Meet the company driving inclusion in London’s property sector

Can a property firm's new inclusion policies help solve the sector's wider representation issues?

A centuries-old property company has proved it can have 21st-century values. Founded in 1532, The Portman Estate has introduced the first in what will be a series of new inclusion measures which, if followed by others, could shake up an industry that remains largely white and male-dominated.

Fostering inclusion in the property sector

Their ‘New Parent’s Leave Policy’ is the first new measure from the company’s recently formed ‘Diversity and Inclusion Working Group’. The gender-neutral policy offers 21 weeks off at full pay for soon-to-be parents who have worked there for at least 18 months prior to the expected week of birth. It’s offered to parents who have welcomed a child through adoption and surrogacy as well as through biological birth and falls under the estate’s ‘Family Care Policy’, although further policies for working families have not yet been announced.

In a shared statement, The Portman Estate said the new policy was part of its ongoing investment in employee inclusion and wellbeing. Their new direction could put the firm on course as an employee inclusion innovator in London’s traditional property sector where its “ultimate aim is to embed both inclusion and the wellbeing of the team within the DNA” of the business, continued the statement.

Kirsty Arnold, Chair of The Portman Estate Diversity and Inclusion Working Group, said: “The Portman Estate is committed to creating a more inclusive workplace. Co-parenting in the workplace helps to address gender balance in business and our New Parent’s Leave Policy is a great step in the right direction. One of the Diversity and Inclusion Working Group’s aims is to attract and retain talent, and we hope our New Parent’s Leave Policy will strengthen our loyal and productive workforce.”

Other related policies the firm is pursuing include a two-hour lunch break for staff during winter and a plan to review existing recruitment practises – and more inclusive recruitment, as well as the retention of underrepresented groups, is what the property sector needs to work on.

The industry’s chronic diversity issues

Organisations, like The Portman Estate, that promote shared parental leave could encourage career-minded new mothers to get back to work sooner and help close the gender pay gap. This is crucial in the property sector where women still constitute a minority of the workforce and hold even fewer leadership positions.

But despite its legalisation back in 2015, shared parental leave hasn’t been taken up as much as its proponents might have liked, where return-to-work figures for new mothers across the sectors remain low:

Statistics from 2019 found fewer than one-in-five mothers returned to work within three years of taking maternity leave. Government figures from the same year also found that fewer mothers with “dependent children” (75.1%) were in work than men with dependent children (92.6%).

With women being 3% more likely than men (26%) to switch jobs to access more parental support policies, mothers have an evident desire to have this right. Still, businesses must do more to create a culture that makes women feel comfortable doing so.

But the recruitment and retention of women isn’t the only issue the sector is facing.

The ethnicity gap

The sector needs to work harder to recruit, retain and aid the career progression of people of colour. Statistics from 2019 showed that only 1.2% of people working in this sector identified as BAME. Taking London as the focal point of the country’s property industry, where BAME people make up 40% of the city’s population, they remain woefully underrepresented in a sector that is thriving and full of opportunities.

Not only are BAME professionals underrepresented in this space, but 70% of those who have made it in the sector have experienced both direct and indirect racism in the workplace, according to the same 2019 study – making the ethnicity gap even more insidious than the sector’s inherent gender issues.

In terms of recruitment, 40% of respondents from a 2018 survey said they had got a job in the property sector via a friend or family contact. In an industry defined by many as homogeneously white and male, where entry is often based on nepotism, it’s no wonder that women and people of colour struggle to enter and progress to leadership positions. However, solving hiring bias and implementing policies that encourage career progression for women and other minority groups in the sector could transform it for the better.

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