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Ladz Bantz: Property's Dirty Secret Challenged In Birmingham

The U.K. property industry has some serious cultural issues to address, as the outrage over allegations of sexual harrassment at the property-dominated men-only President's Club dinner has shown. But a ladz bantz culture is alive and well in the Midland's property industry, too.

Pints beer drinking alcohol pub

Last week Open Land, the Birmingham-based networking organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender professionals in the property industry, met to hear West Midlands Metro Mayor Andy Street talk about his plans — but also about his sexuality.

Open Land is celebrating its first birthday as a mixed, relaxed and supportive group for real estate professionals. Turnout at last week's event, hosted by KPMG was more than 100.

Bisnow spoke to senior professionals in the city's LGBT property sector who said the problem of straight-male exclusion is still causing serious problems despite the high attendence and big name backing.

Alison Grunstein, CBRE Birmingham January 2018
Alison Grunstein, CBRE Birmingham Valuation Director

"The lads culture problem is as pressing as ever," CBRE Valuation Director Alison Grunstein told Bisnow. "The issues for me are more about being a woman, than about being a lesbian. We don't feel welcome in some parts of property. There are situations which block out women."

Data has revealed a significant gender pay gap at large real estate companies, and some sources estimate that only 15-20% of real estate professionals are female.

The sector also struggles to cope with gay men, St Modwen Financial Director Rob Hudson said.

"We're still facing homophobia at work, and it is eye-opening hearing what members have to say about diversity in their own businesses," Hudson said. "So far we've been behind the trend in the Midlands on diversity issues and we're now catching up, but we still see people experience prejudice and casual homophobia. In some cases people have had to change jobs."

Anthony MCourt speaking at Open Land event, Birmingham, January 2018
Anthony McCourt of Court Collaborations, speaking at the Open Land event

Life outside the straight, male-dominated culture has got easier, Court Collaborations founder Anthony McCourt said. But there is still some way to go.

"Things have got better for LGBT people in property. When I was younger and not out, I found it much less easy to come out than people do today," said McCourt, who was instrumental in the completion of Birmingham's £100M Cube project.

However, he warned that the big consultancies still had work to do.

"Even if big firms have ticked the boxes on the national level, it doesn't necessarily track down to professional life in the office. It still takes a lot of confidence to be yourself at work," he said.

West Midlands Metro Mayor Andy Street speaking at Open Land event Birmingham Jan 2018
Andy Street addressing the Open Land meeting

Street, the West Midlands Metro mayor, also spoke about his sexuality and about the President's Club allegations.

"I decided to do an interview with the Sunday Times, to get the issue out of the way before the Mayoral elections last year," Street said of his decision to discuss his sexuality in public. He told the Open Land meeting he had not needed to come out so publicially earlier because he was working for an inclusive business in John Lewis, where he had been managing director.

Asked about the President's Club, Street said: "I made it clear when I became mayor that I would not do all-male events. I have never seen or been at an event of the kind reported in London."