In my last piece for Property Week I quoted a pretty unlikely source, the US rapper Macklemore, when I was discussing the evolution of the FRI lease.
I had also intended his single Your Love to lead on to diversity, but ran out of space. So this time it’s kind of a strange juxtaposition that Nigel Farage is going to do the honours in making the introductions instead.
I never thought I would say this, but I admire the man. Politics without the spin or the blah blah blah, what a refreshing change, and one that delivered a wake-up call to the Tory party. There are a few pathways that lead from UKIP to this piece on diversity. Wasn’t it Channel 4 News broadcaster Michael Crick who had the audacity to challenge Farage on the lack of diversity on his party manifesto front cover?
In what is not necessarily a robust litmus test, I thought it would be interesting to see how we fared using the same scale. Turning the pages of a recent Property Week, I counted 60 or so faces looking back out at me — which were all white, not a black one to be found. Is that racist?
You decide. But it seems certain that if we don’t assimilate colour into the pale face of our industry we will become marginalised as our views are unrepresentative, drawn from such a narrow hue of society.
A close friend and property professional, Asgoo Pirbhai, once gave me some sage advice: we all have prejudices, whether they are based on race, gender, age, sexuality, disability, creed or other. Being prejudiced appears to be a part of our psyche – but it doesn’t become an ‘ism’ until it is factored with power.
The wealth and power of most property-based organisations is immense. When you take that power and factor it with prejudice it makes the recipient, whether that be an individual or a community, feel unable to join in and estranged.
It seems to me that our industry has similarities to the pre-Thatcher Tory party, maintaining a status quo of heterosexual white males dominating board rooms. Then, whether it be through coincidence, prejudice or lack of role models, we encourage the perpetuation of the same, feeling safer but ultimately more marginalised.
Stonewall is an organisation renowned for working for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community over the last 25 years. In its annual top 100 list of gay-friendly workplaces, property is completely unrepresented, although our partners in industry, lawyers, abound. Why is that?
Property does, however, have some representation in Stonewall’s Diversity Champions programme. Of 650 companies that have signed up for the programme, there are three agents, JLL, Cushman and CBRE; one developer, BlackRock; and one funder, Lend Lease. A tiny representation, but it’s a start.
But diversity, of background at least, can be found at the very pinnacle of the industrial sector. A builder, a planner and a timber merchant trainee make up three of sheds’ super heavyweights. As chief executive of Gazeley, Pat McGillycuddy’s rigger boots have led a path of corporate sales to Middle Eastern and North American investors worth more than £700m.
Alan Curtis’s Leicester County Council experience, meanwhile, enabled him to mastermind the original Magna Park and then consolidate the first truly European shed developer while MD of the nascent Prologis.
Then there is Keith Dowley, who hauled himself away from the timber yard and is now into his second corporate reincarnation after his entrepreneurial flair gave him the confidence to leave cbre. Along with David Turner, he has established the “go to” niche shed agent, DTRE.
These three have concluded billions of pounds’ worth of deals between them, upon which the whole sector has fed, but there is not one RICS accreditation to be found.
They are all white, heterosexual and able-bodied, but provide concrete evidence – if it was required – that by drawing from a diverse background our sector will be stronger, adapt better and be more relevant.
There is nothing wrong with the RICS route, I am very proud of my son who is attending Oxford Brookes. But it shouldn’t be the only route and RICS needs to work hard to be more representative and breed new role models representing the full gamut of society from within.
If we don’t change and become more inclusive, reach out and then welcome those who come, we will miss out on the skills and experiences that diverse backgrounds bring. My feeling is that the majority of the industry is open to change and it is now time to do something about it.
Individually we have to work on our prejudice. Corporately we should take positive action. For example, female students at university can compete in the National Student Awards run by the Association of Women in Property. And last year the RICS joined with the Freehold organisation – a networking forum for LGBT people – to organise an event to promote LGBT inclusion in the industry. It feels like we are on the cusp of change.
No insidious ‘don’t ask don’t tell’ mentality for us. For property I say let’s forge our own path, we don’t need the law to change us. We can, we will and we are changing. We have had our wake-up call.