Eleanor Deeley, Deputy Managing Director of the Deeley Group, on how the pandemic has impacted diversity in the sector.
As the UK begins to come back to the workplace, there is masses of talk around the “new normal” and what that will look like.
Will it mean more time working from home? Will more of us cycle to work? Will real face-to-face meetings be a thing of the past?
It is, on many of the major issues, too early to say. However, I think the “new normal” in many professions will look more male.
In fact, I would go as far as to say that gender equality in the workplace may well take a step back several decades.
This is a bold statement for me, as I am an optimist, someone who has avoided women only organisations and believes that we all stand equal based on our results, but Covid-19 has changed my perspective.
We have surveyed all our staff – the majority of which are male – around the return to work and childcare, and asked if there is any reason that while the schools are not back that staff cannot return to work. The overwhelming response was no.
While that is great for us as a company, I would suggest that the response was driven by the fact that people’s female partners and wives are predominantly the ones who take responsibility for childcare.
As much as it should not be the case, I suspect that in a large majority of cases, the woman in a relationship has more responsibility for childcare, cooking and housework but also holds down a job.
That means that over the months of lockdown when childcare has not been easy to come by, women have had to make more of a compromise. That should not be the case, but it is and that cannot be right.
It is just one example of how Covid has magnified differences – differences between nations, differences between genders, differences between education systems, and it has only acted to highlight how much more there is to do to really bring equality in all aspects of life.
I have worked in property for 20 years now and the industry has definitely changed in terms of equality.
There is certainly a lot less alcohol than there used to be and that has made it much easier for women as a great deal of business was done in the bar after work or even on the golf course – and although I am rather fond of a round of sambucas I could never fit in a round of golf with raising two children!
Most of the changes which have been brought about, have come with the changing times and differing attitudes, but actually the recession played a part in that, as the extra-curricular activities were vastly reduced purely by financial necessity and life moved into coffee shops rather than bars.
Clients have also driven and shaped that change. As you get more investment, funds move further into property to increase their returns, it becomes more analytical and factual and less based on connections, and has meant it is more about what you know than who you know.
But, of course, there is so much more to do. I recently spoke at a secondary school in Coventry about the careers that are available in the property industry, but I still think that, as a sector, we are behind the likes of accountancy and law when it comes to attracting a wide range of young people into the industry.
There is certainly a great awareness in the industry of the need for more diversity, and that is not just in terms of gender or ethnicity, but also socio-economically. Take work experience – a great deal of placements are set up through contacts, and you could have real potential but without that network, it may not get the chance to be realised.
Not only is that morally wrong, it also means the industry is missing out on great talent. Some of the leading players have programmes which are addressing that, but lack of accessibility is a real issue.
Of course, everyone in business is focused around trying to keep companies going and people employed but it would be a tragedy if many of the advances in diversity are yet another victim of this wretched virus.