Diversity on any sports team is encouraged, fostered and in many cases crucial to the success of the team. Without a strong opening batsman, a lightning-fast bowler and a reliable wicket keeper, a cricket team will never excel.
The same can be said for the property industry. If you imagine a table of 10 people all with the same gender, ethnicity and sexuality, then their ideas and perspectives would be very similar. If, on the other hand, we were to have a diverse range of people from varied backgrounds, then they are more likely to have new and different views. Without diversity, we cannot hope to achieve innovation and creativity in the delivery of our future homes and workplaces.
Within the sector, it is clear we have not yet grasped the need for all aspects of diversity. More attention is being paid to women in construction, thanks to organisations such as Connecting Women, a networking organisation for women and BeOnsite, a charitable organisation for the disadvantaged established by Lend Lease, which is working to overcome barriers to the employment of women in the sector. Women represent only 11% of the construction workforce in the UK. Lend Lease’s rate is higher, but there is still more work to be done.
The lack of diversity in sexuality, however, is going unnoticed. Within the property and construction industry there is still a lack of attention being paid to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.
At Lend Lease, we pride ourselves on creating the best places and valuing the ways in which we differ. We know that unless individuals feel able to be themselves and are comfortable in their own skins, we cannot be at our absolute best and create the best places. Lend Lease is taking steps to do just this and was the first construction and development company to participate in Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index.
At this point I will ask you to forgive me for indulging in another sporting analogy — as a man who comes from a strong sporting background I see it as a suitable industry to benchmark property against, as it is a sector that is making progress.
When Australia’s most successful ever Olympian, the swimmer Ian Thorpe, came out as gay earlier this year, there were questions raised about whether we ever saw him perform at his very best. If Thorpe could break 22 world records and win five Olympic gold medals, imagine how well he could have performed if he had felt able to be open about himself and therefore mentally be his absolute best? Just imagine how much mental and emotional energy it takes every day to hide who you really are.
In Australia, nearly 20 years ago, rugby league international Ian Roberts made global headlines when he became the highest profile sportsman until then to come out. There is no doubt he advanced acceptance and understanding across the whole country.
The positive response and support that has been shown to sportsmen since then, such as England’s champion diver Tom Daley and former Aston Villa midfielder Tom Hitzlsperger, who have both publicly announced their sexuality, is the type of acceptance we should be striving towards in the property and construction industry. Just think how good the creation of our homes, offices, schools and roads could be if the industry could make a little of the progress that has been made within some sports.
At Lend Lease we are working towards an environment of diversity and acceptance. LGBT diversity is now firmly on the agenda, with the upcoming launch of the Lend Lease Allies Programme providing a forum in which issues from across the business can be discussed openly. We are also in the process of joining Freehold, the networking group for LGBT professionals working in the real estate sector, which will help us engage with other forward-thinking companies in the industry.
On our sites, men and women are lacing up their boots with rainbow colours in support of Stonewall’s awareness campaign, which saw 52 football clubs show support for gay players last year. Our commitment to the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index is only the beginning, as we will be able to benchmark our current status and look into how we can be at the forefront of LGBT diversity in our sector.
Like the rest of the property and construction industry, we still have a way to go. But it is only through self-assessment of our industry, businesses and ourselves that we will be able to kick the necessary goals.
Martin Coyd OBE is regional head of environment, health and safety in EMEA at Lend Lease