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Don’t lose sight of the ‘S’ in ESG: Why diversity and recruitment are key

In this guest piece, Deborah Gray, founding director at Totum Partners, looks at why those operating in the property sector shouldn't lose sight of the importance of the ‘S’ in ESG. 

In the property sector, focus on ESG often centres on environmental sustainability. But for firms looking to stand out and drive growth, social impact is also crucial.

Indeed, the United Nations theme this year is women in leadership. However, the property sector is one where this demands some of the greatest efforts. According to PwC and Real Estate Balance, just 30% of senior management positions in real estate are held by women.


This is not just observational. To stay in favour with employees and clients, new recruits and investors, championing gender diversity is key. Property businesses must place renewed focus on the diversity of their hires – splitting aptitude from prejudice and opening the industry to new talent – if they are to thrive for the long-term.

The war for talent

According to the ONS, job vacancies across the economy are currently at their highest levels since records began and, when it comes to recruitment, this more saturated marketing is creating increased competition for top talent at all seniority levels. But every challenge is also an opportunity. For property firms, this is a chance to re-evaluate their hiring practices and work with experienced partners who understand how to put diversity at the heart of their approach and, in turn, support meaningful growth.

After all, the diversity of a team is more than just the diversity of its members. It also includes diversity in leadership, different ways and styles or working and drawing on different backgrounds and experiences to generate the best possible outcomes for a business. According to leading management consultants, this also brings tangible benefits for an organisation. In fact, the so-called ‘diversity boost’ is significant – generating 19% higher revenues than in more homogenous organisations, according to the Boston Consulting Group.

There are clear paths to achieving this. In a recent survey, Deloitte called for business leaders to consider new systems and processes for recruitment that are both gender and colour blind.

It also called for businesses to think differently about the types of experiences and qualifications that might prepare people for specific roles, for example looking at mindset as well as skillset, or ‘seeking people who have demonstrated they’re agile, comfortable with ambiguity, and able to overcome adversity’.

Substance over looks

So, for property firms looking to attract top talent, diversity (and ESG more broadly) should not be seen simply as a box-ticking exercise. These efforts need to be underpinned by substance and genuine efforts towards corporate social responsibility (CSR), especially in terms of a businesses’ hiring practices.

When robust ESG and CSR policies are in place, they can offer a powerful competitive advantage. According to Forbes, 64% of Millennials report they would not accept a job offer if the organisation did not have a strong CSR policy, while 83% would have more loyalty towards to a company that helps them contribute to social and environmental issues. With millennials soon set to account for the majority of the workforce, getting these policies right is becoming increasingly crucial.

Don’t forget the ‘S’ in ESG

While significant, environmental policies are just one third of the ESG picture. For the modern workforce, social impact is also critically important and championing diversity through hiring and workplace policies should be a key facet of this – for example, empowering staff with flexible hours, job share options, strong maternity policies and hybrid working.

As a Timewise Power 50 winner, I know first-hand how, far from holding people back, flexibility can be a core part of their success. Indeed, in a more saturated recruitment market, it can be a key selling point to prospective hires. Championing diversity in all of its forms – including of background, ethnicity, working styles or experience – has a key part to play not only in demonstrating values to current and future employees, but also to prospective clients, customers and investors.

Where next?

Following COP26, ESG is rightly at the top of the agenda. But this is also not the time to lose sight of social impact, nor the importance of championing diversity to achieving this. Property firms need to think seriously about their ESG and CSR credentials to ensure a more future-proof strategy for growth. And their approach recruitment could well be the best place to start.

Deborah Gray is founding director at Totum Partners


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