Loraine Martins OBE has a blunt message for any business leader who doesn’t feel comfortable discussing race, gender or any other aspect of equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI): get comfortable.

Lem Bingley

Lem Bingley

Do something about it, get some training and stop making excuses.

She draws a fanciful comparison with a business leader expressing discomfort discussing financial matters due to a lack of understanding or personal insight, and how long they might last in the job if that were the case. EDI, she argues, is as vital as cashflow to the health of a business and should be taken just as seriously.

Martins’ words come with some heft. Prior to her current role as global director for equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging at consultancy Nichols Group, she worked in EDI leadership roles at Network Rail, the London Olympic Delivery Authority and the Audit Commission.

She tends not to mince words. At Network Rail she got the leadership to take employment for disabled people more seriously by pointing out that – despite the many safeguards around dangerous track work – some of its own employees would end up disabled while at work. That proved something of an eye-opener.

Her wake-up call to our industry came in a keynote speech delivered at the live launch of a Property Week campaign, Inspiring Diversity in Property.

Our aim is to assist with the problem Martins highlights: lack of insight. We aim to help employers and individuals understand what they can do to encourage and support a more diverse property sector.

We began with a simple poll of the market, and the demographics of those who took part was just as instructive as the answers they gave in our questionnaire.

About nine out of 10 (88%) of those who took part identified as heterosexual, compared with about 97% in the UK population at large, according to the 2021 census. This gave our sample a slight over-representation of people who identified as LGBTQ+.

About 13% of respondents chose non-white ethnicities, meaning minority backgrounds were slightly under-represented against the 18% of the census.

But the most striking number was in terms of gender, with 85% of poll answers submitted by women. That is quite a long way adrift of 50:50.

Given that the poll respondents were a self-selecting group, it’s hard not to draw the conclusion that the majority of men in our industry don’t see EDI as interesting.

Of course, it is natural to feel more engaged with a topic if you feel a personal sense of involvement, or have been on the receiving end of bad treatment, unfairness or prejudice.

But as Martins points out, for anyone in a management position, stepping aside really isn’t good enough.

There is no shortage of reasons to take EDI seriously, from the protected characteristics enshrined in law to the need to attract and retain good people to the growing consensus that more diverse businesses simply perform better.

As part of our campaign, we are asking both businesses and individuals to make a pledge, promising to take steps large or small to promote diversity. Whatever your background, please consider taking part.