Hiring more women? Tick. Hiring more BAME people? Tick. These days, there is no point in even pitching for work without slides proving your diversity and inclusion credentials.

Peter Bill

Peter Bill

Yet a sizeable rump of real estate firms still only pay lip service to opening up their organisation to those who neither think nor look like them. “We’re fine as we are,” is the rationale. “Everyone knows us. Why risk bringing in people not like us? It’s not fair on them, not fair on us.”

Strides towards gender balance are being made, encouraged by Real Estate Balance. Organisations such as BAME in Property are taking steps towards encouraging black, Asian and minority ethnic staff.

The British Property Federation has published principles on diversity and inclusivity (D&I). The RICS grants D&I badges for committed employers. The Reading Real Estate Foundation’s ‘Pathways to property’ is opening doors to the less well-connected. Such initiatives are taken seriously by firms that put hands in their pockets to support them.

But for too many, diversity and inclusion is little more than a tick-box exercise and even those doing more than ticking boxes need to try harder. Read ‘Asleep at the Wheel’, a primer by management consultancy Korn Ferry on ‘structural inclusion’.

It may not be the best time in the cycle to suggest your business is just playing at D&I by re-educating staff on unconscious bias, but such courses “as standalone interventions are severely limited”, warns Korn Ferry.

Jane Hollinshead, who advises some of the UK’s biggest property firms, says: “Structural inclusion is the key to attracting and retaining talent from excluded minority backgrounds. In current D&I strategies, often the third leg of the stool – fairness or equality of opportunity – is missing.”

The former head of real estate at Addleshaw Goddard says it is “not enough to improve ethnic diversity on boards”. She says tick-box danger signals are subcontracting D&I to a sub-committee. Or accepting “the talent just isn’t out there”. Or sticking with the rationale “we are somehow immune”. Or not finding out why people really leave.

Diversity

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Hollinshead adds: “The healthy signs are a CEO who recognises the world is changing, and clients with it. A boss who joins ‘the bottom to the top’ of the business so those at the top can learn from juniors how the world is changing.

“Real estate organisations were built for an historic employee who no longer reflects our future workforce’s characteristics.

This rarely creates an even playing field for those from excluded backgrounds – and yet is still common.

“Dismantle the processes, start afresh and we might make progress. Tinker with unconscious bias training and we will be scratching our head in five years wondering what went wrong.

“Structural inclusion is critical to drive change, but has yet to be incorporated into our culture and how we recruit, retain and promote talent.”

Not all the same

Black Lives Matter (BLM) confounds, divides and inspires in equal measure. The surge in BLM interest signals a social change. Ike Ijeh, a black architect and writer, argued in a piece published in The Telegraph in June: “You cannot objectify and homogenise black people. In so doing, it offensively lumps all black people into a vast cultural tick-box in which, by virtue of our pigmentation, we’ve all been gifted with the telepathic ability to think, eat, act and talk exactly the same way.

“Yet, by ignorantly conflating the richness and diversity of the black experience into a single diminished entity, patronising, reductionist terms like the dreaded BAME ‘community’ invariably flow and perpetuate an embattled sense of ‘otherness’ that merely succeeds in further separating and marginalising black people from mainstream society.”

Peter Bill is a journalist and author of Planet Property