Tackling the class ceiling

  • Legal Development 17 November 2023 17 November 2023
  • UK & Europe

  • UK Real Estate Insights

The conversation around diversity within the property industry has evolved in recent years from lack of gender and ethnic diversity to broader DEI considerations. To take one example, tackling the barriers to entry into the property industry for individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds has, quite rightly, been one of the concerns which has moved to the forefront of discussions. We have seen a stark increase in initiatives and outreach programmes seeking to create equal opportunity for all to enter the industry.

But once recruited, what then? Comparatively less airtime has been given to helping those individuals overcome hurdles to progression once their foot is in the door. The initial elation of achieving a dream job is often swiftly diluted with the realisation that breaking down that once-impenetrable door can lead to an overwhelming sense of not belonging, or even imposter syndrome. This is often exacerbated by a lack of cultural consensus with colleagues who may come from very different backgrounds. Real Estate Balance’s 2022 survey revealed 64% of employees in the property industry come from higher social economic backgrounds, compared with a national average of 37%.

Lack of confidence

The difficulties in establishing common ground and identifying role models within an organisation can lead to a distinct lack of confidence and self-belief. There is a danger that unless both sides recognise this, it could lead to a propensity to avoid opportunities that are so crucial to breaking through the so-called “class ceiling”. This is not a novel phenomenon and echoes some of the issues faced in breaking the glass ceiling.

So what must be done to ensure individuals from all backgrounds can progress on the same trajectory? And how do we create representation that is fair and proportionate at all levels?

Understand the issues

First and foremost, the industry must better understand the issue it seeks to confront. Organisations have made great strides in collecting social mobility data at the point of entry, but we have much more work to do in collecting data on the progression of employees from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Employees may be less willing to share information on their backgrounds for fear of the negative implications this may have. Therefore it is imperative that organisations create an internal culture that celebrates socio-economic diversity, instilling confidence that the sharing of information is going to lead to positive advancement. Real Estate Balance has recognised the difficulties in this field and has published the guide Can I Ask You a Personal Question? to assist organisations in the collection of data on DEI.   

Secondly, if an organisation is truly to reap the benefits of a representative workforce, it must devise specific and targeted initiatives. These must help level the playing field and afford individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds development opportunities which close the gaps on career progression.

The property industry is hugely creative when it comes to imagining the buildings and spaces of tomorrow. We must apply this innovative thinking to tackle the issues “behind closed doors” in looking after our internal stakeholders, the very people who will shape tomorrow’s world.

In the context of climate change and sustainability, in our article on 12 September, we wrote that “by putting diversity at its heart and giving a voice to underrepresented groups, the EG Future Leaders project also presents an opportunity to think about and solve these challenges in different ways”.

Ensuring that public speaking and networking opportunities are inclusive, collaborative and accessible to all will provide additional platforms to bring diversity of thought to the table. When coupled with other initiatives, such as reverse monitoring, these can provide invaluable experiences and exposure to individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds, catalysing their development and helping them to connect with peers and industry leaders. 

Cross-sector engagement

In a recent Chapman Barrigan lecture, Real Estate Balance chair Liz Peace interrogated the lack of trust in the industry, a discussion that unavoidably considered diversity and underrepresentation in our organisations. One of her observations was that the importance of collective action cannot be overstated.

Clyde & Co is a member of Real Estate Balance, which leads the way in cross-sector engagement through campaigns, programmes and initiatives. Its aim is to achieve an inclusive and diverse workforce and empower the next generation of individuals from lower socio-economic backgrounds to flourish at all levels. There is no doubt that collaborative, sector-wide sharing of best practice can only lead to a more considered and effective approach to tackle this pervasive issue. 

As an industry, we cannot afford to wait any longer. The time for action was yesterday. But if tomorrow’s world is going to ensure proportionate representation at all levels of business, we must convert discussion to action and commit to achieving tangible change, today.

Published by Estates Gazette.


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