The latest report from the Bridge Group shows limited progress on social mobility in one of the UK’s most important industries.
The real estate sector contributes more than £94 billion annually to UK GDP and employs over one million people. Leaders in the industry shape where we live, work and play. But who gets in, and who gets ahead and how – and what are the effects of socio-economic background? Colliers International was one of 12 leading real estate firms that took part in the latest survey from the Bridge Group.
The aim of the survey was to understand how socio-economic background affects access to, and success in, the industry. The research was funded by the JLL UK Foundation, a registered charity focused on supporting young people from low socio-economic backgrounds into the property industry.
- The report reveals that the sector is deeply lacking in diversity - and acutely by socio-economic background. Analysis of over one million data points shows that:
Among the participating organisations, 33% of senior executives attended an independent school, half (50%) attended an independent or selective state school, while 52% are from a higher socio-economic background when parental occupation is also taken into account. This is similarly unrepresentative to occupations such as government ministers and FTSE 350 Chairs.
- White men dominate senior positions in the sector. Men are 21% more likely to be from higher socio-economic backgrounds (by school type and parental occupation) compared to women; and White employees are 40% more likely to be from higher socio-economic backgrounds compared to those who identify as Black.
- There is significant variation between firms, but on average the real estate firms in the research have a lower proportion of employees from lower socio-economic backgrounds compared to, for example, leading accountancy firms, most leading law firms, and government departments.
Interviews with over 150 senior leaders, mid-level employees and young people highlight a range of factors that are contributing to this acute lack of diversity, including the persistent importance of family connections, a strong lack of diversity at university courses that provide access to the profession, work cultures dominated by White men that can exclude other groups, and tolerated micro-aggressions in the workplace.
The report challenges the sector to introduce a range of recommendations. These include the need to launch a comprehensive programme of careers guidance for young people, reform recruitment processes (both for universities and employers), develop clearer and more objectively assessed definitions of talent, and the collation (and benchmarking) of socio-economic diversity data by all real estate firms to inform and assess progress.
Lydia Ings, HR Director at Colliers International, commented: “It’s no secret that our industry needs to do more to encourage people from all backgrounds to consider a real estate career. The survey from the Bridge Group highlights just how much needs to change, particularly in terms of a wider awareness of our sector across schools and higher education.
“There needs to be a shift from the inside of the industry, creating an environment of acceptance, collaboration and positivity. This, combined with a focus on providing greater opportunity for young people looking to enter the sector, will be key to unlocking a new and more diverse generation of real estate professionals.
“At Colliers we are invested in engaging with schools and education bodies through our apprenticeship programme and our continued work with schools to put a real estate career firmly on the map. Recently we won ‘Top Employer’ at The School Leaver Awards for the second year running and are pleased our efforts are being recognised.”
Mark Stupples, Chair of the JLL UK Foundation added: “Covid-19 threatens to further exacerbate existing social inequalities and there are already reduced job opportunities for young people, so social mobility is more important than ever. This research highlights that there is much work to be done but provides invaluable evidence and impetus for change on such a critical issue. We look forward to working alongside others in the real estate industry to advance these recommendations.”