What the built environment can do to champion EDI: a Q&A with UCEM Trustee Misa von Tunzelman

Posted on: 12 June, 2024

How can the built environment industries better support people from under-represented groups to enter, stay and thrive in the sector?

Workplace equality, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) is no longer being treated as a nice-to-have by corporations. Companies identified as ‘inclusive’ are more successful a recent study by Josh Bersin with Deloitte showed that inclusive companies have a cash flow 2.3 times higher per employee than their counterparts, and were 1.8 times more likely to be change ready and 1.7 times more likely to be innovation leaders in their market. What’s more, McKinsey predicts that if the global workforce became equally gender-diverse by 2030, global GDP could increase by as much as $13 trillion.

The benefits of embracing EDI go beyond just the bottom line, too. A survey by Glassdoor found that over three quarters (76%) of job seekers and employees value diversity as an important factor when assessing job opportunities. At a culture level, employees that feel included by their businesses are around 3x more likely to feel engaged in their work than their peers.

The built environment is an example of an industry working hard to increase representation, but there’s still room for improvement. According to the Office for National Statistics, people from ethnic minority backgrounds make up 14.4% of the UK’s population (ONS 2019) but only 2% of Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) membership. A survey by Construction News of LGBTQ+ industry professionals in the UK found that over half (54%) of respondents didn’t feel comfortable being open about their sexuality or gender identity on site.

We spoke to Misa von Tunzelman, UCEM Trustee and Head of Corporate Affairs & Marketing, Europe at Lendlease, to explore how built environment leaders and businesses can support EDI, increase representation and identify the areas most in need of change.

Visit the Be Part of the Change site >

About Misa

Misa von Tunzelman is Head of Corporate Affairs & Marketing, Europe for Lendlease. She has nearly 30 years Marketing experience and has worked in the property sector since 2004.

Misa is involved with several charities and causes. In addition to her role on the UCEM Board of Trustees, she holds a voluntary board position for Freehold LGBT CIC, a property industry network for LGBTQ+ professionals. She’s also a trustee of Eastside Young Leaders Academy, which seeks to increase opportunities and inclusion for young black and Asian people in London. She chairs the judging committee for Worshipful Company of Chartered Surveyors’ charity fundraising Property Marketing Awards.

Misa was appointed as a Trustee of UCEM in June 2018 and sits on the Nominations and Governance Committee. She is also the Lead UCEM Trustee for Equality, Diversity and Inclusion.

1. Leaders need to lead from the front

For change to be effective organization-wide, it needs to be championed from the top. If leaders talk the talk and walk the walk they set the tone for the rest of the business..

Visible and vocal role models and allies can make all the difference to making someone feel included in your organisation.  Whether it is Leaders from under-represented groups talking about their own experiences, or Leaders from the cultural majority advocating and creating a platform for others, where they lead the organisation will follow.

As Misa von Tunzelman states:

“The hardest challenge for me from an EDI perspective coming into this industry was deciding whether to come out and disclose my sexual orientation. I couldn’t see anybody like me around the place, there were very few senior women or people from ethnic minority backgrounds, let alone anybody LGBTQ+ so it seemed safest to stay in the closet at work.”

Learn more: Diversity in the built environment

2. Work needs to be done on company culture

Company culture has a vital role to play in attracting, engaging, and retaining employees. A study from the Society for Human Resources Management found that 90% of employees who considered their work culture to be ‘poor’ had thought about quitting, compared to just 32% who rated their culture as ‘good’.

“To me EDI means creating an industry and a workplace that reflects the make up of the wider world.  It is about acknowledging and celebrating differences, so everyone has a chance to contribute to the full and has a chance to succeed.”

The built environment sector is no exception.  A lot of energy is spent by organisations bringing in  talent from under-represented groups but if those organisations don’t spend the time nurturing a culture of inclusion, they will find that talent walking back out of the door.  Take the time to assess the culture and attitudes of your existing workforce, providing training and resources if needed and encourage and reward positive behaviours.

3. Goals should be set (and measured)

As the adage goes, what gets measured gets done. Before undertaking any initiative, businesses need to take the time to assess their present situation and formulate realistic and attainable targets. Setting achievable and impactful goals for recruitment, retention, engagement and progression will ensure that your EDI investment is paying off and give your people confidence that your words are backed by action.

4. Offering tailored support and training

Different communities and groups face different challenges in the workforce, providing targeted support and training that addresses individual needs is a powerful tool in increasing inclusion and empowering people to progress in your organisation.

“At Lendlease we have leadership training programmes for under-represented groups, these are tailored and empowering and get great feedback from participants.  There is also a valuable reverse mentoring angle where people on the courses have access to senior leaders either through direct mentoring or projects.”

5. Businesses need to listen to under-represented employees

“Collaboration is key… any activity or programme must be created in dialogue with the people it is aiming to support.  As the saying goes “what you do for us but without us, you do to us.”

Don’t fall into the trap of coming up with a brilliant plan to support a community or group you are not a part of without talking to the target recipients of your programme.  Initiatives created without proper consultation often fail to hit the mark and, at worst, can feel patronising and exclusionary to the very people you are trying to engage.

Final thoughts

There’s certainly work for us to do in the built environment industries to increase representation, but things are changing most of the major built environment employers have published EDI strategies, employee resource groups and inclusive recruitment programmes.  UCEM is instrumental  in welcoming people from all parts of the community into the industry and helping them to succeed.

“The built environment industries should reflect the richly diverse communities they serve, only then can we create and curate places that work for all of society” says von Tunzelman. “UCEM has a big part to play in this as it offers flexible pathways into the industry that enable people from all walks of life to gain a professional qualification and start or grow their career.

“We are as an institution doing a lot already, but we should continue to speak with our current and prospective students and our alumni to see what more we can do to support them. Keeping that dialogue open is really important.”

To find out more about the Be Part of the Change campaign and get involved, visit the homepage. If you’d like to get in touch with our Student Ambassadors for EDI, email outreachandinclusion@ucem.ac.uk

Visit the Be Part of the Change site >