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Q&A with Freehold co-founder David Mann - Pride Month 2021

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Colliers UK has been marking Pride month with our people by encouraging them to share what the month means to them, taking part in fundraising dress down days for akt and also hosting an internal webinar with chartered surveyor David Mann, co-founder of Freehold, the leading LGBTQ+ networking forum for the property industry. 


Here David answers questions from Joe Rymond, a graduate in our Valuations & Advisory team about supporting the community in the workplace. 

Joe: Freehold is ten years old, what was it like a decade ago being gay in the property industry? 
David: It was a pretty lonely place to be honest. There were no gay role models, or networking groups, few people apart from close colleagues and friends knew I was gay. We feared that if we did come out we’d probably lose our jobs or at least wouldn’t be promoted.  It felt like the industry was institutionally homophobic. Women’s rights were only just on the agenda but gender pay gap monitoring had not been established at that stage. 

Saleem and I knew each other professionally, but only found out we were gay on a chance meeting while out with our partners in London. We realised that members of the community needed a safe space to meet. 

Joe: How has the industry changed towards members of the LGBQT+ community during the last decade?
David: When we set up Freehold some of the reactions from the big employers were that they were completely inclusive organisations or they had no gay employees, both of those statements were obviously completely wrong. 

Now we have more than 1,100 members and we’re supported by most of the law firms and surveyor practices and clients in the industry. Our aims were about inspiring, mentoring and promoting LGBT people in the community and giving us a voice and a visibility. 

This enabled some self-confidence for a lot of people to come out, and we found the industry was much more welcoming than we anticipated. We almost had to come out to test our own stereotypical assumption that the industry was homophobic. 

Joe: Why is it important that we celebrate Pride in a corporate setting?
David: It’s about showing that love is love, and also a respect for everyone in the organisation, not just the LGBTQ+ community. By participating in events like this and marking the month it’s a simple way to show support, and to show allyship between employees as well. 

Joe: What do you think about rainbow washing of logos in support of Pride?
David: Our industry is still at the early stages of its diversity journey we can’t exclude things like using the rainbow flag to show support for the LGBTQ+ community. 

This year more than ever I’ve had a lot of landlords saying they want to show support but worried about the negative press they might get. I remember when we worked with the RICS about five years ago, and they flew the rainbow flag from RICS HQ in London. I remember coming around the corner on the bus and I was brought to tears seeing it flying. Never in my lifetime did I think the RICS would support LGBTQ+ members. 

The first social media post went up, we were expecting a negative barrage of responses, but 97% were positive. Those that were negative were in countries where it’s illegal to be homosexual, and any others were quickly called in by the RICS and re-educated. They had it pointed out to them that it’s against the RICS code of conduct to be homophobic.

Joe: There’s a lot of interest in the trans gender community within popular culture at the moment, but do we do enough within the property industry to support this sector of the community?
David: Currently there’s not a significant community within the industry, probably because people feel like it’s not the industry for them. We need to do a lot about highlighting trans issues. It’s not all about gender neutral toilets, if anything that side tracks the important issues, especially when someone is considering transitioning. Employment legislation is going down the wrong route at the moment and I feel that if legislators are not getting it right then it’s up to employers to show leadership and demonstrate their corporate values to support their people who have gender identity issues.

Joe: What would you advise people to do if they want to be an ally?
David: I think it’s just not to assume that everyone is heterosexual, or doesn’t have a hidden disability, or is of the same religion as you. It’s being more aware or conscious of the people around you. One of the worst things about coming out is when people ask you what does your wife do? You find yourself stumbling over the word partner and it gets a bit embarrassing for everyone. 

The property industry is fantastic and has a great sense of humour and I would not say we need to get rid of that, but it’s where the office banter crosses the line to micro-aggressions and insulting behaviour, this is across the spectrum of diversity. That’s where the allyship comes in, calling it out. You don’t have to do it publicly, but sometimes taking someone to one side and telling them: “what you said there was inappropriate” is a great support.  

Joe: What is the biggest barrier to creating inclusivity? 
David: Time is a big one. It takes time to change the industry, it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s why we have to engage in the next generation through things like Pathways to Property to show that the industry is a welcoming place. 

Joe: What can corporates do to have a more effective diversity and inclusion agenda? 
David: It’s about promoting diverse role models in the organisation and nurturing them. But also getting them to mentor the leadership teams as well. Networks internal and external ones can help, and training can be done as well around unconscious bias and trans awareness. 

As soon as you start having these conversations and doing internal events like this it gets easier and more comfortable. When it becomes authentic you start get the true organisational change. When people start to talk differently and act differently and the office starts to look different. Also you’ll all benefit from having different people around you, it makes life more interesting I’ve found. 

 

About Pride at Colliers

Our graduate committee arranged the internal event with David Mann alongside our Balance in Business committee, which aims to address diversity and inclusion within the UK business. Our programme examines and strives to improve the way the business recruits, trains and promotes inclusion internally.

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Joe Rymond

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Joe joined the Birmingham office's graduate scheme in September 2019, with his first APC rotation in Rating and second in Valuation. Joe is also on the committee for CREation Birmingham, a property networking initiative for young professionals. 

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