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Diversity in the Residential Property Industry

18/01/19
Posted by: Christopher Ruddick

Firstly, before reading this blog I suggest you have time to get comfortable, have time to reflect properly and probably a brew in hand (or drink of choice, I however suggest it is non-alcoholic).

In our recent residential property industry predictions for 2019 we highlighted that there would be a rise in the number of Diversity Policies and Strategies.

In truth, here at TDM we began see a rise in the discussion of diversity in the industry at the tail end of 2018. Whether it was directly from clients to industry resources, surveys and reports that were highlighting a discussion around this area.

But, before we get into the detail of this topic I want you as the reader of this blog to review and reflect on the dictionary definition of diversity and critically what it means to you in terms of the team around you, what you have seen in your personal industry experience and your company’s current hiring strategy (if you are part of the decision making process).

noun

1. the state or quality of being different or varied

2. a variety or assortment

3. a point of difference

4.the inclusion of people of different races, genders, religions, etc in a group

5. logic the relation that holds between two entities when and only when they are not identical; the property of being numerically distinct”

So, the most important question I want to pose to you as part of the industry and in fact the wider industry is…

“Has the industry got it wrong?”

I would at this point again as you the reader of this blog like you to reflect and think about your thoughts from the above and your own personal industry experience.

Added to this I will also focus on the issues of getting it wrong and the changing needs of the industry.

Finally, what should the industry really be doing to encourage a discussion around it and what companies should really be doing.

Has the industry got it wrong?

Well the response to this question is likely to be two different answers, one of I am aware of the issues of diversity in the industry (and your company may have policies and strategies in place that focus on diversity).

To the opposite extreme that of what issue of diversity in the industry.

This is solely based on the fact that in a majority the industry has been dominated by white, socially categorised as “middle class” and male.

However, my response is that in both cases is that you, your company and the wider industry, has in a majority, got it wrong when it comes to the issues surrounding diversity in the workplace.

I will break this down by firstly considering the responses in reverse as it is fairly blunt to the second response.

The answer I provide as the author is that you need to get with the modern world. I can only imagine that those that have responded with this answer have been living under a rock in some form, for which I do not apologise at all. You may wish to continue reading this blog if you wish to consider alternative viewpoints or simply finish reading it now.

The first answer is more complex and therefore is an area I would like to spend more time discussing in this blog.

As the author, and here at TDM we have been aware of the above “traditional” stereotype above, and that the industry has had a gender diversity issue for a number of years.

For example, recent RICS surveys have found that a third of women have found sexism has held them back from pursuing senior roles to the fact that 38% of men responded to it stating that their skills are better suited to the sector than women.

Other statistics show that the construction sector has the worst gender pay gaps with women being paid up to 45% less.

And we agree there is still a clear gender diversity issue in the industry, which whilst improving slightly over a number of decades from the days such as Barbara Res, who was a “trailblazer” in being a PM building Trump Tower but had suffered for a number of years as one of the few female construction workers.

Therefore, it is clear that the issue of sexism is still an issue within the industry and I applaud those that have put additional strategies and policies in place to reduce the gender diversity imbalance.

But, as the author of this blog this where I believe the industry has got it wrong.

Essentially, the idea of diversity to many is one of gender diversity only, not critically considering the other elements that make up the definition of diversity.

A case in point of this issue is fairly clear in a number of industry resources, but one article special I reviewed as part of this blog consisted of:

  • 15 A4 size pages
  • 9 pages focused essentially on gender diversity
  • 3 pages of advertisements
  • 1 page of multiple smaller articles mostly about funding for training and gender diversity
  • 1 page about LGBT
  • 1 page about ethnic minorities
  • 0 page(s) about disabilities

So, when we go back to your initial thoughts of diversity and the definition do you think the industry has got it wrong and purely focused on gender diversity?

Missed Opportunities

This may not be the biggest question in this blog, but it is an important one.

So, with an industry predominantly focused on gender diversity what potential impact is it having?

Well you can do as many customer surveys, studies and reviews as you want, but sometimes what gives you the edge is first hand experience. For example, when you have a member of the team that can provide a proven experience and sound reasoning for doing things differently from previously or from competitors.

And there is the critical thing, can provide alternative viewpoints. Instead of ones that are provided by those that fit the stereotypes of the industry.

Changing Needs

The industry has and continues to face the challenge of in essence a job rich, but candidate poor job market. Clearly the impact, pace of investment, strategy and planning of new homes utilising modern methods of construction (MMC) is going to change the needs of the job market because of the changes in skillset requirements.

But, focusing on one element of MMC that has seen massive growth is of course modular homes. If we are now essentially factory constructing every panel that means consideration has to be inbuilt from factory, maybe it is time to use the change in the nature of the skills requirement to consider the issue of lack of diversity in the industry (and potentially one that can provide those alternative viewpoints).

What does the industry really need to do?

Well first and foremost it simply needs to be discussing diversity more openly as an issue in the industry and provide training, information and drive to a wider, younger audience to get them excited about the industry.

The issue for the industry at present is put bluntly it is not cool for the younger age group. Diversity will clearly form a part of that and stop the “mistakes” of the past which have in essence stuck to the stereotype.

Secondly, it needs to stop discussing the issue of “diversity” and confusing it with “gender diversity”. I suspect part of the issue in recent time and one of the drivers for the extreme growth of gender diversity is down to the release of the gender pay gaps for companies that needed to submit information to the Government.

Thirdly, possibly a surprise viewpoint, is that they need to promote the best candidate rather than utilising positive discrimination, which is almost similar to saying “look” we have hired a female, someone with a disability or similar element of “being seeing to be doing”.

Whilst strictly not industry focused the issue of this is summed up perfectly by BP’s South African division in 2017 and the fact they needed to hire a new CEO. Note the words new CEO, because when they did hire someone all articles ultimately focused more on the fact that she was black, and female (and before anyone comments potentially on the sources being South Africa, these articles were in some instances from global names).

Such a decision to promote the best candidate does potentially mean that a policy of diversity will take longer to have an impact, but the issue is a long-rooted issue anyway.

Furthermore, as highlighted in this blog certain aspects provide ample opportunities to directly influence future generations which is what is needed to have that impact. But there are potential “short cuts” without using positive discrimination with the changes of skillset in the industry, the most obvious opportunity being in relation to MMC.

And there we are. I hope you have enjoyed this blog, if you have please leave a comment on your thoughts about diversity in the residential property market and I as kindly that you share it on your social media channels.

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