We’ve reached 100 members, but our work is far from done

News / 07.10.2021

This article first appeared in EG on 7 October 2021

Today is an exciting day for me, for Real Estate Balance and, I hope, for the whole of the property industry. That’s because it sees Real Estate Balance pass the significant milestone of welcoming our 100th organisation into membership.

For those who don’t know us already, we’re a membership organisation working to improve diversity and inclusion in the real estate industry.

Founded in 2015, when I took on the role of managing director in 2020, it already counted among its 82 members some of the largest names in the property industry. Today – as we welcome our 100th member – it’s clear the extent to which the sector is embracing this movement towards change, equal representation and diversity.  While this is a day to celebrate our coming of age – it’s also important to reflect on where our priorities now lie.

Real Estate Balance was originally set up by a small group of women, all volunteers, to address the gender imbalance at senior levels in property organisations. Time marches on – and of course, recently to a greater extent than we could ever have predicted – has seen the context in which we all live, and work change dramatically. The pandemic, with its attendant upheaval, economic shock and disruption to the job market have given many businesses pause for thought – and plenty of us cause to reflect on the disparities in how different groups within society have been worst affected. The Black Lives Matter movement, given momentum and terrible urgency by the murder of George Floyd, has brought into sharp focus issues of racial injustice here in the UK as well as around the world.  

In this changed world it’s clear to me, and I believe, to our members, that it is more important than ever that the property industry continues to take strides to improve diversity and inclusion across the board, not simply in relation to gender.

The challenges women face in this industry are no different than those encountered by anyone who feels sidelined or othered due to their race, sexual orientation, age, religion, education or upbringing. Now, as we welcome our 100th member, we are taking the opportunity to celebrate our commitment to broader D&I objectives, particularly around ethnicity and social mobility. Our CEO commitments remain the same – but now when we ask our members to commit to gathering data, influencing their supply chain to make progress on diversity or push for cultural change – all of which are priority actions for us this year – we ask them to consider these additional categories.

We’ve already begun to work towards change around our new wider focus. We recently hosted an event with Savills and SEGRO exploring barriers to social mobility in the sector. There, our chair Liz Peace referred to property’s ‘Middle Class Citadel’, shorthand for the establishment that some feel excludes those who haven’t attended the right schools or who don’t speak RP. I was the first person in my family to ever go to university which seems to have become a shorthand for showing that I wasn’t born with a silver spoon in my mouth and the property industry must be opened to people like me as well as those from more “traditional” property backgrounds.

With brilliant contributions from an imaginative panel, we heard that the industry is beginning to understand the benefits that flow from a wider talent pool, and how to access that pool whether via targeted internship programmes or better outreach so that young people understand the range of careers on offer in property.

All this this is not to say that we feel our work on gender is complete. Our latest member survey, completed late last year, tell us that some progress has been made and we are beginning to see the changes we want, but there is certainly more to do, and we will not be taking our eye off the ball in this space.

I am proud to be part of Real Estate Balance at this momentous point in its history and to be part of a movement that has brought together so many talented people who all believe in the vision of a property industry where every organisation is diverse and inclusive and offers equal opportunities to all who choose to make a career here. Creating diverse, fair workplaces is the right thing to do, but it’s also the smart thing to do, as we know that it’s these organisations are more financially successful and more innovative.

So, as I close on that note, I would like to thank all our members for the commitment they have shown to being a part of the property industry of the future and issue an open invitation to anyone in the sector – whether agent, owner, developer or investor – who is yet to join us to get in touch. Let’s see what we can achieve together.

Sue Brown, managing director of Real Estate Balance