A focus on diversity and inclusion is a business imperative for attracting talent to organisations and embedding equity in the workplace. But it's also a moral imperative.
As part of this drive, it is crucial that the built environment has a diverse and inclusive workforce that represents the global communities our profession supports and serves.
Property Journal spoke with three experts in recruiting for the profession about their experience of attracting the next generation of talent, and how the property sector can increase diversity and inclusion.
Property Journal (PJ): Is the sector doing a good job when attracting the next generation?
Sarah Hayford (SH): A lot of effort is being made, though firms don't measure how successful they've been. Most say they visit schools, but they don't collect sufficient data to follow things through. How many students attended their talk? How many pupils did they speak to? How many went on to do a college or university course and finally got a job in the sector?
Many employers focus on the universities offering RICS-accredited degrees because it's easy and they know what the students have been taught. Unfortunately, careers fairs are expensive, so for such employers to attend more will depend on their budgets.
But there might be another approach, such as rotating around different universities, colleges and schools instead of frequenting the same ones – especially if firms are serious about getting different types of people through the door.
Nathan King (NK): I'm a youth leader, and the young people I see usually don't have a clue about the opportunities available in our sector – maybe because only traditional recruitment methods are being used.
We now live in a social media era and a lot of the new generation coming up will be attracted to roles that are advertised outside of traditional methods. I receive weekly approaches on Instagram from young people aged 16–24 desperate to get into the sector. I think firms could make a better effort to target the younger generation using non-traditional recruitment methods, without compromising their brand traditions.
Faith Locken (FL): I think we're doing pretty well. Over my career, I've seen more programmes put in place, such as those for apprentices and graduates, and school visits that all encourage the next generation to get into property. I am particularly interested in attracting those at the mid-to-senior level of their career, as I feel this group is often overlooked.
At We Rise In, we come across people from other sectors looking to get into real estate and become chartered surveyors but having difficulty making the transition because they do not have an RICS-accredited degree.
So they face the challenge of finding a firm that will support their return to study for an accredited degree and their APC. This route isn't always easy as there isn't the same financial support or the structures in place for those in mid-senior-level roles compared to graduate positions.
PJ: What sources of new recruits should we be using?
SH: Recruiting from different sources can improve the diversity of thought, culture and experience. For example, non-cognate courses in economics, finance, politics, sociology and so on will bring the different voices we need into the sector. Colleges are an important source but are often ignored by employers, who normally just visit schools or universities.
NK: It's all about exposure to the opportunities available. Schools, youth centres and colleges are the starting point for educating young people early on. There are so many career paths for young people that they will often choose the one they're exposed to the most.
FL: At the mid-senior level, key sources for recruitment could be other sectors such as law and finance. Employers and recruiters shouldn't just reach out to people already working in the profession. Instead, they should consider related roles that have transferable skill sets.
For example, a data analyst in the real-estate department of a financial institution reached out to us for career development support. He was interested in transitioning from finance to property. Given his finance and analyst background, he was able to look at property data and proptech in an interesting way. His knowledge and skill set when transferred to the property sector would be invaluable.
He struggled to get a position in the property industry that could meet his financial expectations. He did however manage to get his company to pay for a property investment course at the University of Reading. He hopes to use this to pursue his APC at a later date.
If all your employees are the same, you're likely to get the same responses to problems. Diversity of background leads to diversity of thought, which ultimately promotes innovation.
Surveying needs to become a profession that people understand and aspire to join.
RICS' early engagement work aims to reach young people of all backgrounds in schools, further education colleges and higher education institutions – and by collaborating with groups such as the Girl Guides and the Girls' Network – to ensure they understand the importance of surveyors in creating more sustainable and resilient cities and communities, as well as the excellent prospects the profession can provide.
We build on one-off interactions by offering work experience, insight days and RICS office visits with guest speakers. Through our early engagement strategy, we strive to identify under-served populations and support those looking for a career change to ensure we build a diverse and sustainable talent pipeline.
Graduates, interns and apprentices coming into the profession have the potential to bring fresh and innovative approaches to the way things are done. They are open to learning, and often have digital know-how beneficial to any organisation.
We need to ensure we provide the best possible experience, support and career progression, reinforcing a culture of respect and inclusion for new talent. RICS Matrics looks after the interests of members who have just entered or are not long in surveying, and we are working on making this more accessible, inclusive and modern around the globe.
PJ: How can we engage more with young people?
SH: A one-off school visit is great. But maybe firms should see students over the long term, from year 7 through to year 11 and onwards. Maybe they should do regular talks or arrange site visits so students get a sector-wide view, not just a single talk they might quickly forget. Long-term partnerships might benefit the school and the employer by starting a brilliant pipeline of new recruits.
