In the real estate industry, a much-needed transformation to become more inclusive and diverse is under way. As part of National Inclusion Week, Eric Chou and Sarah Chapman explain how millenials and Gen Z are driving this change.

Sarah Chapman

Sarah Chapman

Let’s be clear: we’re not there yet, not by a long shot. So, how can we ensure that the sector is an inclusive place to work, celebrating all its employees?

Beyond this, more needs to be done to ensure everyone is supported and feels comfortable being themselves. A quarter of young people would go back into the closet for work, according to research by Just Like Us. How can we foster a safe space for inclusion that hits home for everyone concerned?

Now is the time for urgent change. By 2025, millennials will make up over75% of the workforce, and they are closely followed by the tide of Gen Z. As these generations become most of the workforce, they bring with them a huge shift in employee expectations.

For many young people, inclusion and diversity are non-negotiable, and cannot just be talking points:72% of Gen Z workers said they actively sought out information on a company’s genuine commitment to diversity and inclusion before applying. These emerging voices demand more than token gestures, which could propel real impact and shifts in workplace culture.

Employees now see corporate culture as far more important than they did previously, particularly as Gen Z places a much greater emphasis on their experience in the workplace, rather than just the type of job itself. According to a 2023 report by Deloitte, a third of LGBTQ+ workers are looking for a new job with a more inclusive employer. ’Rainbow washing’ is easily spotted by LGBTQ+ candidates, so any effort to recruit them must be genuine, respectful and honest.

Box-ticking is not enough: employers must drive inclusivity and allyship. Open conversations, protective measures and  actions to make the workplace more inclusive are all imperative. Companies must implement inclusive policies and offer inclusive benefits.

This means ensuring that hiring practices are inclusive, everyone has an equal chance to be promoted, and  the proper processes are in place to handle non-inclusive behaviours. On top of this, providing employee benefits that are inclusive means implementing measures such as equal parental leave (as opposed to longer maternity leave), gender neutral bathrooms, and healthcare support.

But it is not just policies and benefits that create inclusivity; all employees contribute to this culture. A large problem in many companies is the lack of education and training about diversity and inclusion.

Offering resourcing and training programs can empower young professionals to advocate for themselves and others around them. We can all benefit from continuous training to help uncover unconscious biases and LGBTQ+ issues.

Reserving support for specific days and months is profoundly inadequate. Too many companies post on social media during pride month, but do not carry on the conversation year-round, and often do create inclusion within their own businesses. For this reason, when companies only show support tied to specific days, it can come across as inauthentic.

Companies must have an active and vocal stance, beyond the confines of a calendar. Open, genuine conversations and demonstrations of support to the LGBTQ+ community are essential for progress. But crucially, this outward support must be aligned with the company’s wider, genuine action and commitment to inclusion.

The same goes for symbols and tangible displays of support. While they can send a powerful message to young people that a company values and welcomes everyone, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, they must go beyond surface-level gestures.

Symbols must be backed with meaningful action behind the scenes to engage with and support the LGBTQ+ community, both internally and externally.

Setting up communities and groups will ensure young people can meet other professionals who can share their experiences and provide insights into navigating the industry. If they are not already in place, set them up or partner with and point employees towards groups such as Freehold.

Reaching out to create partnerships with LGBTQ+ networks can also be a way of accessing advice and guidance on how to best support young LGBTQ+ people. This also offers the opportunity to attend or host events where people can create valuable connections.

Organisational partnerships also provide somewhere beyond the workplace that people can reach out to for support if necessary. Not only that, they allow businesses to connect with and support the local LGBTQ+ community.

Visibility at the leadership level and across the business also sends a powerful message about the sector’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. Leadership sets the example and must do the work to ensure equity and inclusion are driven across the business.

Being able to relate to others within the company at a more senior level will enable young people to better navigate the workplace. Mentorship not only fosters a sense of belonging, but it also helps LGBTQ+ employees, particularly young people in the earlier stages of their career, to thrive.

Progress has been made in terms of the number of role models at leadership level. This must be continued, and broadened to include all levels. A majority of people believe that more role models across the whole sector would better facilitate inclusion. Having role models at all levels will ensure that young people feel connected to middle-managers as well as their peers.

Embracing diversity and inclusion enhances creativity, fosters innovation and widens perspectives; demonstrating a commitment to LGBTQ+ inclusion can have a positive impact on the experiences of all employees in the workforce.

As the workforce shifts, the property sector has the opportunity to embrace change and become more inclusive for young LGBTQ+ workers. By making sure everyone can bring their full selves to work, real estate can evolve beyond its historical perceptions, and become a more welcoming career for all.

Sarah Chapman is associate director and the head of public sector bids at Savills and a next gen board member at Freehold LGBT+ CIC