Review of Open Plan: Is Diversity on the Agenda?

Thursday 14 April 2016

Open Plan: Is Diversity on the Agenda?

14th April 2016

In 2014, Property Week launched its Open Plan campaign to raise awareness to the issues of diversity.   WiP has been involved since the beginning when we helped draft the Diversity Manifesto and more recently, we have been supporting the magazine's Diversity Charter.  This encourages the industry to sign up to ten diversity commitments that challenge old habits, rethink working practices and really try to make a difference.

On 14th April, Property Week and WiP co-organised a panel discussion, which asked "Is diversity on the agenda?  Hosted by Cushman & Wakefield, the panel included Emma Cariaga from British Land, John Forrester from Cushman & Wakefield and Jackie Newstead from Hogan Lovells LLP.  Property Week editor, Liz Hamson, chaired the discussion and WiP national Chairman, Lisa-Jane Risk summarised. 

First though, we were treated to an amusing but thought provoking address from keynote speaker, Lady Judge, the first female Chairman of the Institute of Directors.  For thirty minutes she engaged us utterly with anecdotes of her career 'highs and lows', starting with advice from her mother who, in urging her to pursue a serious career, reminded her that women have a brain, they should use it to earn money, as money brings with it independence.  She referred to the relentless misogyny of law firms in her native America, when she was first trying to launch her (hugely successful) legal career, how serendipity plays its part and finally, leaving us with a quote from her mother again, "When you die, the world has to be a better place because of something you did."

The discussion on diversity followed. Emma Cariaga related the 'diversity' discussion to sustainability, a few years ago when it was the big thing that everyone wanted, until they lost their budgets;  "Diversity can't be a budget, or a nice to have.  It has to become part of the DNA," adding that gender is part of a wider diversity discussion.

Jackie Newstead said Hogan Lovells has a global diversity committee. Although diversity is completely embedded in the organisation's culture, it must be about what is right for the area, reflecting both the society in which it operates and its clients.

John Forrester commented that the property industry is attractive to young people, standing on average at 45 - 50% female/male balance in the early careers, the drop off being later on.  Jackie supported this saying that, in her profession, there is a disconnect between the people coming through the 30-35 age bracket and the more senior roles.  "They don't want my job, my life - they want work-life balance!"

This was reflected further in a point made by John Forrester who said many clients applaud flexible working in principle…but complain when they find that an individual is working a three-day week.  He made the observation that, with  some major projects being a considerable time in their development, sometimes ten years or more, clients look for continuity.  This would mean that those people who work part time or who take time off might lose out occasionally, a point that was disputed by a couple of members of the audience who have successfully maintained long term clients throughout maternity leave.

Concluding, Liz Hamson asked how long it will be before the industry can expect to see tangible progress.  Is twelve months feasible?

Jackie Newstead believes the industry should be looking at a five year plan, saying "It is only possible to make tangible progress if people want to progress", so more collaboration is needed, with people working together to achieve that goal.

In John Forrester's opinion, twelve months is feasible, "Things will start to improve but a lot of initiatives are needed."

Emma Cariaga agreed that it is more likely to be a five year programme but noted that they have their first British Land man on paternity leave at the moment and all his colleagues are asking him about it, so things are changing.

Speaking from the audience, Elspeth Burrage, immediate past Chairman of Women in Property, said that it will be far harder to improve ethnicity in the industry, which still has a very long way to go.

Lady Judge advised women to take advantage of quotas while they can, getting to the top by whatever means possible and then using a position of influence to make a difference, adding "You don't find a man turning own a business opportunity because it was achieved on the golf course."

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