Business

How has the property industry improved for LGBT+ professionals over the last decade?

David Mann and Saleem Fazal | Freehold
|
22nd October 2021
Question 901

Change can feel slow, especially when you’re in the middle of trying to make it happen. That’s as true of the property industry as it is of any other. But when you look at progress over an extended amount of time, it’s remarkable how much actually changes.

That’s as true of the property industry as any other. Not all that long ago, anyone from the outside looking in would’ve gotten the impression of a sexist, old-boys club dominated by white, straight men from a middle-class background. And while there’s undoubtedly still room for improvement, it’s also true that it’s become a lot more inclusive, especially to LGBT+ professionals.

As an example of how much progress has been made, you only need to look at the united stand the industry took against homophobic laws in Brunei in 2018. Companies within the sector have also featured on Stonewall’s Workplace Equity Index since 2019. In fact, property giant JLL was listed among the top 20 employers of trans people in 2021.

We’ve also seen improved representation when it comes to leadership positions at industry bodies, as well as the agendas they push out. For example, when Louise Brooke-Smith became the first female president of industry body RICS in 2014, she placed diversity and inclusion at the top of her agenda.

We also see our own growth as a support and advocacy network as evidence of the progress made in the space.

From our chance meeting 10 years ago, that led to the creation of Freehold, we’ve grown to a membership of more than 1000 strong, taken more than 50 professionals through our official mentorship programme, and facilitated hundreds of informal mentorship chats. We’ve also had several board members named on industry lists, including the OUTstanding list of the 100 most influential LGBT executives and the EG Power List.

Freehold also won the “Outstanding Contribution to Property Award” at EG Awards 2018, which was a major validation of the work we’ve been doing.

More to be done

We hope that after 10 years since Freehold’s founding, we’ve contributed to a greater understanding across our entire industry - and LGBT+ people feeling less isolated as a result. There can be no doubt, however, that there is more to be done.

The 2021 edition of EG’s LGBT+ Real Estate survey, for example, shows that 35.65% revealed that they weren’t ‘out’ to everyone at their firm, with 48% of this group blaming the negative reaction of their colleagues and 44% saying they’re not out due to a lack of visible role models.

Some metrics even worsened post-COVID-19. And while almost 52% of respondents feared negative colleague reactions to coming out is an improvement on previous reports, 58% say they lacked the visible role models to come out is a step backwards.

Figures like these only make us more determined to keep building on the work we’ve done over the past decade. It’s also worth noting that the COVID-19 pandemic was a tough time for many in our industry, so as part of this we’re expanding our mentoring scheme with additional support for members who’ve lost their jobs over the past two years.

Freehold isn’t exempt from the need to promote internal diversity. Ensuring that our executive represents the makeup of LGBT+ professionals in real estate means that we’re able to better understand their needs and promote a more diverse membership base. Just 17 % of our members identify as female at birth which is a figure we feel must be improved upon.

According to the British Property Federation, in 2019, the sector directly employed more than 1.2-million people and contributed more than £100bn to the UK’s economy – about 7% of the total. While COVID-19 may have put a dampener on that, there’s every chance that it will bounce back just as strong.

As it does so, we’ll work to ensure that it does so as inclusively as possible. If the last decade has taught us anything, it’s that change brings its own momentum. As such, we look forward to seeing a much more inclusive industry by 2031.

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