The property sector has long held a reputation for a lack of diversity. However, in recent years this has started to change. Joanna Turner, a 25-year veteran of the property industry, explores the property industry’s current approach to DEI, both within its own workforce and in its investments.
The property and construction industries are integral to society, but at the moment the workforce doesn’t reflect that society. In 2020, 13% of the construction industry workforce was female, while only 5% was made up of people from black and/or minority ethnic backgrounds, which has only risen one percentage point since 2016. This is not to forget other minorities, such as those from the LBTQ+ community, and those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.
However, it is also notable that the industry has been placing more of a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). While still low, in the past few years the percentage of women within certain property sectors has started to grow. For example, in 2019, while only 15% of surveyors were female, women made up more than 30% of entrants to the profession.
The benefits of diversity in the workforce are well-documented – for instance a 2018 McKinsey and Co report found that companies in the top quartile for ethnic diversity were 33% more likely to achieve a profit above the industry average. Furthermore, those with more ethnically diverse boards are 43% more likely to outperform on profits. Gender diversity brings similar benefits.
What are the barriers?
What is holding back women, ethnic minorities and other under-represented groups in the sector? Recruitment consultancy Randstad’s 2019 survey of women in construction showed that 72% had experienced a form of gender discrimination (admittedly slightly down from 80% in 2018), including inappropriate remarks and social exclusion. As well as outright discrimination, for women, difficulty maintaining a work-life balance is the other main barrier, with 50% of respondents saying that it had had an impact on their career. This was echoed in a similar survey by the recruiter covering broader DEI issues, which showed that 58% of black construction professionals do not feel secure in their jobs, with an overwhelming 76% also believing that their chance of finding a job was lower because of their ethnicity.
Levelling the playing field
How can companies involved in the real estate industry ensure that they are levelling the playing field? Amanda Clack and Judith Gabler, authors of Managing Diversity and Inclusion in the Real Estate Sector believe that authentic leadership is very important in driving change, with leaders responsible for setting the organisational culture and tone.
With appropriate leadership in place, they say, creating change among new industry entrants and senior leaders can be relatively straightforward. However, changing entrenched attitudes for the middle level of management is more complex, both in terms of talent retention and management but also in relation to driving change within the organisation.
For this to happen, management consultancy Deloitte suggests that, alongside effective leadership, there needs to be a sense of commitment throughout the workforce, and for a business to reflect DEI in its own operations. It also pinpoints specific resources and tools needed to allow leaders to achieve a framework for a DEI culture, including opportunities to gain relevant knowledge and skills, engagement, role models and relevant policies.
One important driver for change has been the emergence of a number of sector initiatives bringing together people from under-represented groups – including those who fall into more than one of these groups.
For example, Diversity Talks Real Estate, originally known as Women Talk Real Estate, offers a platform for women and ethnic minorities to increase their visibility within the industry, both for their own career progression and for the benefit of the industry as a whole.
From a personal perspective, I believe that women have become increasingly visible in the industry in recent years. Where previously conference panels were very homogenous, in just the past two years I have seen a noticeable increase in the proportion of women at industry events. In my view, an important part of this picture is helping women building their confidence to increase their visibility at such events.
Indeed, for all of the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the change in work-life balance brought on by the move to hybrid working has been transformational in terms of opening up the industry.
In my view, change will come with the younger generation. The industry is now recruiting from a much more diverse talent pool, via opportunities such as apprenticeships. This is a huge industry, with opportunities across many specialisms, and we need to promote these, starting from school.
How we approach DEI at Canada Life Asset Management
Canada Life Asset Management (CLAM) has a board diversity policy that recognises the value of appointing Directors who bring a variety of opinions, experience, skills and backgrounds to our discussions and decision-making processes. Diversity is important to us at the board level because it enables more dynamic oversight and strengthens our governance. While merit and suitability remain the most important driver of appointments to the board, we ensure that we also consider a range of qualities including gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, age and other factors.
In terms of the diversity of our workforce, CLAM has 22% ethnicity representation at all grades and 15% representation at senior leadership grades. Meanwhile CLAM has 27% female representation at all grades and 18% representation at senior leadership grades. We accept that there is more work for us to do in gender representation. We aim to encourage positive DEI behaviours through our incentives and, in particular, by encouraging our colleagues to move our strategy forward and evolve our thinking, culture or business.
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Canada Life Asset Management is the brand for investment management activities undertaken by Canada Life Asset Management Limited, Canada Life Limited and Canada Life European Real Estate Limited. Canada Life Asset Management Limited (no. 03846821), Canada Life Limited (no.00973271) and Canada Life European Real Estate Limited (no. 03846823) are all registered in England and the registered office for all three entities is Canada Life Place, Potters Bar, Hertfordshire EN6 5BA. Canada Life Asset Management Limited is authorised and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. Canada Life Limited is authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority.
Expiry date 30/09/23
 Glenigan 2019/20 UK [Construction] Industry Performance Report
 Delivering Through Diversity, McKinsey and Company, 2018
 Women in Construction, Randstad, 2020
 Diversity and Inclusion Within Construction, Property and Engineering, Randstad, 2020
 Data as at 22 January 2022