Attracting and retaining Black talent discussed at Real Estate Balance and JLL event

News / 02.11.2022

Real estate and property professionals recently took part in a timely and important discussion about attracting, retaining and progressing Black talent to mark Black History Month.

The discussion and Q&A took place at global real estate company and REB member JLL in central London, with the panel comprised of:

  • Saira Choudhry – Partner at PwC and REB Board member (Chair)
  • Blessing Buraimoh – Head of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion, EMEA Workforce Advisory at JLL
  • Gemma Webb – Group Head of Diversity & Inclusion at Barratt Developments
  • Kevin Boakye – Talent Acquisition and DEI Specialist at Hines and REB NextGen committee member
  • Natalie A Carter – Senior Associate at Greenberg Traurig, LLP

The event was introduced by Simon Peacock, UK Board Member and Head of UK Regions and Clients at JLL, who discussed the underrepresentation of Black people working in the built environment and the steps being taken at JLL to address this and other D&I issues.

This has included D&I training for 700 managers, reviewing the reward system through a D&I lens, publishing their ethnicity pay gap, and establishing internal reverse mentoring. These concerted efforts have led to small improvements and has highlighted that JLL needs to go "harder and faster" if it is to make real lasting change. As a result, the UK Board has agreed workforce and Director targets for ethnically underrepresented talent and created an internal sponsorship programme as well as a new cross-company mentoring programme to bring together ethnically diverse talent across the industry. 

Simon hopes with his colleagues to help JLL hire people focussing on their transferable skills rather than just experience, so we can hire greater diversity at all levels into the industry rather than simply trading diversity between property firms.  

Please click on the above link if your organisation would like to find out more and participate in the initiative.

Saira started the panel discussion by highlighting that REB had expanded its founding campaigning focus of gender equality to include race and ethnicity and social mobility in 2020, partly in response to the murder of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter movement.

She also pointed out that London, which is where most REB members are headquartered, has the biggest Black population in the UK which is not being represented across real estate and property workforces and Board rooms.

The panel members agreed that the built environment is not representative of the communities it serves and that this is a social issue, as well as a professional one, and that before the real estate industry can attract more Black talent, it must make them aware of it.

This observation was also borne out by recent research of property professionals aged under-35 by REB’s NextGen committee. They found that the vast majority of participants first heard about the industry through a friend or family member. If this continues to be the case and Black people continue to be underrepresented in real estate, who are they going to find out about the so-called ‘secret sector’ from?

Panellists suggested that the industry needs to reach Black people in schools, places of worship and at diverse universities and career fairs and by having high profile apprenticeship and graduate schemes and engaging with initiatives including 10,000 Black Interns.

Additionally, though, there also needs to be outreach with Black parents because real estate can often compete in terms of varied, fulfilling and well-paid roles with medicine, law, banking and other attractive sectors and because parents are often primary influencers on a young person’s career aspirations.

Panellists also highlighted systemic barriers to entry, which included research showing that candidates with white-sounding names are more likely to get interviews than Black-sounding ones, and that companies need to work out where their blockages are in attracting Black talent – whether that is in the advertising of opportunities, sifting applications, shortlisting candidates or at the interview stage.

Name-blind recruiting is therefore not enough, according to the panellists, as hiring managers need to be equipped with inclusive recruiting skills to overcome their own and systemic biases to help stop the industry missing out on so much Black talent.

It is not about lowering the bar so black talent can jump over it, we need to open the gate so that Black people can come in from wherever they are.

Kevin Boakye

The panellists also discussed how perception can be a barrier to not just attracting Black talent but also to retention and supporting them to succeed, with research showing that people can be more likely to trust someone who looks like them or who looks like someone they have trusted before.

One way to overcome this can be through companies empowering their employees to celebrate their cultures and bring their authentic selves to work, and then be receptive and appreciative of those cultures on a day-to-day basis. 

Other suggestions for how real estate can retain Black talent included safe channels where people can raise exclusion issues and making sure line managers are invested in everyone’s development. Allies also need to call out discrimination wherever they see it, even if it was well-intentioned, and the retention and progression of Black talent is not just a responsibility for HR - it needs to be a business-wide prerogative. 

A focus on attraction can sometimes lead to the neglect of retention and progression, so companies need to make sure the opportunities to be stretched and lead are fair, that there is a transparent allocation of work, proper renumeration and also safe channels and robust processes to discuss and address discrimination, whether it is covert or overt.

Natalie A Carter

Companies should also be taking the affirmative step of encouraging Black professionals to go for promotions and other opportunities for career progression, according to the panellists, especially if an individual does not have the confidence to advocate for themselves.

Sponsorship for experienced Black professionals and mentoring for early-career professionals were also raised as examples of inclusive practice, as were deliberately diverse shortlists for roles requiring experience and the establishment of appropriate support programmes and networks for mid-career professionals.

The fact that Black partners at law firms are more likely to be made partners elsewhere to the firms where they trained was highlighted to show why transparent leadership pathways and decision-making and clear feedback are required to help Black professionals progress.

All also agreed that relationship-building should not be the only way to progress to senior leadership levels.

Diversity data collection was another theme of the evening. The most-recent research by REB of our member organisations found that although 95% of company respondents plan to track the race and ethnicities of their workforces, only 62% currently are. Working in partnership with PwC, we have produced a practical guide to EDI Data Collection in the Workplace and an accompanying webinar to help our members improve their diversity data collection exercises.

As well as working out whether a company is offering fair opportunities for new employees, diversity data collection can also be key in making sure the senior leaders in an organisation are representative of wider society.  

Collecting data across different leadership levels is key for an organisation to find out where they are doing well and not so well, and that data also needs to be broken down across different ethnicities because too often the singular concept of ‘ethnically diverse talent’ will not be enough to understand where action needs to be taken.

Blessing Buraimoh

Panellists also tackled the topic of comfort about talking about race and ethnicity in the workplace, with one making the salient point that it cannot just be incumbent upon Black people to assimilate and make colleagues feel comfortable as that is giving them an unfair responsibility that others do not have.

Another panellist suggested that we all need to become more comfortable with discomfort because that is the only way to learn and absorb new ideas and information. We also need to continue to challenge ourselves, others and the organisations we represent if we want our industry to be fair, diverse and inclusive.

We are thankful to Saira, Blessing, Gemma, Kevin, Natalie and Simon for taking part in the panel discussion and to Meera Roy-Chowdhury and Reah Huggins-Sutton and all at JLL for hosting this brilliant event.