by Chris Strong
Director, Major UK Commercial Property Consultancy
The times they are a changing and in the commercial property world they are starting to change very fast. Property is an industry that has lagged behind others in many respects, particularly diversity and equal opportunities. For many years the major UK practices were largely run and staffed by a stereotype of middle age, middle class, white men. Today those norms are disappearing fast to the benefit of the industry.
At my company, we now have female leaders in a number of our divisions and offices. Our planning and development, property management and corporate real estate departments, as well as our London office, are all led by women. At the other end of the scale, we are getting much closer to a 50:50 split between male and female graduate surveyors. These are the directors and leaders of the future, which is hugely encouraging.
Our company is putting in place a number of initiatives to recruit a more diverse work force at every level. One of the great challenges the industry faces is actually a lack of diversity among graduates from the accredited university real estate courses. The industry is trying to do more to work with the universities and the RICS (our professional body) to change this, but progress is understandably slow. We need to attract more school leavers onto property undergraduate degrees, and more undergraduates from other fields onto real estate masters courses.
To keep progressing the whole industry has to continue to strive to attract people from more varied backgrounds, particularly female school leavers and graduates. To them I would say that real estate is a hugely varied field, do not be put off the estate agents you may meet when renting flats at university! A career in property could embrace Architecture and Interior Design for the creative, Investment, Finance and Valuation for the numerate, or Planning and Development for those interested in the quality of the built environment. There are also rural and agricultural options for those who would prefer to spend their time in the countryside.
The industry, like so many others, is currently being disrupted. Prop-tech is opening up exciting new areas and will transform our work over the next 20 years. Real Estate can also offer significant opportunities to work and travel internationally. It is a truly global market place - the leading investors in London real estate are currently from Hong Kong and China.
At its heart, property remains a social people business allowing you get out of the office to see new places and meet new contacts.
Finally, I have a very personal reason to be pleased with the progress our industry is making. Last summer I got married and my wife also works in real estate. She has worked in the industry for five years and has made rapid progress so far. It is incredibly exciting to see all the opportunities now opening up for her, in fact I am quite jealous of a lot of them… It just shows that there really is no limit on what ladies can now achieve in their careers!