A few weeks ago, courtesy of Real Estate Balance and Savills, I had the pleasure of chairing a seminar about social mobility in the real estate sector.
A few days later, a GRI roundtable on the subject of diversity and inclusion also ended up spending most of the time talking about the lack of diversity in social background of those entering our industry. This prompted me to conclude that we do have something of a social diversity problem within our industry, but it also led to me think that this was actually part of a much bigger issue.
There are a huge number of different initiatives aimed at opening up our industry to those from more diverse backgrounds, particularly through apprenticeships that target a very different group to the typical Reading/Oxford Brookes graduate. Don’t get me wrong – I have great admiration for the work of Changing the Face of Property, Pathways to Property, the Chartered Surveyors’ Training Trust apprentice scheme and all the individual schemes being promoted by companies such as Savills and SEGRO. But there are two reasons why these simply won’t work.
The first is a simple organisational issue – there are too many, they are too small and while they may make an individual organisation feel good, they are not going to move the dial. We need something bigger, which is pan-industry and has real force and resource behind it.
The second is part of the bigger issue I referred to above, reflecting the lack of understanding that people not involved in our industry have of it. It’s exactly this ignorance that has led politicians to think the interests of real estate owners and investors can be sacrificed when trying to save the country from economic meltdown post pandemic. And it’s what stops young people even thinking about a career in property when making GCSE, A-level and tertiary education choices. They – and the political establishment – simply do not understand us.
There have been many attempts to remedy this. Back in the noughties, a group of the major property companies funded a big (and expensive) piece of work by M&C Saatchi looking at our image.
A few years later, the BPF commissioned a worthy piece of work looking at property’s economic contribution to the economy. We have also had some successes in making our voice heard in individual campaigns on, for example, the potential banning of upward-only rent reviews, planning reform and, of course, REITs.
But with the shock delivered to the industry by the government’s latest decision on the evictions moratorium, perhaps now is the time for the industry to come together with new force and conviction and put the necessary resource into a collective campaign to show why we matter – and why this is one of the most thrilling places to build a career, irrespective of background.
The Property Industry Alliance was born out of the success of a pan-industry grouping that finally won us REITs – is this now the time for it develop the ‘cojones’ to fight and win an even bigger battle for the heart, soul and future of our industry?
Liz Peace is adviser on property, politics and the built environment