Every problem requires effort to find a solution. Arguably the most difficult problems are those where there isn’t consensus that the problem even exists.
Addiction is a good example of this, where it’s obvious from the outside that the patient needs attention, but a lack of self-awareness means that nothing short of an intensive intervention will lead to the affected person seeking help.
When exploring issues around race, ethnicity and prejudice within property (and other sectors), there are often similar difficulties. And many don’t stop to question the extreme skew that the data shows.
Whether it is the lack of ethnic diversity at senior levels within professional property bodies, on construction sites or in property ownership – just 21% of black (African) people own their own homes versus 68% of white (British) people, according to government research – it becomes evident quite quickly that the demographic representation along racial lines within the property sector is not reflective of the wider British community.
Due to my background and position as founder of a large ethnicity-focused network group (Black Property Network UK), I have access to deep insights into the challenges the black community faces within the property sector, but I’m acutely aware that the racial prejudice that permeates is not confined to just black people. The lessons I’ve learned have parallels in what other minority ethnic groups also experience.
I hope that property leaders drive harder to effect positive change
I’ve seen a lot of literature on studies and discussions on the way in which racism manifests itself, but the words of Scott Woods (an American author and poet) are ones that particularly resonate with me: “The problem is that white people see racism as conscious hate, when racism is bigger than that. Racism is a complex system of social and political levers and pulleys set up generations ago to continue working on behalf of whites at other people’s expense, whether whites know/like it or not.
“Racism is an insidious cultural disease. It is so insidious that it doesn’t care if you are a white person who likes black people; it’s still going to find a way to infect how you deal with people who don’t look like you. Yes, racism looks like hate, but hate is just one manifestation. Privilege is another. Access is another. Ignorance is another. Apathy is another. And so on.“
Power of the majority
I know a lot of good work has gone into solving problems related to racism and believe there has been significant progress through the ages, but that doesn’t mean we are anywhere near the finishing line.
One of the key issues I find is that those who are most aware of racism (the minority) are rarely in a position to fix things since they don’t have the power of the majority.
History has provided powerful examples – such as the US Emancipation Proclamation of 1862 and the UK Race Relations Act UK of 1965 – to show that such a paradoxical issue can be overcome through education and building strong allies.
My hope for the property industry is that the leaders across the professional and education ecosystem draw upon the clear evidence that shows the lack of diversity and, more importantly, inclusion at every level of their organisational hierarchies and drive harder to effect positive change.
This is not just a moral obligation, but a commercial imperative, since a number of credible studies show that diverse workforces achieve better results – for example, McKinsey’s 2019 report Insights on Diversity and Inclusion.
Given some of the increasingly complex challenges we face in the property industry, we could do with maximising the richness of intellectual firepower that the ‘diversity dividend’ brings.
Ayesha Ofori is founding director of Axion Property Partners and a founder of Black Property Network UK