We can’t let diversity slide off the agenda during the pandemic

Kelly Canterford is a member of Freehold, a ‘free to join’  support network for real estate professionals who identify LGBT+

The focus of many industries is currently solely on implementing strategies and policies that make it possible for business to continue as usual despite a global pandemic and the resulting lockdowns and government regulations.

For many people, the “new normal” means working from home, which comes with its own set of challenges. It’s not easy to be productive around children, partners, parents, pets and all of their associated noises and needs. Then there’s maintaining contact with the office, navigating virtual meetings and trying to have a work/life balance to combat mental health concerns around all of these challenges and the general uncertainty in the world.

From a business perspective, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the working world has changed in so many ways with constantly-shifting, reactive protocols and regulations. Across industries, whole new departments are now dedicated to safety protocols, covid-consciousness and related brand messaging.

With all of this being top of mind, we can’t let previous issues and progress slide. We cannot allow the focus on black, Asian and other underrepresented ethnicities and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT+) groups to diminish.

The value of diversity.

Claudia Brind-Woody, vice president and managing director for Global Intellectual Property Licensing at IBM, said: “Inclusivity means not ‘just we’re allowed to be there,’ but we are valued. I’ve always said: smart teams will do amazing things, but truly diverse teams will do impossible things.”

Diversity is more than just hiring a broad range of people. It’s about creating an environment that celebrates the diversity of the people in your team and encourages all voices to contribute. Different ways of thinking creates more balanced solutions to problems.

How is the property industry achieving this?

Historically, real estate has fallen behind many other sectors in terms of diversity and inclusion. The British Property Federation (BPF) advocates for “an environment that promotes a culture of equality and inclusion and which attracts the broadest range of talent from all parts of society”.

There is a growing number of charities, groups and organisations dedicated to achieving diversity in the real estate industry: BAME in Property, Planning Out, Women in Property, and Freehold, to name just a few.

One of the important ways that these kinds of organisations can help to improve diversity in the industry is to provide individuals and businesses with support and mentorship. Freehold, for example, offers a safe space for confidential, positive discussion for members of the LGBT+ community seeking guidance around personal or professional development.

One-on-one conversation with experts in their field can be the difference needed to help many people overcome hardships in the workplace, tackle inequality, get a foot in the door or achieve their career goals. This kind of mentoring programme is a model that would translate well across many industries.

How does COVID-19 change things?

Much of the world has come a long way in terms of equality, diversity, and inclusion. But battles are still being fought every day globally and the pandemic drawing focus at such a significant scale could prove to be a setback.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) stresses that “employers should ensure their decisions meet their legal obligations and do not discriminate” when navigating difficult choices about “redundancies, furloughing and return to work”.

The CIPD outlined that employers must also be fair and transparent in adapting human resources practices and must make “reasonable adjustments to enable people to perform at their best”. This includes understanding “the impact the pandemic and related workplace and personal change has on individuals, depending on their background or circumstances”.

The Equalities and Human Rights Commission has produced clear guidance for employers, the key takeaway being that they are still very much legally obliged to ensure that decisions made in response to COVID-19 “do not directly or indirectly discriminate against employees with protected characteristics”.

It’s important for employees and employers to remember that out of sight does not mean out of mind. The working world may have changed, but the rules and protections remain the same.

Now more than ever, we must continue to challenge inequality in this broad sector, and indeed in all industries, from the roots to the highest branches of business. The battle may not have been completely won, but we are still on the way.