Kate Smith, head of workplace and portfolio strategy at CBRE, is among the industry-leading line-up due to speak at Property Week’s WorkSpace Conference + Showcase on 1 October.
The hybrid event, which takes place online and at America Square Conference Centre, London, will focus on a series of hot topics, including Smith’s talk about the need for workplaces to encourage diversity and inclusivity. Ahead of the event, Smith spoke to Property Week to share her thoughts on the subject.
In your WorkSpace Conference + Showcase presentation, you’ll be talking about “inclusive” office spaces. How would you define an “inclusive” office space?
Spaces we design and manage should be deliberately and thoughtfully created for as many people as possible, making them feel safe and feel that they belong and enabling them to do their best work. We need to create and maintain spaces that do this for all users, regardless of age, gender, ability, neurodiversity, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender identification or reassignment.
Are there any stand-out examples of great offices that encourage diversity and inclusivity?
I spent the first 13 years of my career in the BBC Workplace team. We had a clear commitment – the BBC belongs to everyone and should be accessible to everyone. Perhaps only when I left there did I realise how forward-thinking it was in terms of inclusion and how well the workforce represented society, compared with other workplaces. Alan Bainbridge and the team have delivered some wonderful inclusive spaces, including BBC Cymru Wales New Broadcasting House, which is a fantastic model for designing for neurodiversity.
How well do you think the industry as whole is doing in terms of making office spaces inclusive?
We need to do better. Knowingly or unknowingly, as an industry we keep delivering a lot of spaces designed for the office workforce of the past: white, cis, able-bodied, middle-class, heterosexual men.
We have some way to go before the UK real estate sector reflects the diversity of our society and local communities. Depending on your source, 80% to 95% of British architects are white; 70% to 75% are male; and circa 95% are from advantaged backgrounds. Nothing can replace lived experience – to create inclusive spaces, we have to improve the diversity of the teams creating them and bring the voices and perspectives of diverse groups into the design process.
Meeting regulatory requirements is not enough. More than ever, offices must be destinations that people want to work in; they must now compete with home-working and the hyper-personalisation that provides. It is a great time to ensure inclusion is at the heart of your post-Covid workplace strategy, design and operation.
A lot of office elements that are hailed as forward-thinking can be quite expensive. What can SME occupiers do to make their spaces more inclusive on a budget?
By considering diversity, you will often achieve superior solutions that benefit everyone. Creating workplaces that are inclusive for as many people as possible from the start also often means you reduce the cost of multiple adaptations post-completion. You are likely spending far more on your people than your real estate – creating spaces that attract, retain and enable all of your workforce will help you with productivity and return on your significant investment in your talent.
Listen to diverse user perspectives – understand their experiences of work and partner with them to rethink spaces and services. You’ll often find that comparatively minor changes to the environment or processes can remove significant barriers. Offer choice and flexibility, so different people can use spaces in different ways. Think about what you need to unlearn and keep learning.
Is there a geographical divide on this issue? Do you find offices in London are more likely to factor inclusivity into their design than offices in the regions?
I find it is rarely actively considered beyond regulatory requirement in projects across the country, regardless of location. Occupiers who may have a more mature DE&I strategy or dedicated leadership in this realm are clearly more focused on this. There’s often a misguided push-back from real estate stakeholders that this is an HR or core business issue and questioning if we can really make a difference. Join my presentation to learn more about why we need to change and some more specific ideas on how to do it.