Society expects more from businesses when it comes to social mobility – let’s work in partnership to go above and beyond
2021 feels like a year of big changes for the property industry. Not only are the fundamentals of our sector shifting, but it also feels like there is finally broad recognition of how important it is to move the dial on diversity, inclusion and our responsibility to the planet, although there’s still a long way to go to make it a reality.
The pandemic has certainly played a role in this, with historically disadvantaged groups often being hit the worst by its effects. Although these inequalities have been around for a long time, it feels as if businesses and consumers are much more aware of them than ever before. One example of this is the latest analysis by the Social Mobility Barometer 2021, which revealed that over half (56%) of the public think the pandemic has increased social inequality, and four in five adults (79%) now believe that there is a large gap between different social classes.
Responsible businesses have an obligation here. It’s shocking to see that only 1% of FTSE100 businesses have executive directors from a black or Asian ethnic background. It should therefore come as no surprise that, according to the Social Mobility Barometer, an increasing number of people think that employers should have to take action to improve social mobility: 42% in 2021 compared with 31% in 2019.
Taking proactive steps
Social mobility and ensuring that our industry is accessible to the broadest cross-section of society requires us to take proactive steps. This week, we were proud to join several of our industry peers in being part of the Pathways to Property Summer School, a project delivered by the Reading Real Estate Foundation, one of the most important initiatives in the property calendar, bringing out the best of our sector in widening access to the real estate profession.
The Summer School has engaged over 20,000 students since it launched in 2012. The outreach programme facilitates multiple routes into the industry through apprenticeships, direct employment and via degrees, with bursaries now available for students studying at various universities, widening the scope of the project beyond Henley Business School, University of Reading.
This year’s Pathways to Property Summer School initiative received the highest number of applicants since it was launched in 2012, demonstrating the crucial role of D&I programmes within the real estate sector.
Pathways to Property breaks down barriers by offering a window into business and, more specifically real estate. It’s a world which these talented young people wouldn’t otherwise get to see, so it opens up potential career options that were previously unknown to them through no fault of their own. Hopefully for some, this week has been their first step towards becoming future real estate professionals.
That’s why, at SEGRO, we’ve been helping to promote the Summer School to young people living in the communities in which we operate, hosting an industrial-focused property webinar, and co-developing the industrial themed group project that will form part of the three-day course.
The value of partnerships
We have recognised that we need to do more to achieve greater diversity and to become truly inclusive, and we will support and challenge our suppliers and partners to do the same for their people.
At SEGRO, our Responsible SEGRO framework has identified three long-term priorities to which we can make the greatest business, environmental and social contribution. One of these priorities is nurturing talent, and we have set ourselves the goal of increasing the diversity of our own workforce throughout the organisation.
Better recognition of D&I means that I, and others from under-represented backgrounds, can truly be ourselves at work. But I appreciate that’s a lot easier for me to say today as a senior person than somebody just starting out: in the early part of my career I certainly remember feeling the need to conceal my cultural differences in order to blend in. Improving this experience for the next generation, so that they feel real estate is for people like them, is absolutely critical.
We need to keep challenging ourselves as a business to make sure that we pay attention to social class and how that intersects with the likes of race, sex, religion, disability and sexual orientation to create barriers in our sector at all levels. Industry partnerships with access schemes are key to this and help to keep us all on focused on the ultimate goal of equality for everyone.
A great example of this is the 10,000 Black Interns programme, a scheme which aims to address the under representation of young black talent in Britain’s leading companies by offering paid work experience to 10,000 black graduate interns over the next five years.
It's a great thing that consumers are expecting more from businesses when it comes to social mobility. We should also set high expectations for ourselves and ensure that the property industry is proactive in making employment opportunities more accessible and creating inclusive workplaces. As leaders, we have a responsibility to give young talent from all backgrounds the best opportunity to thrive. Working in partnership with the charity sector and providers of diversity and inclusion initiatives is key to this; joining forces means that we will have the biggest impact possible.
Article first published in CoStar in July 2021