How can a little understood but highly influential sector attract diverse young talent? Ade Onagoruwa worked his way up in the real estate sector and has seen how vital it is for property businesses to become more inclusive.
I didn’t go to university and when I was growing up, I knew nothing about the world of real estate. By real estate I don’t mean houses that you and I live in but what can seem a secret world of office buildings, giant warehouses, shopping centres and retail parks.
Who creates these striking buildings which shape many of our town and city centres? How are they financed, who decides who occupies them and what does a person do to enter this world that has such a huge influence over all our lives?
Talking to young people from ethnic minorities about the world of real estate, I have heard them say “Is it just a secret club?” or “I come from a completely different background, is it for me?” or “The only Black role models doing well are footballers or musicians.”
With a lack of understanding about the industry, the routes in can be unclear. I found my way into the world of large commercial real estate through customer service and then human resources before arriving at a property management organisation in the City of London called Broadgate Estates in 2005.
Broadgate Estates is a subsidiary of British Land, a FTSE 100 property company, where I am now head of employee relations and responsible for our new diversity, equality, and inclusion strategy, which we launched earlier this year.
An important part of my role is figuring out how to attract more young people from diverse backgrounds into what many still see as the secret world of real estate, but which would benefit tremendously from their involvement as we seek to “build back better” after Covid-19 and in the climate emergency. We need to reach a place within the industry where, whatever a person’s ethnic background, they feel like they are good enough to apply for jobs – and don’t lose hope when they’re not successful.
The current situation is exaggerated because real estate is perceived as hidden – even if it’s a world that is in plain sight – and difficult to find information about. Real estate companies aren’t in the news or even discussed in schools, and most people fall into the industry by accident.
Loop of rejection
It’s a world that can feel out of reach and only accessible if you know someone who knows someone who knows someone. There can also be frustration among those who apply for roles in real estate that they are asked for experience before they are considered, creating a doom loop of rejection.
It’s also a world that lacks role models for young people. So, what should be done to make real estate a deliberate career proposition for young talent, breaking down perceived barriers to entry?
First, companies across the industry should take a campaigning approach to attracting new talent, starting with using physical displays of showing what young people can achieve, interactive video case studies, myth-busting social media and projects to reach teenagers early.
Being more visible in the places young people go to look for career information, and engaging with their influencers like parents and teachers is crucial, as well as using diverse and real voices to facilitate understanding, and providing exposure to the work with hands-on opportunities.
To fully understand our customers we need diversity of thought and experience within our team”
How about creating a property school, run in multiple locations around the UK several times a year, and including masterclasses and workshops by the people from real estate who are shaping our cities?
Reaching a new audience
Or making better use of storyboards in place of dry recruitment materials using scribe artists, filming a digital version to put on YouTube. More than ever, HR professionals need to find new ways to reach a young and diverse audience through the media that they use.
The real estate world already has an excellent programme called Pathways to Property that is aimed at attracting young people from outside the sector’s traditional hunting ground of private schools, a handful of universities and the offspring of its current workforce.
British Land is a powerful advocate for diversity and inclusion in real estate and, as well as being one of the driving forces behind Pathways to Property, it also runs a Summer Internship Programme and has made great strides to change the make-up of its team.
This is absolutely crucial to our future: at Broadgate in the City of London or Meadowhall shopping centre in Sheffield we host millions of people a year from across the population, and to fully understand our customers we need diversity of thought and experience within our team.
But more than that, as we play a leading role in building new sustainable neighbourhoods such as the 53-acre new net zero town centre we are building in London’s Canada Water, we need young and diverse people to bring fresh energy and perspectives to create the places that match what people will want in the 2030s and beyond.
The minds of younger generations – full of the possibilities of collaboration and tolerance and sustainability that fade among older people – are what we need to shape the future of the country in a new, diverse way.