DIVERSITY IN PROPERTY - NOT SUCH A PROBLEM IN PROPTECH. OR IS IT?

Andrew Barber

I bought my friend an elephant for his room.
He said “Thanks.”
I said “Don’t mention it.”

This year’s Mipim, held in Cannes in mid-March, was under the media spotlight - for the wrong reasons. As pointed out in The Guardianand other daily news papers, "the property industry is desperately trying to shake the shadow of the Presidents Club”.

Before, and during, Mipim there was much talk of ‘undercover journalists’ circulating ‘the world's leading property market’ in the hope of exposing any untoward or unacceptable behaviour.

As an industry, property certainly has a long way to go to clean up its sleazy side and improve its diversity. Looking around at the crowds in the Palais du Festival, the pavilions and conference sessions, it is still very ‘male, pale and stale’.

The Elephant Campaign, initiated by Tamsie Thomson - director of the London Festival of Architecture to address ‘the elephant in the room’ of discrimination and diversity saw many people wearing a pink elephant badge on their blue and grey suits. A small step in the right direction particularly when, according to The Association of Women in Property - “female staff make up just 15% of the workforce in property and construction.”

On the face of it, the question of diversity seems to be less of a problem for the emerging ‘Proptech’ sector where the proportion of female and minority staff certainly appears to be higher than in other areas of the market. Maybe this is because the “tech industry” is far less conservative, far more international and understands that a diverse workforce brings benefits in terms of innovation, dynamism and new approaches to old problems - with fresh ideas coming from a variety of  persectives. There was certainly a huge diversity in the products, ideas and technical solutions on display in the Mipim Innovation Forum in the Palais des Festivals.

However, there continues to be a lack of diversity at a senior level in Proptech businesses where many of the top roles are held by men.

There are some noticeable differences. Gabrielle McMillan is CEO at Equiem for example, where she is supported by Laura Acklandiene as ​the rapidly growing international firm’s Head of Business Development - Global Expansion. Another great example, in the UK, is Good2Rent, the tenant referencing service provider headed by Chief Operating Officer Georgina Pierson. These are both energetic, dynamic businesses with exciting platforms and solutions that benefit from the vision on their leaders and a diverse staff.

As part of an interview with Property Week following the infamous Presidents Club event in London earlier this year, the chief executive of Homes for Scotland, Nicola Barclay, suggested that the industry could be at a watershed moment and that “this negative can, and will, become a positive.” There is no doubt that things are changing and the Proptech sector is helping things change for the better. However, a picture is worth ten thousand words, and the following photo of a panel at Mipim talking about Proptech, innovation and collaboration suggests that we still have some distance to go.

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