We should be more creative when talking with students. Try to remember how you felt when someone came to talk to you at that age. Were you bored? Did they drone on about themselves? Always include activities and high-profile projects and make them as relatable as possible. Talk about how built environment changes will affect them, how they can get involved and how they can advocate for themselves. Try to empower them.
NK: I remember being drawn to accountancy because there were apprenticeship programmes, sponsored degrees and other opportunities with all the larger companies. Similar programmes should be offered by more of the built environment firms, not just the big ones, to attract young people with a guided career path.
I believe that school visits would be another good way to reach the next generation. Activities should include insight days and work experience – anything to bring the built environment to life. I did this when I was piloting a careers programme and I gave someone a proper insight into what I do, the salary available, the people they'll meet and potential impact on society they would have.
The programme also gave them access to other companies such as developers and property investors. Consequently they were extremely interested in being involved in property following the programme and were offered formal mentoring from one of my clients.
Work experience and internships are also important. When applying for jobs, I was never asked about my degree, the primary focus was on what experience I had. But access to internships during college or university is difficult because there's a lot of competition and few companies can provide them.
FL: Those at the mid-senior level of their career don't have access to recruitment rounds the way graduates do. Therefore, as an employer or recruiter you can engage candidates at this level by helping them see how their existing skill set might transfer into the property sector.
It's important to engage with candidates in a way that makes them feel they're not taking a backward step in their careers. This could include offering development support, such as professional training, or financially supporting them through their degree or APC.
PJ: How can we increase diversity?
SH: We need to work on the diverse talent we already have and ask questions such as 'Why do you enjoy working here?' We should also pay more attention to what employees say in exit interviews, which can be helpful. We must ensure that our profession is as diverse as it can be. People need to see diversity at all levels in the sector and at organisations, which will then attract and retain people.
If we are pushing for diversity of thought, gender, ethnicity and so on, then visiting different schools and universities is super important. You can find all kinds of diversity at universities, but reaching further out would expand an employer's range and help students who wouldn't otherwise get that level of career support.
NK: Larger companies are trying to increase diversity as they see it can bring different ways of thinking. But there is a general lack of gender and cultural diversity in the built environment, especially in surveying.
The main thing is a lack of representation. Many companies have a uniform internal culture where everyone looks and behaves in a similar way. Anyone who doesn't fit the mould might find it difficult to get a job because diversity isn't always embraced. I've found surveying firms struggling to attract and retain talent due to a lack of representation for different cultures in senior leadership roles.
Our company is small but very diverse. I'm black, and I have colleagues with Turkish Cypriot, Romanian and Caribbean heritage.
Yet I know of someone who was told by a senior leader in the property sector that they needed to change their surname to fit into the industry because it was not seen as very English. He's now a valued employee in his company and doing extremely well, but didn't change his name.
Our firm found most of its current employees on Gumtree, including me. One particular employee used to work nights in a supermarket and came straight to his interview after doing a night shift. We thought, 'If he's willing to do that, then he has some drive'. You can't teach hunger or a work ethic. The same candidate applied for the same job through a recruitment firm we instructed and they didn't put him forward. He is now one of our most prized employees.
FL: Until a firm is diverse at all levels, it isn't truly diverse. I believe that companies should focus more on inclusion than diversity.
If diversity is inviting people to the party, inclusion is asking everybody to dance. Focusing on inclusion creates a culture where people of all backgrounds feel they can thrive. This not only attracts more diverse people to your company, but means you'll have a better chance of retaining your diverse staff as they feel included and valued.
Companies can improve inclusion in their organisation by using internal – e.g. a company's HR, learning and development or diversity network groups – and external sources – e.g. professional training and development companies that specialise in diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).
The benefit of using internal sources is that they will have an understanding of the business operation and need; however, they might not be best placed to provide unbiased advice on what the company can do to improve inclusion. By contrast, the benefit of an external source is that you get an independent – and, you'd hope, honest – view of your organisation, which can help identify issues that might be flying under the radar.
For example, we run reverse mentoring programmes where we pair senior corporate leaders, who are typically white males, with members of our network who are mid-senior-level black professionals. They exchange stories and experiences to encourage better communication, awareness and understanding of issues relating to race and culture, both inside and outside the workplace. These are the nuanced initiatives that some companies struggle to provide on their own and therefore require external support.
'Anyone who doesn't fit the mould might find it difficult to get a job because diversity isn't always embraced'
PJ: How can we best attract and retain the next generation?
SH: Salary and benefits are among the generic things that can attract new recruits, but the sector has a cultural challenge. Historically it has always been quite traditional and recruited the same type of people from the same type of places, which can affect workplace culture. Changing this over time to make it more open and inclusive will create a big incentive for people staying in a role and rising through the ranks.
