The pandemic has forced industries to look inwards and make changes. 

Nina Zeilerbauer headshot

Nina Zeilerbauer

It has caused a seismic shift in the way business will be done in the future. Many companies are assessing their working environment and recruitment strategies. How has this affected making real diversity a priority within property recruitment?

It is not contentious to say that property is more traditional than other sectors. In terms of diversity and inclusion, it is apparent we are behind others. If recruitment practices do not change, then it could have a negative impact on businesses. Multi-sector investors who are presenting a more diverse workforce want to see that reflected in their chosen partners.

From a business point of view, companies need to start delivering on diversity or these investors could take their money elsewhere. If we are to tackle the lack of diversity, then we must mean it – and hiring people with a clear commitment to diversity should never be a tick-box exercise.

Our industry is people focused. We develop long-standing relationships and networks with clients and co-workers. These networks often start at universities that have historically provided a small pool of people from similar schools and backgrounds.

Although fantastic initiatives such as Reading’s Pathways to Property are having a significant impact on widening this pool, that network remains stagnant going into the working environment.

‘Closed shop’

It can feel like a ‘closed shop’ to those from a more diverse background. My advice is for companies to use this time to effect change in their recruitment strategies.

Our increased and sustained use of technology this year has disrupted the closed-shop face-to-face events that the property network relies on. The move to host these remotely has opened up opportunities for more people from different backgrounds to join. We are already seeing property networks growing richer through this diversity.

From a gender perspective, the good news is that more women are reaching senior positions in property. Within the last two years, 50% of our placements have been female. However, there is still work to be done. We are an industry with just 13% female representation, and the gender pay gap is still an issue.

Open Plan diversity logo with four people discussing in front of whiteboard

Before Covid, pay review conversations could see women being offered – and accepting – flexibility or ‘work from home’ days instead of a pay rise. This year has proved that working from home often means working longer hours. Women are no longer accepting this as a form of remuneration.

But the blame does not always lie with the decision-makers, who may not know how to make the changes needed to create a diverse workforce. Guidance is required and positive discrimination is not the answer. I advise companies to widen the talent pool to reflect their clients and hire the best people for the job.

In the short to medium term, we need to showcase how people from varied backgrounds who are already in senior positions got there. Prospective candidates need to see people who look like them doing the job. A long-term aim should be to partner with schools and show what our industry has to offer.

The mood is changing. People are re-evaluating. Old traditions are being thrown up in the air and challenged. We are in a unique position to take advantage of the fact that the world has been disrupted and forced to change. We must continue to evolve.

Nina Zeilerbauer is co-founder of real estate recruitment agency Madison Berkeley