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BLOG: A decade of progress for LGBTQ+ professionals in real estate

The two founders of property industry LGBTQ+ group Freehold reflect on changing attitudes within the sector.

David Mann and Saleem Fazal

freehold decade LGBTQ+

Not all that long ago, the stereotype for property professionals in the UK was of a sexist, loutish, old boys’ club.

It was not, in other words, a sector that was traditionally welcoming to anyone who wasn’t white, male, and from a traditional middle-class background. While there’s still some room for improvement, a lot of progress has been made, especially among LGBTQ+ professionals.

A marker of how much progress has been made can be seen in the fact that, in 2018, the entire industry united against homophobic laws in Brunei. The sector has also had a presence on equality charity Stonewall’s Workplace Equality Index since 2019, with property giant JLL listed among the top 20 employers of trans people in the 2021 edition.

Further evidence of the industry’s evolution can be found in the increased representation in leadership in the industry bodies as well as their priorities. For example, when Louise Brooke-Smith became the first female president of industry body RICS in 2014, she placed diversity and inclusion at the top of her agenda.

Our own growth as an advocacy and support network also shows the progress made in the industry.

From our chance meeting 10 years ago, that led to the creation of Freehold, we’ve grown to a membership more than 1000 strong, taken more than 50 professionals through our official mentorship programme, and facilitated hundreds of informal mentorship chats.

We’ve also had several board members named on industry lists, including the OUTstanding list of the 100 most influential LGBT executives and the EG Power List. Freehold also won the “Outstanding Contribution to Property Award” at EG Awards 2018, which was a major validation of the work we’ve been doing.

More to be done 

We hope that after 10 years since Freehold’s founding, we’ve contributed to a greater understanding across our entire industry – and LGBTQ+ people feeling less isolated as a result.  There can be no doubt, however, that there is more to be done.

The 2021 edition of EG’s LGBTQ+ Real Estate survey, for example, shows that 35.65% revealed that they weren’t ‘out’ to everyone at their firm, with 48% of this group blaming the negative reaction of their colleagues and 44% saying they’re not out due to a lack of visible role models.

Some metrics even worsened post-COVID-19. And while the almost 52% of respondents feared negative colleague reactions to coming out is an improvement on previous reports, the 58% saying they lacked the visible role models to come out is a step backwards.

Tough time

Figures like these only make us more determined to keep building on the work we’ve done over the past decade. It’s also worth noting that the COVID-19 pandemic was a tough time for many in our industry, so as part of this we’re expanding our mentoring scheme with additional support for members who’ve lost their jobs over the past two years.

Freehold isn’t exempt from the need to promote internal diversity. Ensuring that our executive represents the makeup of LGBTQ+ professionals in real estate means that we’re able to better understand their needs and promote a more diverse membership base. Just 17 % of our members identify as female at birth which is a figure we feel must be improved upon.

According to the British Property Federation, in 2019, the sector directly employed more than 1.2-million people and contributed more than £100bn to the UK’s economy – about 7% of the total. While COVID-19 may have put a dampener on that, there’s every chance that it will bounce back just as strong.

But it will never achieve its full potential if it doesn’t provide a fully inclusive environment for LGBTQ+ people. Knowing this, we will keep advocating for LGBTQ+ inclusion and supporting all industry efforts on that front. There’s no doubt that the next 10 years will bring even more change than the past 10 have and we plan to be at the forefront of it.

David Mann, an executive partner at property consultant TFT, and Saleem Fazal, a partner at law firm Taylor Wessing, founded Freehold in September 2011; a unique networking forum for LGBT property professionals who work within the UK real estate sector. Freehold is hosting its’ 10th anniversary gala on Thursday, October 21st and tickets can be purchased here with proceeds being donated to LandAid

Read more about LGBTQ+ issues within the property industry. 

October 20, 2021

One comment

  1. As a new (up and running for only 7 months) independent family-run Estate Agent, perhaps we may be forgiven for being unaware of the work currently being done by FREEHOLD towards an inclusive workforce. Great work guys!
    All of our team at Norman’s Properties Ltd. have undertaken Diversity & Inclusion training, and I have previously worked on projects for the largest UK Union to raise awareness and change workplace practice to achieve equality and diversity in the transport sector. We value the diversity of our client’s and our goal is to provide a personal Sales & Lettings service with this in mind.
    I’m hopeful that change is possible, but we ALL need to understand the benefits brought about by a diverse workforce if we are to truly represent the diverse communities in which we live.

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