To attract staff, go to new places and form long-term partnerships that you can measure over time. Many employers tend to go to schools and universities with large support systems, such as careers fairs and specific careers leads for different sectors. However, some careers advisers don't know much about our sector, so their students won't know much about it either.
Go wider than the norm, such as connecting with career-lead groups or teaching organisations to make proper strategic partnerships regarding access to various schools, to better learn about their career education curriculum gaps. For some schools, this will be significantly larger than others – e.g. schools with high pupil premium percentages – funding to improve education outcomes for disadvantaged pupils in schools in England.
Those are the schools, I believe, that need this type of intervention from employers across the sector. Also, employers can think about the type of engagement that they have with schools. It doesn't have to start and stop at work experience and career talks; think long-term mentoring programmes, office visits, business challenges, essay competitions, etc. – most of which we help employers coordinate at The Land Collective.
Understanding the views of those already in the sector is important for retention. For example, how many surveyors are of different ethnicities? How can we connect with them, and understand their challenges and concerns? How do we implement changes to alleviate those concerns? Knowing the answers will inform how we're going to change.
We're seeing ongoing interest in London for early talent recruitment. But more people are looking at regional offices for graduate schemes or internships – this wasn't always the case before the pandemic.
I think this is mostly driven by the cost-of-living crisis, with London becoming seen as a more anxiety-inducing place to move rather than a city with opportunities. Firms should recognise this and ensure they have strong regional opportunities as well as those in the capital.
NK: The non-cognate routes should be embraced more. Firms often want people to have an RICS-accredited degree because they don't have the time to train people. But they might attract better talent if they were willing to invest in training.
They could also get different and more diverse talent. There is a perceived barrier if you're not already a chartered surveyor or don't have an RICS-accredited degree. I spent around two years trying to find a surveying role because I was a non-cognate. Firms should look more at the person, not their qualifications.
Salary and exposure to different types of project are important, but the main thing is the culture of your company and providing clear career development opportunities. This is what will attract and retain the right people.
Also, after the pandemic, people – especially young people – are looking for flexibility. They want parental leave, working from home arrangements, wellness days – anything that will help them have a good work–life balance.
FL: It's quite easy for companies to recruit. However, retention is often neglected.
Many black and minority ethnic people leave jobs due to a lack of genuine inclusion in their organisation. As a minority ethnic individual, you're trying to do your day job while also dealing with challenges such as discrimination, unconscious bias and microaggressions.
Companies should ask themselves whether they are supporting their diverse talent. Are people aware of how to develop their career in the organisation? Are line managers treating all their team members fairly? Is unconscious bias leading to discriminatory promotion?
To be an inclusive employer, you should recognise that your employees are all contending with different circumstances. So ask yourself, how can you help an individual get to the same starting line as others? It's not showing favouritism, it's recognising that there should be equity. Remember, equity breeds inclusion, which attracts diversity.
'If diversity is inviting people to the party, inclusion is asking everybody to dance'
These interviews have some common themes, such as the need for longer-term approaches, widening the potential talent pool and being creative when engaging with young people. Empowering potential recruits is also a strong factor when attracting them to your firm, as is looking more at those with non-cognate degrees.
Many issues need to be addressed before firms can consider themselves to be truly diverse. But RICS and the wider built environment sector are well aware of the need for change.
RICS recognises that creating a more diverse, equitable and inclusive sector is a priority. So last year, it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Chartered Institute of Building, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Landscape Institute, the Royal Institute of British Architects and the Royal Town Planning Institute committing to a 45-point action plan.
This covers three main areas: improving data on diversity in the built environment professions; improving the pipeline from education to employment; and establishing standards for knowledge and practice in DEI. The immediate priority has been improved data collection, which will help more targeted, collaborative and effective initiatives to advance DEI across the built environment. Doing so will bring many benefits, not least diversity of thought.
RICS is also working with members and DEI leaders to enhance the Rules of Conduct for members and member firms and include more detailed guidance, case studies and resources for improving and promoting inclusive cultures.
There's lots of talk in the sector about the need for greater diversity, yet there's a reason why in some firms everyone looks and acts the same – because that's the filter their recruitment process uses. We cannot improve diversity and create a more inclusive and sustainable profession without first changing the culture in organisations that has enabled and reinforced exclusionary behaviours and practices.
What are your firm's plans to be more diverse and inclusive?
Related competencies include: Leasing/letting, Market appraisal, Purchase and sale
Prof. Sara Wilkinson FRICS, Dr Gill Armstrong, Dr Kusal Nanayakkara, Mark Willers FRICS, Prof. Jua Cilliers and Dr Robert Fleck 08 December 2023