LGBT+: A little to be proud of

Two years on from EG’s original survey of attitudes to the LGBT+ community within the real estate sector, little has changed.

The UK real estate industry is still failing to do enough to promote inclusion of the LGBT+ community, according to the almost 350 people who responded to the survey, with just 28.5% of respondents believing that enough was being done.

And while that is an improvement on the 19% who thought enough was being done in 2017, there is clearly still a long way to go.

The transactional and development side of the business were again the most unfriendly towards the LGBT+ community, with 45% (transcational) and 44% (development) of respondents labelling them the least inclusive of work departments. This compares with 51.4% and 48% of respondents in the 2017 survey.

“In a business that is driven by transactions, I feel that a lot still needs to be done to truly integrate LGBT+ staff,” says one respondent. “There aren’t enough visible examples of senior LGBT+ staff and therefore it feels like there is an absence of allies within the higher reaches of property.

“Sadly, many straight ‘allies’ in the workplace are simply going through the motions to signal to stakeholders that they are virtuous and inclusive when it is non-genuine and self-serving. I stay in the closet so avoid being used as an ‘accessory’ for an individual to prove how inclusive they are.”

Survey respondents say there are still instances of people talking behind others’ backs about their sexuality, making “jokes” and numerous assumed or real barriers to being able to be out in the workplace.

“My team does ‘jokingly’ engage in xenophobic, homophobic and misogynistic speeches,” says another respondent. “When you call people out on that, you are told it’s all a joke. Whether it is a joke or not, it shows the underlying mentality about inclusion.

“Every time it happens I do feel uncomfortable and even outraged by it, not because I feel targeted, but because this way of thinking has no place in the workplace or anywhere in society. Society should be past sexual orientation in 2019.”

“The real estate industry is guilty of frequently using non-inclusive language and having non-inclusive practices,” says another. “These are not problems specific to the LGBT community, and affect race, gender and social mobility too.

“Too often property professionals only pay lip service to LBGT inclusion – occasionally having a rainbow logo does not make you an inclusive organisation. There is an assumption of heterosexuality which often alienates members of the LGBT community.

“There’s too often a white, male, gay perspective to LGBT issues. I think that the property industry needs to have more intersectional figureheads to become an attractive industry to society more widely.”

Barriers to inclusivity

The main barriers include a lack of visible role models (58%) – although 61% of respondents think there are LGBT+ role models in their business – and there are fears around it having a negative impact on career development (52%) and fear of negative reactions from clients (51.6%) and colleagues (51%).

“Visibility, role models, mentors and support networks are so incredibly important,” says Phil Lambert, director of real assets at Aviva Investors.

“If you think you are the only person like you in your company, it’s incredibly isolating.”

Despite the barriers, the percentage of respondents who are out at work has increased over the two-year period since the last survey, up from 71% in 2017 to 80% this year. Of the 20% of respondents who aren’t out at work, however, a massive 87% said they would like to be.

There is an even bigger move in the right direction when it comes to being out with clients – up from 28.2% in 2017 to 41% this year.

Encouragingly this year, 87.8% of respondents think their firm creates a safe place for LGBT+ staff to come up out, up from 78.5%. And more respondents say that HR policies that promote diversity and inclusion are being established within the industry and that there is support from the chief executive and board.

However, respondents still want to see more role models, more visible straight allies, better leadership from business leaders and industry bodies, and more in-firm activities to promote LGBT+ diversity and inclusion.

“The culture needs to change,” according to one of the survey respondents.

“People need to be more mindful about the language they use, we need to champion more LGBT+ leaders in the industry, and change the image that it is a straight, middle-aged, white male industry.”

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