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It’s time to get political about the industry’s toxic culture

Estate agency founder Ellie Rees says the sector needs fewer middle-aged white men at the top if estate agency is going to change for the better.

Ellie Rees

ellie rees estate agent

“Don’t bring politics into it…” is something I often hear when I bring up the property industry issues I’m passionate about.

But property is political. Housing is political. Business is political. To think otherwise is, well, to not be involved in life. And being involved in people’s lives is our very job, after all.

This view became stark after the alleged racial abuse of the England football players by a Savills’ employee. Suddenly, racial politics was an unavoidable issue for our industry.

Many outside our profession stepped in. They couldn’t believe the toxic culture being described when others raised their hands and spoke about similar experiences in corporate estate agency.

Photos of an all-white (almost all male) senior management team and board of Directors started doing the rounds.

We also heard accusations such as: ‘it’s no surprise when you look at those in charge’ or more humorously: ‘the only difference in colour here is their ties’.

But this is no laughing matter.

I, too, waded in and dared to mention the gender pay gap at Savills. For those that don’t know, from the last mandatory reporting, theirs was the worst of those investigated (they also ignored me when I last pointed it out).

This apparent disregard for gender inequality and the slow and flimsy response to the racist tweet coming from the same working culture doesn’t strike me as a coincidence.

Those of us that shouted loudly were not, as some felt, jumping on a cynical bandwagon. Rather, we were trying to illustrate that this toxic, masculine culture, lacking in inclusion and diversity, is rife. And Savills is certainly not the only offender.

This brings us to the next jaw-dropping moment: Connells Group announced this week that rather than listening to the mood in the property industry (the country and even the entire world), they missed the opportunity for positive change and employed three middle-aged, white men in positions of upmost seniority. Plus ça change.

How is it even possible in a time post #metoo, #timesup and #blacklivesmatter to misread the room so badly? In the immortal words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: ‘BIG mistake. Big. Huge.’

But where do we go from here?

This morning I wanted to down tools and sigh: ‘It’s still the Old Boys’ Club after all… pass me the coffee. In fact, pass me the wine!’.

But once galvanised, I’ll renew my call to arms: Let’s keep calling it out and let’s keep talking. Let’s look at new and empowering archetypes of leadership, remembering that leaders come in all guises.

You don’t have to change your authentic self to comply or succeed within the dominant culture that exists. We can better ourselves as individuals and estate agents if we keep challenging and rattling from the inside out.

Let’s not stop until those in the board room truly reflect who we are and not just the privileged few. And in the meantime, let’s just ditch the ties altogether.

Ellie Rees is co-owner of London estate agency Brickworks.


  1. 100% in support of getting more women working in the property sector. We can’t rest on our laurels though, and wait for it to happen. We should educate ourselves in respect of equality legislation, not be afraid to steel the floor at an all-male meeting, and we have to make our voices heard.
    In a recent FB post for our new company (myself, my daughter-in-law and my son – silent partner), 63.3% of those who engaged were women over 65yrs of age, perhaps without mortgages and looking to free up some money from a house sale? If we don’t embrace our diverse culture in the UK we are missing out on alternate and innovative ideas -as well as a whole new client base.
    So yes Ellie – lets keep on challenging ‘tradition’

  2. Completely support you Ellie. There are some extraordinary women leaders in the property industry, but we remain a minority and there is so much more to do to make it a fair, diverse and inclusive industry.
    Let’s keep ratting and challenging!

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