CRE’s Next Generation: Built-ID’s Bridget Wilkins On Why Property Is Losing The Global War For Talent
This series asks rising stars in commercial real estate about their thoughts on some of the biggest issues facing the industry, including inequality, climate change and technology.
For Built-ID Director of Community Engagement Bridget Wilkins, the real estate sector faces a stark choice. Change, and change fast, or risk becoming irrelevant to the next generation of talented young workers.
“Many of us are driven primarily by a social purpose, and as a result, prioritise having a positive impact over other more traditional aspirations, like financial success and long-term job security,” she said when asked how her generation of property professionals differs from those that have gone before. “We are now competing in a global war for talent and unless CRE accelerates its focus on engaging and employing diverse people, rather than just meeting reporting targets, we will continue to lose brilliant, passionate people to competing industries.”
Wilkins, an Australian working in London with close to a decade in real estate, is something of an embodiment of the template of the next generation of CRE workers which is, as she puts it, “a much more transient workforce and have an expectation of a ‘digital first’ experience and approach to learning, working and engaging.”
In 2019, she left a position as associate director in the central London development team at CBRE to join proptech startup Built-ID, which provides technology solutions to allow different stakeholders, particularly local communities, to comment on and influence new developments in their area.
There are two areas where Wilkins passionately believes real estate needs to change, which are interlinked: its own diversity and creating sustainable and impactful buildings and schemes for the communities it serves.
“As an industry, we need to recognise that diversity extends beyond what we can see, like gender, ethnicity and age, and what our unconscious bias assumes,” she said. “True diversity is also about what we can’t see but we can learn through people with different skills, experiences and backgrounds. Where are the disabled, the chronically ill, the homeless, the migrants, the carers, the disengaged but digitally savvy youth? How can we design inclusive cities for these people if we don’t work with them?
“The industry needs to reduce barriers to entry by changing its perceptions of ‘risk’ around hiring someone that is different from the established and experienced norm,” she added. “At Built-ID we have a strong belief in the power of the Medici Effect [of bringing employees from different backgrounds, business units and specialisations together within one organisation] and I would encourage everyone to embrace these principles. Together we may be different, but we are stronger and more resilient because of it. We need to learn from other industries and remain accountable to the targets and aspirations that we set to create a more diverse industry.”
Systemic inequalities in the sector hinder that hunt for talented staff, she said, although real estate is not alone here.
“There are inequalities at every stage of career progression and these are not just limited to CRE; they are applicable to every industry. Education pathways, employment opportunities, gender pay gaps — which need much more attention — career progression and promotion standards. As a result of these systemic issues, the global war for talent tends to pull brilliant people outside of CRE into other industries.”
Built-ID has an express aim of trying to tackle the shortage of affordable housing in London and the UK, by giving all stakeholders in the development process a voice and allowing communities and the real estate industry a way of connecting that reflects modern communication methods: gamification through social media, polls and surveys, for example.
Wilkins outlined a few key ways she believes developers can tackle the housing crisis.
“We need to engage with communities to truly analyse and understand needs and requirements,” she said. “We need to collaborate with other industries like healthcare, education, finance and utilities to develop a holistic people-centred solution; incentivise individuals, teams and companies to develop innovative solutions across the entire development delivery cycle; and encourage application of ideas within an iterative mindset supported by local authorities. If planning risk can be reduced or offset it could help de-risk initial investment into the R&D of solutions and stimulate more innovation.”
The coronavirus pandemic has brought personal challenges for Wilkins, but she has been using the period to try and develop professionally.
“I’ve been recovering from COVID-19 for the past few months so I have been using this time to stay connected with my network, whilst reflecting on how I can drive positive change in the industry,” she said. “Professionally, I’ve been diversifying my skill set outside of traditional real estate by developing techniques on soft skills such as communication, strategic thinking and digital marketing.”
Wilkins said real estate has the potential to reinvent itself to flourish in the modern world — it can be surprisingly good at collaboration. It needs to change, but the potential to do this is well within its grasp.
“Our industry is full of some brilliant people, thinkers, designers [and] doers, and it’s important, especially during these times, we all stay connected, engaged and passionate about how we can work together to solve issues and sustain society.”