Diversifying from the Traditional - The Diversity Agenda in Real Estate

Published: 31 May 2016

As senior management search specialists, the diversity of candidates considered and short listed for our clients is a priority. Headhunters cannot ‘magic up’ talent from all walks of life and, ultimately, we need to find the best person for the job for our client. However, we have a social and professional responsibility to consider the full breadth of talent, to think broadly about experience and skills set, and to constantly remember that a truly diverse management team or Board will lead to our clients’ long term success. It provides different perspectives and ideas and allows a business to closer reflect its own customer, client or stakeholder base. This is important in all the sectors and functions in which we specialise, but none more so than Real Estate and Property.  Being a traditional, conservative industry that has centred on long-standing business networks and a deal driven or ‘hands on’ culture, there has been little broadening of the spectrum when considering talent. There is now much more appetite to shift the paradigm and move away from the status quo,  and whilst it has begun there is still some way to go.

We recently held a panel led event over an enjoyable lunch where Sanjeev Shama (COO for M&G Real Estate and one of the founding members of the People in Property group), Virginia Rothwell (Human Resources Director for JLL in the UK) and Vinay Kapoor (Head of Diversity & Inclusion at BNP Paribas and named as “Top 50 Global D&I Executive” by The Economist) shared their experiences and opinions. Rather than the usual ‘moan’ as to how far behind the curve the Real Estate industry is on diversity, a positive and useful discussion ensued, with the following advice emerging:

  • Executive sponsorship is imperative to the success of diversity strategies. The sponsor needs to be active and visible across the business and they must be willing to ‘call out’ behaviours that don’t support the agenda.
  • Successful design and implementation of D&I strategies can be aided by expanding the board to include someone to challenge the status quo and commit to promoting the agenda. 
  • A number of actual and measurable activities need to be implemented in the first instance to ‘shift the dial’ towards a more diverse workforce. Soft quotas or targets will help to monitor progress, maintain focus and keep on track to ultimate goal of ‘effortless inclusion’.
  • Pick certain areas of diversity to focus on initially; don’t try to tackle all areas immediately as it will be overwhelming for the business.
  • Collaboration is key – both internally and with other businesses. This is a long journey all businesses are on, be transparent, discuss initiatives and share best practice.

It is clear the Real Estate industry is aware of what is required and we are well on the journey towards a more diversified population within the sector. The signs are promising with 38 initiatives and bodies focusing on the diversity issue within Real Estate. Property businesses (particularly the major property and building consultancies) are now making significant efforts to engage with the non-traditional universities - sowing the seeds for a more diverse workforce at mid to senior management level in years to come. 

Collaboration is going to be crucial for all these efforts to bear fruit. This is going to need absolute transparency and constant communication throughout the industry. Real progress is also going to require a significant number of brave and determined individuals in the industry;  CEOs ensuring it remains top of a business’s agenda; HR Directors and Managers doggedly pushing the agenda and ‘calling out’ when it is not adhered to; University graduates taking a leap into the industry; and head hunters determined to seek out a diverse short list of suitable candidates and impress upon clients the importance and benefit of diversity.

Ben Ingram is a Principal Consultant and leads the Real Estate & Property Practice for Berwick Partners

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