up the gender balance? Or add a female or two to a male team for the sake of appearances? Should experience and ability trump gender, all else being equal?
How do those who suspect they are in the team for appearances’ sake feel? How do those displaced feel, convinced they are the better man – or woman? Finally, one question I can venture to answer: how do males feel about attempts by their employer to promote women at their expense?
Guys, try and imagine if you had been acting as a manservant to a dominant female class for 100 years. You, too, would feel your time had come.
An ovation is due to voices encouraging EDI. Yes, of course, there are dark corners of chauvinism and prejudice. Yes, it’s taking longer than prophets would like. But the transformation has begun. Chauvinism is no longer tolerated. The best employers strain to ensure graduate intakes are gender and diversity balanced. Real estate will eventually be all the better for it.
But it will take a generation before there is EDI equilibrium, longer in terms of terms of power. Zealotry encourages resistance. Cancelling males is no way forward.
Peter Bill is a journalist and the author of Planet Property and Broken Homes