Social equality: the property industry must up its game

Richard Howling, chief operating officer at JLL and trustee of the JLL UK Foundation, shares his views on the findings of a new report which examines social mobility in the real estate sector.

September 28, 2020

It is well known that a significant number of industries are guilty of a lack of socio-economic diversity within their workforce and the property sector is no exception. 

Our industry is a prime example of having many senior roles made up of people who come from more privileged backgrounds, with white men dominating these positions. While an increasing number of forward-thinking employers have put social mobility high on their diversity and inclusion agenda, a new report published by the Bridge Group  and funded by the JLL UK Foundation, shows disappointingly that limited progress has been made so far. 

Twelve leading real estate firms including JLL collaborated with the Bridge Group to understand how socio-economic background affects access to, and success in, the property industry. The research, the first of its kind in our sector, interrogates the wide-ranging literature and public data and explores existing practice. 

Interviews undertaken 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.

These include the persistent importance of family connections, a strong lack of diverse students on 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’s findings are far reaching and reveal that the real estate sector is deeply lacking in diversity - and acutely by socio-economic background. The research provides invaluable evidence and impetus for change and makes specific recommendations for employers, government and universities. 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.

Our commitment to open our industry up to the widest possible talent

At JLL, we believe that socio-economic diversity is essential for the future of our business, and feel all diversity makes for a more interesting and rewarding work environment. We set out our public commitment to greater socio-economic diversity back in 2017 as part of our Building a Better Tomorrow sustainability strategy.

We are pleased with the progress that we’ve made since then - last year the company was recognised as one of the Top 10 employers in the annual Social Mobility Employer Index. However, this report clearly shows that there is there is much more still to do by us and the wider UK’s real estate industry to improve the socio-economic diversity of those working within it.

As a direct result of the Bridge Group’s research, JLL will: 

  • Adapt existing work experience programmes dedicated specifically to those from low-socio economic groups to run as virtual programmes ensuring that insights into JLL and careers in property are maintained during uncertain times. The next 12 months will see over 150 students taking part.
  • Deliver Fostering Inclusive Teams line manager interactive workshops, assisting all JLL line managers to understand class-related biases and how those with connections are afforded greater access to key projects which in turn aids an individual’s career progression. 
  • Review the entirety of early careers (graduate and apprentice) recruitment process and introduce further process improvements to maximise the opportunities of those from low socio-economic groups, for example, the removal of work experience information etc. 
  • Set early careers goals indicating the proportion of those from low-socio economic groups that we aspire to have in our upcoming intakes from 2021 onwards. 
  • Extend the existing apprentice programme across our regional offices with the aim of reaching talented young people from social mobility cold spots. 

We all have a responsibility to challenge our current ways of working and commit to ensuring that efforts are made to open our industry up to the widest pool of talented individuals. 

We look forward to working alongside others in the real estate industry to advance this important report’s recommendations.

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