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News & opinion

30 NOV 2022

I Am Woman: A Discussion with Black Women in Real Estate

#IAMWOMAN Campaign Event

Panel Q&A

Earlier this year, Black Women in Real Estate (BWRE) and recruitment firm Madison Berkeley launched the #IAMWOMAN Campaign to draw awareness to the need for attracting and retaining more Black women in the real estate industry.

RICS asked campaign participants Joelle Allotey MRICS, Associate Director, Cushman and Wakefield and Faith Locken MRICS, Founder of We Rise In, to share their perspectives, highlight barriers that exist within the industry, and pinpoint some of the ways in which we, collectively and individually, can make changes to be more inclusive, equitable and achieve greater diversity.

1. How has the built environment shaped your experiences growing up, and how did it influence your professional aspirations?

Faith: I came to the UK as a refugee with my family in the early 90s, having fled a war-torn country, therefore, having shelter and more importantly a place to call home has always been of great importance to me. I aspired to work in the built environment because I wanted to be able to positively impact the environment and places around me, by providing homes for people, and constructing buildings and places that will serve generations to come.

Joelle: As a child, I moved between North and East London, both for school and living purposes. It never really dawned on me until I got older, that each neighbourhood I resided in had its own identity, through its community, style of housing, and amenities. While this was my first experience in understanding London’s built landscape, through the years I began to sample pockets of the Capital, particularly in East London which heightened my intrigue. Visiting my dad in the city became visually stimulating, and I would constantly be amazed at the built density every time I walked the streets. The surge in office development galvanised a host of complementary amenity offers, catering to the “young professional” and admittedly I was mesmerised. Not only could I see asset classes aesthetically benefitting a locality, giving London its glossy Capital City “status”, I also began to realise that each asset class worked cohesively to serve those within it. Albeit different to what I saw in my younger years, there was still a distinguished sense of identity, and amenity to suit the area. However, the more I went into The City of London, the more apparent the disparity between London’s neighbourhoods was. This encouraged me to work in Real Estate. Not all neighbourhoods emulated the changing façade of The City and I wanted to understand what was pushing these visuals and how I could make a difference.

2. What was your journey into the industry like and how did you choose your pathway?

Joelle: I joined the 2012 Real Estate and Planning cohort at the University of Reading with hopes of furthering my education after with a Masters in Urban Planning. After graduating, I decided I wanted to enter the workforce and began my graduate programme in a niche real estate practice where I was exposed to Investment, Agency and Development but specialised in Retail Agency and development consultancy. Admittedly, I believe that as a graduate, you do not choose your pathway, your pathway chooses you. We spend hours at university studying how Real Estate operates but to get a real sense of it, you need to work on the “front line”. I found that my strength lay in providing advice throughout the lifecycle of the project, from inception to completion regardless of the asset class. The skills I have gained through working in development consultancy and asset management are utilised on a daily basis, despite the change in sectors, and now I work in Corporate Real Estate primarily supporting tech clients.

Faith: My journey was unconventional in that I studied languages at university and wasn’t aware of careers in property until I got to university. When I found out about surveying I did as much work experience as I could ahead of applying for various graduate schemes. My heart was always set on the residential property pathway, however a line manager I had during my summer internship at JLL advised that I consider the commercial pathway so as to keep my options open. I ended up qualifying as a Commercial Surveyor and have since moved on to work in the Housing & Regeneration space.

3. What are some of the barriers you have encountered, and what steps can professionals and leaders in the sector take to create a more diverse and inclusive environment?

Faith: The main barrier I faced on entering the industry was proving that I was passionate about being in property. Due to the fact I hadn’t studied real estate at university, the firms that interviewed me always asked why a language graduate would be interested in property as a career. I feel that leaders in the sector should be more open minded when hiring and accept candidates from both cognate and noncognate backgrounds. If you always hire from the same university and candidates who have studied the exact same courses, you won’t get a truly diverse pool of employees.

With regards to inclusivity, throughout my time in industry I have experienced bias, microagressions, racism, and discrimination. Businesses need to tackle the biases and institutional racism that exists within their organisations if we are ever to begin seeing real change and genuine inclusion in the workplace. They can do this by hiring companies like We Rise In to consult with them on Diversity Equity and Inclusion and run workshops and programmes that can raise awareness among their employees about the biases that exist.

Joelle: I have accepted that barriers will always be faced in society, especially as a woman. However, as a black woman in the industry, you are definitely in the firing line for more! Historically, recruitment and promotions have been harder to achieve, despite justified efforts. The industry has improved in its ambitions to hire a more diverse cohort both at graduate/apprentice level and senior, but there are still massive gaps in representation and barriers to entry. In my opinion, recruitment should be targeted as an area of improvement. Both Human Resources and recruiters should work in tandem, presenting and selecting a wider range of potential candidates which will hopefully trickle into the work force.

Secondly, property companies should take a more hands-on approach in supporting organisations fuelling the change in race demographic. Sponsorship is simply not enough, but being visible in discussions, panels and workshops gives incoming and current professionals comfort that they are not just supported by those that look like them and that this industry is welcoming to all.

4. What are some of the ways you are hoping to positively impact the built environment?

Joelle: Corporate Real Estate focuses on providing transactional expertise alongside other real estate specialists to deliver pragmatic results according to a specific strategy. Since COVID, there has been an increased consideration for measures such as Environmental and Social Governance (ESG), Talent distribution and DEI in the workplace for both clients and consultants. As I mentioned, I believe the identity or purpose of a property is determined by “community” or the people that interact with it. Therefore, my aim has been not only to work towards improving clients’ sustainability aspirations within their portfolios, but also to ensure those working within these buildings are seen as individuals and their needs met. I am currently involved in DEI initiatives within my company, Cushman & Wakefield as well as part of an organisation, Black Women in Real Estate, which focuses on championing and supporting black women entering and working within the industry. While there is still some time to go, each new initiative, policy and governance practise adopted is positively impacting those working in the built environment and making the industry more exciting and innovative, little by little.

Faith: Through the business I set up, We Rise In, we are positively impacting the built environment, and other corporate industries by providing mid-senior black professionals with the support they need to achieve positions of seniority in their respective fields. We also work with corporate firms offering reverse mentorship programmes and inclusion workshops for their employees. By helping companies be more inclusive and supporting their minority ethnic employees we are positively impacting the retention rate of their existing employees, and making their company an attractive place to work for prospective employees.

Faith Locken MRICS, Founder of We Rise In
Joelle Allotey MRICS, Associate Director, Cushman and Wakefield