It is 1 April (bear with me).
We are one week into full lockdown and it is a trying time for everyone. One particular challenge for membership organisations such as Real Estate Balance (REB) is how to keep our members engaged when a key reason for joining – networking and thought-provoking events – has been cancelled indefinitely. Where is the value in organisations like ours at this time? This thought was uppermost on 1 April, the day our annual membership invoices went out and I took up my post. It was not the most auspicious of beginnings.
Four months on and things feel very different. REB was set up to address the gender imbalance at top levels in real estate organisations, but my ambitions from the outset were for the organisation to embrace diversity and inclusion in the round. Recruitment and career opportunities in lower levels are also important – you cannot have representation at the top if you do not develop an inclusive pipeline of opportunity. So, along with webinars on issues surrounding Covid-19, over the last few months we have developed a varied programme of activities addressing these issues.
We know we have a long way to go in the property sector to address attitudes and behaviours and barriers to entry. There are other organisations better placed to lead on race and ethnicity, but one of the greatest strengths of REB is a strong connection with our members, many of whom hold influential positions in the sector. We want to partner with those who share our aims and add our voice to support their message. To that end, we set up the Network of Networks, a group that brings together organisations working in the D&I space in real estate, including Black Professionals in Construction, DiverseCity Surveyors and Pathways to Property, to explore how we can work together. We have also supported research into the ethnicity pay gap, with PwC.
Information unlocks ideas and the work of REB is being shaped by our NextGen programme. Last month, our NextGen Committee issued a survey asking younger property professionals for their views on issues such as barriers to entry for young people from non-traditional backgrounds, workplace attitudes and prejudice.
The next step in the programme is an online seminar, held in conjunction with JLL, that will be a live Q&A session with three sector leaders taking questions from a group of young professionals on how we can become a more open and inclusive industry, as well as seeking their insights and experience of topics that need to be addressed if we are to reflect modern ideas.
This intersectional and cross-generational sharing of views is a key weapon in effecting change in organisations. Developing a better understanding of the views and expectations of millennials and generation Z can greatly influence policies and practice. In return, they have so much to learn from the ‘old guard’.
With that in mind, one of the most exciting (and fun) things we did recently was partnering with Property Week to host the speed mentoring event of the century – virtually, of course. Eleven property leaders mentored 40 junior professionals in an online event that was an enormous success in terms of content, outcomes, enjoyment and surmounting technological challenges. We plan to hold another later this year.
I have also made it a priority to meet, initially virtually but latterly in person, each and every one of our 80-plus members. Member organisations rely on active engagement and we are very lucky to have an enthusiastic assembly. With their help, and yours, we will see the ripples that REB started nearly five years ago start to become waves.
Sue Brown is managing director of Real Estate Balance