As we enter October when Black History Month is marked across the world, the Colliers UK Balance in Business steering group has been preparing to mark this time with an internal panel discussion to raise awareness of the challenges faced by our Black colleagues in the workplace.
With this year’s theme Time for Change: Actions not Words, the group invited panellists to speak about their experiences as a Black person in commercial real estate. They are speaking alongside colleagues who have the ability to make real changes which will lead the property industry towards becoming a more diverse and inclusive environment.
Speaking ahead of the panel, which will be chaired by Head of Operational Capital Markets and Chair of Pathways to Property Paddy Allen on Wednesday 12 October, we asked the panellists how they would like to see the sector change and what actions and behaviours they would encourage.
Sarah Hayford, CEO of the Land Collective, is our guest speaker. She set up the organisation while at university because she could not see Black people represented in the property industry. She said: “I often find that after people complete their APC, they feel a bit lost and have a sense of ‘well, what now?’ I believe businesses in real estate could be doing more to support diverse professionals throughout the career journey and not just until they get chartered. This may mean collaborating with other groups and organisations that do these things well if you don't have the resources internally – such as external mentorship programmes, leadership courses, additional qualifications and so on.”
Tara Odesanya a project manager in our Project & Building Consultancy team added: “It would be nice to see more ethnic and gender diversity in professional teams because unfortunately it’s not the norm in the industry.
“I’ve been lucky to experience with most of the projects I’ve worked on actions that make me feel included, such as having the opportunity to speak without interruptions, having my decisions being respected even if they are challenged, and friendly and approachable team members regardless of my position, and of course it’s good to be invited to team-building socials.”
Reducing groupthink and cliques
Joining the panel next week is John Knowles, who leads Colliers’ 40-strong National Capital Markets. As a senior leader in the business who has worked in the property sector for more than 30 years, he says he wishes he had called out inappropriate language, especially hostile humour sooner; “I think that stems from a lack of awareness on how badly it can affect people. I wish I had called that out earlier and just said it’s not funny, let alone correct.”
Now as a leader he acknowledges that recruiting from the same talent pool is like operating with “one hand behind your back”. “We consciously look for different people when we are recruiting and start to focus this from the researched fact that diverse teams perform better,” he said. He also tries to ensure that within his own team everyone is treated fairly and looks to minimise the risk of groupthink and cliques by making sure people have a flexible seating plan and spend time getting to know everyone in the team properly.
“As leaders we also need to be undertaking talent reviews and highlight potential achievers early in their careers,” he added. “We need to look at training needs that people from minority groups may have as they may have come from less privileged backgrounds or had less opportunities previously. Securing appropriate role models and mentors is key as well.”
Jade McGrath, Senior Talent Acquisition Consultant in our HR team will also join the panel. Her role sees her trying to attract talent to Colliers from more diverse backgrounds.
She said: “Our Talent workstream, as part of our Balance in Business programme is focused on reaching a younger population which is socioeconomically and ethnically diverse and introducing them to the property industry. We’ve expanded our Emerging Talent pathways to encourage graduate and apprenticeship applicants from a wider variety of ethnic, social and educational backgrounds. We’ve also refreshed our Schools Engagement programme and are setting targets for groups across the business to get involved with this. Our strategies complement and work alongside industry initiatives such as Pathways to Property and Property Needs You. We also participate in 10,000 Black Interns initiative which offers paid work experience across a wide variety of sectors.”
However while attracting people from Black and ethnic minority backgrounds is one challenge how to create a safe environment is another, as Sarah points out: “I believe that people from diverse ethnic backgrounds leave the industry due to stagnancy and blocked progression, alongside not feeling truly safe to be themselves in their workplace. Businesses need to ask the hard questions and not be afraid of the potential answers. Listen more to those who work in the industry already about their experiences and how they can be avoided in the future - leaders need to be more proactive when it comes to zero tolerance around racism and other forms of discriminatory practices.”