Industry leaders and next generation discuss how to progress Diversity and Inclusion at Better Balance 2

News / 23.05.2023

More than 170 people from across Real Estate Balance’s membership gathered for a packed-out event at CMS in London (May 23) on how to continue to make the property industry more diverse and inclusive.

The event was introduced by REB Managing Director Sue Brown and closing remarks were provided by CMS Partner and Co-head of its International Real Estate Group Mark Heighton.

The first half of the event involved a discussion between REB Chair Liz Peace CBE and Chief Executive of The Crown Estate Dan Labbad, with some of the questions pitched by younger employees at Dan’s organisation.

Dan spoke eloquently about how growing up in a family with multi-national heritage and his upbringing in Sydney had influenced his approach to D&I, and how his passion for fairness and opportunity was stoked further by the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and subsequent conversations he had with his colleagues at The Crown Estate.

He also highlighted a number of initiatives introduced to “move forward the invisible wall” of progress – including Board and leadership accountability, bonuses and rewards being linked to D&I, reverse mentoring programmes and revised recruitment policies and procedures – and how they are making a difference.

Liz and Dan also discussed the importance of leadership in furthering D&I, with Dan expressing the responsibility he feels to the NextGen at The Crown Estate in fostering an inclusive environment where everyone has a fair chance to prosper – which Dan believes to be a right for all of us rather than a privilege for some.

Please click here for an extensive account of the discussion and for more on Dan's views on the importance of D&I in EG.

I’ve been involved in some of the biggest crises you can think of where a lot of people’s lives were at risk and diversity has more often than not saved the day. Diverse teams are harder to manage because you’re trying to facilitate a broader, different set of perspectives but, boy, when you get them to work do they outperform.

Dan Labbad

The second half of the event featured a panel discussion involving a mix of members of the REB NextGen Committee and senior property professionals representing different parts of the industry:

  • Kevin Boakye (Chair) – Talent Acquisition and DEI Specialist at Hines and REB NextGen Committee member
  • James Brandon – DEI and Responsible Business Manager at CBRE UK
  • Dr Heather Melville OBE CCMI - Senior Specialist Advisor, Teneo, Chancellor, University of York and CEO and Founder, Clarke Smith Advisory
  • Sam Monger - Independent Advisor to the real estate sector and REB Policy and Campaigns Committee member
  • Sophie Ogbonda-Jardine, Senior Marketing Executive at Vertus (Canary Wharf Group) and REB NextGen Committee member
  • Sheena Singla - General Counsel and Head of ESG at Logicor and REB Board member

Kevin started the conversation by asking about authenticity in the workplace, which was a theme discussed by Liz and Dan, with Heather saying that the way to judge an organisation was by how its people feel when they are there, rather than just by its diversity data or awards and accolades in D&I.

Sheena added that when you see senior leaders “reading from a script on D&I”, it does not feel authentic, and that it was often obvious which leaders lived their values in their personal lives as well as their professional ones.

Kevin then asked Sophie about NextGen research finding that most people find out about real estate through chance or a friend or family member – the problem of it being a ‘secret sector’.

Sophie advocated for education, particularly early intervention and making sure pupils are aware of the myriad ways they could enter the industry; the importance of diversity data in identifying the people the industry should be looking to give opportunities to; and understanding the limitations of a single individual, company or governing body in being able to widen access to real estate as ways to overcome some of the ‘secret sector’ challenges.

James and Kevin agreed that it was also vital to consider the socio-economic make-up of the industry alongside traditional dimensions of diversity such as gender and ethnicity to widen and increase access to it.

Sam was able expand upon this by informing the audience of some of the key findings from REB’s recent industry D&I survey, which included that the bottleneck for women between middle and senior leadership positions stubbornly persists, that while the industry is broadly representative of the UK population in terms of race and ethnicity, it does not reflect London, which is more diverse and where much of the industry in based, and that there is likely an overrepresentation of people from more privileged backgrounds working in real estate.

He also highlighted the usefulness of the REB and PwC guide to collecting diversity data, which includes guidance not just on the datasets to source, but also on how to increase employee engagement with exercises.

It is quite encouraging that a lot of companies are increasingly ambitious about collecting diversity data for their workforces, but we know that the take-up rate of that is very variable, with some doing really well and some struggling to get beyond 25% response rates - so that’s definitely something we need to work on as an industry.

Sam Monger

Sheena was asked to comment on the reasons for the gender bottleneck in real estate, and made the salient point that if she, or indeed anybody, had the solution, then events like Better Balance 2 would not be necessary.

However, she was able to make some suggestions to accelerate the progression of more senior women leaders, which included the importance of collective and focused action, looking at how organisations promote from within because it is too often the case that women are having to move firms to achieve their ambitions, and also that it is not enough to focus on gender balance in the talent pipeline.

Sheena also expressed her view that senior leaders have a responsibility to champion their middle managers from underrepresented backgrounds and understand better what they are seeking in their professional development, and that mid-level employees have to be more confident in expressing want they want to achieve from their careers.

Other panellists also contributed to the debate on this topic.

This is not a ‘nice to have’, this is a commercial imperative on how to do business… I do not think this is just the responsibility of senior leaders, it is the responsibility of everyone who works in the organisation, so we must help our women colleagues to have the confidence to speak up, to have their voices heard, and we have to support our male colleagues to become allies. Dr Heather Melville OBE CCMI.

Dr Heather Melville OBE CCMI

James made the case that the industry was not prioritising people management skills and inclusive behaviours early enough in people’s career progression and promotion processes, and that this was impacting culture but also diversity higher up organisations.

He also made an insightful analogy to a bathtub, with the tap running faster and faster to recruit, retain and develop diverse talent, but the with the plug of culture and behaviour, social networking, microaggressions and the poor interactions between individuals and their line managers left out - leading to losing people because they do not feel included in our industry.

The panel fielded a question from the audience on implementing pay and bonus structures linked to D&I-related targets, with one suggesting the importance of being prepared for conversations which could cover the social, political, business and legal cases which could come with such schemes.

There was also a question about work-life balance, the ‘job of the home’ and fairness.

The working week – Monday to Friday, 9am to 6pm – was designed at a time when there was always somebody at home, and we live in a different world today. There is not often one person who deals with the home and one person who goes to work, so the working week has not kept up with society as it is today. The Covid pandemic helped with this in the sense that we all now value the benefits of flexible working arrangements and organisations have got much better at it. Sheena Singla.

Sheena Singla

Mark closed the formal part of the event by talking about the importance of supply chains and business relationships in furthering the D&I agenda.

He said that on the client side, CMS is now actually working with clients to help them become more diverse and inclusive, and feels a responsibility to do so. He added that as a supplier themselves, more and more was being expected of CMS as a company and even individual teams in terms of demonstrating their commitment to D&I before winning contracts, with some companies even requesting regular diversity datasets and paying bonuses where targets are met.

Better Balance was conceived by Sue as a means of celebrating the achievements of Real Estate Balance and our members, but also as a way to identify the shared challenges we all need to overcome to make our organisations more reflective of, and culturally in-tune with, the communities they serve. We held our first Better Balance at Schroders on May 4th 2022, and you can read about it here.

All of us at Real Estate Balance are very thankful to our speakers and panellists for sharing their insights, to all who attended Better Balance 2 for your questions and contributions, and to Mark and the team at CMS for working with us to host such a successful event.

We are already looking forward to seeing you all next year at Better Balance 3!