Diversity delivers

As one of the co-founders of LGBT networking and support group, Freehold, David Mann celebrates the value of a diverse workforce.

One in two members of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is over 50, and only 13 per cent is female. No wonder, then, that the property industry is often referred to as ‘male, stale and pale’. I hate that expression, especially as a 47-year-old, white, male, middle-class, Chartered Building Surveyor. I also just happen to be gay.

The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community has traditionally kept a very low profile in the construction and real estate sectors or avoided it completely as a career choice. I believe this was because of a perception, real or implied, that there is institutional homophobia. We have all heard banter in the office and on-site, whether meant in jest or as a form of bullying, but the result has been that most LGBT people remain closeted in the workplace for fear of abuse or career limitation.

This cannot be good for the individual or their organisation. It is incredibly hard work living a double life, not being able to talk about your partner or simply what you did at the weekend. It can lead to mental health issues, job dissatisfaction, lower productivity and poor relations with colleagues. Surely, feeling safe to be yourself is one of the most basic of human rights. We spend an average of 10.3 years of our lives at work and employers need to create an environment where everyone regardless of age, race, religion, gender or sexuality is encouraged and given equal opportunities.

In fact, managers who demonstrate strong commitment to diversity encourage high levels of engagement between employer and employee. This boosts productivity.

Inclusive and diverse organisations are more successful. Customer satisfaction and earnings increase when workforces reflect the broader population and this can also increase customer and workforce loyalty. Diverse boards deliver stronger corporate oversight. They are also 27 per cent more profitable and have 39 per cent higher levels of customer satisfaction. The modern professions, whether surveying, law or accountancy, need to reflect the communities they serve. An increasing number of businesses recognise this and now actively seek to work with organisations that exhibit best practice in recruitment, training and development of staff regardless of age, race, religion, gender or sexuality, often requesting specific statistics as part of the procurement procedures.

Overwhelming support

Four years ago, myself and Saleem Fazal, a Construction Litigation Lawyer at Taylor Wessing, started Freehold, a networking and support group for LGBT real estate professionals. We were motivated by the almost complete lack of positive gay role models in property and the absence of a forum for us to meet and talk about our personal experiences. Many of us felt isolated.

By creating Freehold, we effectively ‘outed’ ourselves to an entire industry, which I have to admit was pretty scary at the time as we had no idea what sort of reaction we would get from our clients, colleagues, employers, professional institutions or the press. I did not want to become ‘the only gay in the industry’.

Well, thankfully, we were embraced and have been overwhelmed by the support we have received. Our membership has just topped 800 and we are represented in almost every major employer. In fact, LGBT colleagues meeting at Freehold events have been the catalyst for many organisations starting their own LGBT employee networks. We have had events supported by most of the large surveying practices, law firms, The Crown Estate, British Land and LendLease, as well as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and the Royal Institute of British Architects. Both Estates Gazette and Property Weekhave published LGBT features and some very influential CEOs and institutional executives have added their wholehearted support.

People industries

I do think it is important that employers create an environment within which people feel confident enough to be themselves. We equally need to be brave enough to ‘come out’, as statistics show that once a person knows a gay person, they are in turn less likely to be homophobic.

Stonewall has been a great supporter of Freehold and I would strongly advocate any employer seeking to create a more inclusive workplace to speak to them. They offer best practice for employers who, quite naturally, may want a steer in this area.

We still have much to do. People are still being bullied at work and a large majority do not feel comfortable coming out. We need to reach beyond the big cities and encourage the next generation of LGBT people to realise that the property and construction sectors are a great place to work.

We pride ourselves on being a ‘people industry’ – let’s just make sure that includes everybody

For the full article, please visit http://www.howdengroup.co.uk/en/knowledge-base/professional-indemnity/diversity-delivers/

This article was submitted to be published by Howden Group UK Limited as part of their advertising agreement with Today’s Conveyancer. The views expressed in this article are those of the submitter and not those of Today’s Conveyancer.

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