Employee welfare and diversity have long been central to Gerald Eve’s business, with the firm very much at the forefront of recent initiatives designed to improve working practices throughout the property industry. “Not only is it the right thing to do, it also makes business sense,” Sarah Palmer tells Engage.
For an industry as people dependent as real estate, it has not always enjoyed the best track record on issues such as diversity and welfare. Property has found itself saddled with a hard-to shift reputation as being a bastion of the old boys’ network.
This may have been an accurate portrayal once, but the times they are a-changing. Arguably no industry as made as much progress in recent times as property, especially among the big surveying firms, and it is Gerald Eve that has been in the vanguard.
Through a series of initiatives – some in-house, others in conjunction with organizations such as LGBT campaign group Stonewall – the firm is helping to build an industry that is both truly open to people from all backgrounds, and responsive to employee difficulties.
Sarah Palmer, HR director at Gerald Eve, said: “We have a longstanding culture of openness, something that has served the firm well, but we’re always looking to see if there’s more we can do. It’s not enough to passively select new employees without bias from those that have applied – you have to actively seek out those not putting themselves forward.” It is an approach that underpins much of the industry’s progress.
Taking the Initiative
Demonstrative of Gerald Eve’s commitment to these principles is the firm’s involvement in a number of programs designed to promote diversity and inclusivity among the workforce. One such scheme – Changing the Face of Property, which Gerald Eve joined in 2014 – is seeking to raise awareness of the real estate sector among those that might not have considered it as a career option.
“We’ve committed to work experience placements through the program, as well as engaging with careers advisors and directly with students to help give them a taste of life in the property industry,” says Sarah. “And it’s been a learning experience for us as well. We had a number of 16 and 17 year-olds in for work experience and for many it was the first time they had been in an office environment, which created challenges in helping them understand what was expected of them.
“We gave them Pret a Manger lunch vouchers, but were told in no uncertain terms that they would refer Subway! It’s these little things that a company wouldn’t necessarily think about, and to a certain extent everyone is feeling their way, but it was a hugely positive experience and we remain committed to it.”
Other initiatives in which Gerald Eve participates include the RICS Quality Mark, for which the firm was an early adopter, and Stonewall’s Diversity Champions. The firm is also looking at applying for the National Equality Standard, a government-backed scheme which applies across all industries, of which some of Gerald Eve’s clients are already members. “The programs we’ve put in place are already paying dividends,” continues Sarah, “with our graduate intake this year featuring plenty of people from non-traditional areas and state schools. And, let’s be honest, we do this not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it has tangible business benefits.”
“We don’t want a workforce where everyone shares the same background and has the same point of view on things. That leads to groupthink and restricts the quality of advice we can give clients. It’s not about quotas or ratios – it’s about choosing people purely on merit. And by doing that, by encouraging those from outside the traditional spheres to consider a career in property, it makes Gerald Eve a better business.”
But finding the best staff is only half of the solution: to be truly open a firm has to support employees through difficulties, assist where possible with changes in circumstances, and provide a clear, ongoing path for personal development.
“Employees told us that transparency about career progression was important to them, alongside training and ongoing feedback to help them reach their goals, so that’s exactly what we’ve done,” says Sarah. “There’s development programs in place for each level, and openness about the firm’s strategy and aims. It works for everyone. The employees are more in control of their careers, and Gerald Eve benefits from a more rounded workforce that has received the training to help its skills match the firm’s requirements.”
Further initiatives support staff through their changing circumstances. Interest-free rental deposit loans are available, as is flexible working – around one in seven Gerald Eve employees, both men and women, have such an arrangement. Five years ago, 80% of women on maternity leave didn’t return to work; today, over 86% of them do.
Diversity and CSR committees are over-subscribed by employees looking to contribute to what is an excellent working culture. “People can come to work here and be themselves, they don’t have to lead a double life,” says Sarah “And that is something