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You Know The Problem. Here Are 11 Solutions To Improve Diversity In Real Estate

The issues surrounding the lack of diversity in real estate are clear.

But the 550 attendees at Bisnow London’s Women Leading Real Estate event were keen to hear solutions to increasing diversity not just of gender but of race, sexuality and social background, rather than just outline the problems. Here are some ways things can be changed, according to our speakers.

Facing camera: CBRE's Sue Clayton, MAG's Lynda Shillaw, Shaftesbury's Brian Bickell and Maples Teesdale's Anastasia Klein

1. Go back to school

The industry needs to do more to reach out to young people in schools and universities that might not know about property as a profession, according to CBRE Executive Director Sue Clayton.

“We need to tell people what a great career it is,” she said.

2. Create flexible workplace cultures

“We need to create flexibility and put an end to presenteeism and the idea that you’re only working if you’re in the office,” Lendlease head of offices Sherin Aminossehe said.

“Networking in the sector is often based around going to the pub or evening events,” Landsec Managing Director Colette O’Shea said. “It doesn’t fit in with a lot of women’s lifestyles, especially as you get older and have kids.”

3. Change behaviour to retain senior talent

Part of keeping talented women in the industry is changing the behaviour at events that blur the work and social sides of real estate.

“When I started in the industry the split was around 50/50, then women just drop off as you get more senior,” Aminossehe said. “I’ve lost count of the number of times at Mipim I’ve been propositioned: one consultant said, why don’t you go and buy some underwear for my wife? We need to correct our attitudes, it’s just basic human decency.”

Facing camera: Landsec's Colette O'Shea and Lendlease's Sherin Aminossehe

4. Schemes from the top to stop the drop off

Clayton said there are things companies can do to encourage women to stay in the workplace after returning from maternity leave, and they involve educating a large array of people within a company.

“We have maternity coaching for both women and their line managers,” she said. “At CBRE 25% of our directors are now women, and that is very different to five years ago.”

5. Working against unconscious bias

Part of the problem with increasing diversity can be overcoming unconscious bias in people who do not consider themselves sexist or racist.

“We have done a lot of training on unconscious bias,” Manchester Airports Group Property Chief Executive Lynda Shillaw said. “You have women sat there who think something is obviously biased, and guys sat there saying, 'oh, I never thought of that.' Leaders have to drive that sort of thing from the top.”

6. Put pressure on your suppliers

If you are in a position to hire someone’s services, make sure that their values mirror your own.

“We expect to see diversity in the people we hire,” Bickell said. “I don’t expect to see three middle-aged white guys coming to pitch to me. You need to respond to what your clients want.”

The audience at Bisnow London's Women Leading Real Estate event

7. If you are an investor, use your money to change the world

Shillaw cited the examples of BlackRock and Aviva, who have both said they will not approve the reelection of boards at companies that they do not think are taking diversity seriously.

“When big money starts to change the way it behaves then that will help to spread change,” she said.

8. The thorny issue of quotas

The idea of quotas is incredibly divisive, and the panel were pretty split about it. No one was explicitly in favour, but Clayton said: “I think that you can use targets if not quotas. I think if you work hard to achieve targets then that can help to effect change.”

“I think you have to go slightly over the top to make things happen,” O’Shea said.

Shillaw pointed to the initial success of the 30% Club which is aiming to increase board representation of FTSE 100 companies.

But Shaftesbury Chief Executive Brian Bickell said: “I’ve never been a fan of quotas. I got my job because I’m good at my job, not because I’m gay.”

9. Visibility and role models matter

While mixed, inclusive events are important, O’Shea highlighted the benefits of events which celebrate successful examples from outside the industry norm, be that based on gender or ethnicity.

“I think having role models are incredibly important. I’m incredibly excited to come here and I want to shout from the rooftops about how many talented women there are here today. I’ll have a spring in my step for the rest of the day.”

10. Think about who goes to events

Taking a more junior and a more mixed group of staff to events like Mipim would stop it being like “a men’s rugby club on tour,” Bickell said. “If you buy a table at an event take a mix of people and it immediately changes the atmosphere in the room.”

11. Be positive

The panel were asked about whether they were positive about the pace of change taking place in the property industry.

“If you look at the level below the executive committee at Landsec there are more women than men, and I never thought that would happen,” O’Shea said.

Bickell pointed to the fact that there had been more change in the past five years than the previous 30 in his experience of working in the industry.

Clayton summed it up. “My daughter is 27, and I thought by the time she got to this age we wouldn’t be having these conversations any more,” she said. “I hope that by the time she is 37 we won’t. Things are accelerating.”