RICS conference addresses issues of diversity


Written By: Sebastian Okelly   29/06/15

About 250 property professionals – most of them women – attended a RICS conference on “diversity and inclusion” in central London last week.

The occasion was to introduce the RICS Inclusive Employer Quality Mark, and was attended by a range of speakers in the property sector pushing forward agendas of racial, gender and class inclusiveness.

There were also contributions from guests such as Nicky Moffat, CBE, a former brigadier and the most senior woman in the British Army, Dame Fiona Woolf, CBE, a former Lord Mayor of London and an energy and infrastructure lawyer, and Sonia Watson, a former banker who now heads the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, which has a particular concern to encourage “hard to reach” youth to consider careers in architecture.

It was widely acknowledged by most speakers – and by the conference – that professions in the property sector had long been “pale and male” and socially restrictive.

When those in the audience were asked whether they had encountered homophobic behaviour at work around a quarter to a third put up their hands.

Yet the professions are fast changing according to RICS president Dr Louise Brooke-Smith, the outgoing RICS president and director of Birmingham-based Brooke Smith Planning.

She made the hard-headed business case for diversity.

“Success to me has been the events I have attended where gender, class or ethnicity have been irrelevant and we have simply got on with the job in hand,” she told the conference.

“’Inclusive’ is actually defined as ‘being comprehensive’ and is commonly used to mirror the clients and the communities we serve – our demographic, our age, ethnicity and gender – should all reflect our clients and give them confidence in our ability. That is a high aspiration.

“To achieve it we need to change the way we work, change some attitudes and address perceptions; change the way we recruit so we can fish in a much wider pool to find the brightest and the best from our respective communities. Then we need to change the way we develop and promote our staff.”

To that end, RICS has introduced its Inclusive Employer Quality Mark, which encourages wide ranging recruitment, engaging with staff of different cultures and retaining them.

The business case for chartered surveyors dumping the tweedy image of the past is made by its world-wide membership of more than 100,000 and the huge surge in the global, urban middle class.

RICS has produced a brilliant short video addressing this brave new world:

Different parts of the world had differing concerns, Dr Brooke-Smith pointed out.

“In India, for example, religion is as big an issue as gender.  In parts of the  Middle East and the Far East, the issue isn’t access to education but the position of women in society … There are some enlightened parts of the world including parts of the Caribbean and Sub Saharan Africa that puts many long established markets and economies to shame…

“In the UK, we are clearly an established and traditional profession but that might actually be part of the problem – a history of landed gentry, a male preserve in terms of land title, property matters being dealt with by certain classes – you get the picture.”

In 2013, the number of women qualified women surveyors in the UK had inched up from to 13% and today is nudging 16%.

On the other hand, female qualified surveyors in North Asia stands at 25.9%, so one in four surveyors is a women.

Another practical point in making the case for diversity was made by Colin Wilson, head of UK and Ireland DTZ. He pointed out that the UK only produces 1,200 quantity surveyors a year and 600 of them go overseas.

Of the remainder, 200 are already signed up to employers, leaving just 400 available to employers.

“We have not attended this conference under the ‘human resources’ banner, still less under the ‘marketing’ banner. We are here to make a difference and it is good that as an industry we are talking about these issues.”

These were sentiments fully endorsed by Ciaran Bird, UK managing director of CBRE.

Mr Bird said that he “fell into the industry at 16, and it was the best industry you could ever work for”. But that had to change. He talked of CBRE’s apprentice scheme, pro bono work and the women’s network group.

“It is so easy to beat up this industry around diversity as it has been woeful. But we are changing.”

Source: Property Weekly



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