Equality, diversity, and inclusion in the built environment: a student panel

Posted on: 24 August, 2023

We spoke to a number of our students to find out what the built environment as a sector can do to improve inclusivity and diversity. Here’s what they had to say.

In recent years, awareness of the lack of equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) in the built environment sector has grown. Global professional bodies, institutions and businesses have published research diving into the challenges facing under-represented groups and highlighting the lack of inclusivity throughout organisational hierarchies.

However, there’s still plenty of work to be done. While representation and numbers of diverse leaders and professionals are increasing, these improvements are falling behind other industries.

Learn more: UCEM launches ‘Be part of the change’ to challenge lack of representation in built environment

So what’s holding back inclusivity in the sector? To find out, UCEM sat down with a number of students across our undergraduate and postgraduate programmes to find out what they thought of EDI in the sector. Where are the biggest gaps? What do they look for in potential employers? And what can the sector do to build inclusivity?

Discover Be Part of the Change >

Q: What would you like to see from the sector in terms of EDI?

A: “Pushing on gender inequality, but especially in construction.”

Despite representing around half of the UK’s population, just 18% of professionals in surveying are female, according to RICS. While the balance in real estate is closer – women make up 37% of the workforce in this sector – the construction industry has ground to make up in this department.

The percentage of women who hold positions in this industry has only gone up 0.1% in the last decade, and despite more women (64%) having ambitions of entering senior positions than men (54%), over half of women in a Randstand survey say they’ve never worked for a female manager.

Learn more: Turning the dial on gender inequality

A: “Having a diverse hierarchy for more senior and leadership roles.”

Opportunities for progression are often hard to come by for under-represented and diverse groups. Around a third of Pakistani (35%), Indian (33%) and Black Caribbean (29%) employees feel they have been overlooked for promotion in the past because of their ethnicity.

Having leaders from diverse backgrounds will help under-represented groups feel like they have a voice in their organisation. However, to get to this point, construction businesses need to work hard to address the lack of diversity in senior positions.

Learn more: Pursuing a career in a male-dominated industry – a Q&A with UCEM Programme Leader Priti Lodhia – University College of Estate Management

Q: When pursuing a career in surveying, what makes you apply for a company?

A: “Offering a degree apprenticeship.”

Degree apprenticeships offer a variety of benefits for both students and employers. For students, the ability to earn a living whilst learning and avoid tuition fees is an attractive alternative to full-time university study. It also places them well on the job market, as the knowledge they get from their studies will be actively applied in their role.

From an employer perspective, degree apprenticeships cast a wider net in terms of hiring, improving the pool of talent businesses can source from and contributing to increased inclusivity. It can also boost their bottom line – 78% of employers in a UK government survey said apprenticeships have helped them improve employee productivity.

Learn more: 5 reasons to launch a company apprenticeship scheme

A: “Investing in staff.”

Whether it’s through additional training, online courses, offering apprenticeships or providing mentorship, it’s no surprise that investing in staff is one of the most important aspects our respondents look for in employers. Today’s workforce care more about how engaged and valued they feel by employers than the benefits or perks they’re offered. For disadvantaged and under-represented groups who’ve faced challenges progressing in the workplace, this can be an effective solution to help them feel recognised and rewarded.

A: “Offering CPD opportunities.”

Continuing professional development (CPD) is a key trend in both recruitment and retention. Any company that wants to be able to attract and retain the best employees should make this part of the training/benefits package it offers.

Offering CPD gives employees the chance to develop and upskill in their roles, and for diverse and under-represented groups, this can help them in pushing for a promotion. At the same time, it also ensures higher working standards throughout the business, and improves its relationship with staff.

Q: What more can the surveying profession do to build inclusivity?

A: “Speaking in schools and colleges about the potential for inclusivity in the sector.”

One of the biggest challenges in improving EDI in the sector is simply a matter of awareness. Many young people, especially those from diverse backgrounds, don’t consider a career in this sector because they aren’t even aware of it in the first place.

Conducting outreach at schools and colleges is a great way to address this issue while contributing to the level of diversity.

Learn more: Diversity in the built environment

A: “More family-friendly flexible working.”

Along with offering CPD and learning opportunities, flexible working is becoming more of a priority for jobseekers. As with offering degree apprenticeships, providing flexible working arrangements that can allow employees to organise their time around family commitments. This opens up more opportunities for diverse groups, and subsequently a greater pool of talent for employers.

A: “More recognition for women in the sector and their needs.”

As previously discussed, women in surveying are under-represented, particularly in the construction industry, but even for those that have made it past the barriers to entry, problems remain.

Across the sector, over two-thirds (67%) of women claim to have experienced discrimination or prejudice on the basis of gender. What’s more, the UK’s leading construction firms are paying women around a third less than men – the worst pay gap of any industry.

Learn more: What’s it like being a woman in the built environment?

A: “More work experience opportunities from those who might not have the opportunity.”

Obtaining experience in a professional environment before entering the job market is an excellent way to improve your employability. However, while many learning institutions and businesses offer work experience opportunities, being able to secure placements is often down to the connections you have. For those with familial responsibilities and/or that need to work, this might not be possible.

For the 2023-24 academic year, UCEM have so far recruited three Student Ambassadors for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion to enhance our commitment to EDI and provide a consistent student voice throughout the year.

CBRE, JLL and Savills – all clients of UCEM – are supporting the Changing the Face of Property initiative. This program aims to improve the ethnic diversity, gender split, and socio-economic mix of the property sector. It will also look to widen the sector’s age profile, increase its participation in LGBTQ+ activities, and make property a welcoming and accessible environment for people with disabilities.