In my last blog I defined the sense of community as “the perception of similarity to others, an acknowledged interdependence with others, a willingness to maintain this interdependence by giving to or doing for others what one expects from them, and the feeling that one is part of a larger dependable and stable structure” The events of the last two weeks around the world and the Black Lives Matter movement have caused me reflect on that definition in the context of the Build To Rent sector. I make no pretence that I, as a white middle class man, have ever suffered any form of discrimination but I was particularly struck by two personal stories.
The first was the account on TV by a young man of how he felt on looking at organisations that he might aspire to work for. “If I look in the annual report at the board, I don’t see anyone that looks like me. If I look at senior management, I don’t see anyone that looks like me. If I go visit the organisation, the only people who look like me work as concierges or as cleaners.”
The second was in EG this week written by Hamish Dupree, who works for UKAA member, Wiredscore as Head of London markets. Entitled ‘Hamish, run this iPad across the West End for me, I know black people are fast’ it describes his experiences as a young surveyor. Well worth a read many of the points that Hamish makes relate to education – both self-education to move beyond unconscious bias and the need to reach out beyond our traditional recruiting grounds for talent.
So what have these to do with BTR and community? Beyond the obvious point that our sector as part of the property industry still looks too pale, stale and male at senior management level, and that too often we, myself included, make easy choices. In my case, when for example I am thinking of names for panels at conferences or webinars, and under time pressure, it is all too easy to ask the people I already know, perpetuating the existing bias and missing another opportunity to address the lack of role models, from minority groups whether BAME, LGBT or other.
However, to pick up on the education point , the BTR sector has a much bigger opportunity to make a difference. We are growing fast as a sector and the war for talent, although maybe in temporary retreat hasn’t gone away. To thrive we need to attract the best people, who think differently and can bring new ideas and reflect the increasing diversity of our customers.
We talk regularly about recruiting people from the retail and hospitality sectors who already possess customer service skills (and are more diverse than ours). But we need to go beyond this and address the opportunity in a comprehensive way. Our industry in the UK is in its infancy, and we lack commonly agreed roles, qualifications, training programmes and defined long term career paths. Until we have these our efforts to attract people with talent and show them how to reach the top (with or without an APC) we will miss people who do not see themselves except in the roles that are currently on offer. The IRPM is working hard on part of this issue but there is much more we can do reaching out beyond individual companies to address a collective need.
Having these things in place is a start but we then need to go out and sell them. There are some great programmes like Regeneration Brainery and the Uli’s Urbanplan, already reaching out to young people in schools and elsewhere beyond where we normally look. However I would argue that we need to work together as a sector and show through these programmes or maybe our own, that BTR is the best place to work in property. We need to demonstrate a compelling long-term vision of the future for people entering the sector, whatever their starting point and wherever they come from.
One of the UKAA’s strategic purposes is to “Help BTR operators / UKAA members attract and grow talent”. The current situation gives us another compelling reason to turn this purpose into a meaningful programme of action.
We will be judged by results not words and although it will take years rather than months to deliver large scale change, we should act now. Doing so will help to build a community in BTR that feels similarity and solidarity based not on what we look like or our background but on our shared values and aspirations for our colleagues, our sector and our customers.
I’d like to end this blog with a bit about a different group who suffer both systemic prejudice and unconscious bias – the disabled. It has been my privilege for a few years now to work as an NED for Smile Through Sport , a disability sports organisation that works to increase opportunities and ultimately enjoyment in disability sport throughout the North East of England.
Smile was founded by Stephen Miller, one of the most determined people I have ever met. A six- time Paralympian and captain of the GB Paralympic team in 2012 (as well as an excellent poet and a pretty modest chap).
As delivery of sports programmes is on hold in lockdown, Stephen has launched a new personal project called ‘Positive Thinking with a Paralympic Hero’, which will provide a platform for him to “share his love for positivity and achieving goals with guests from around the world and enable them to experience a unique part of my life lessons and stories”. Anything Stephen turns his hand to is always good fun so you can find out more at www.airbnb.co.uk/thinkpositive
More musing on community next time, until then stay safe and well.
 Sarason, S.B. (1974) The Psychological Sense of Community: Prospects for a Community Psychology. Jossey-Bass, London.