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BAME group launches with call for measurable goals to increase diversity in planning

Words: Simon Wicks
Priya Shah at BAME launch.jpg
‘What gets measured gets done’– and if the planning and property sectors are to truly represent the communities they serve, they may have to set diversity goals.

That was the message from Jerome Williams, senior diversity manager for Homes England, at the launch of BAME in Property last Thursday (22 March).

Recalling his past experience at the Department for Energy and Climate Change (DECC), Williams stressed that no matter how much goodwill is shown by executives, the only way to change culture is by actually setting goals and measuring progress against them.

In four years at DECC, he said, he had made no measurable progress. In 2014 he threw the rulebook out of the window and adopted a three-step approach (agree a vision, set measurable goals, and get managers to take ownership of those goals) that produced immediate results. In the space of just a year, the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) representation in the department went up from 1 per cent of staff to 6 per cent. The number of female employees had also gone up (from 31 per cent to 39 per cent).

“Diversity without meaningful actions behind it is just a word,” said Williams. “To achieve BAME equality, you need actions and not just words.”

He continued: “We are not the only ones talking about targets in the public sector. The civil service has picked up on this. They know that what gets measured gets done.”

Founded by Priya Shah (pictured, top), an account manager with BECG (Built Environment Communications Group), the BAME in Property group aims to increase ethnic diversity in the property and planning sectors. As Shah noted in her introductory speech, just 1.2 per cent of employees in the property industry* are from BAME backgrounds, compared with 14 per cent of the general population.

“I want to be able to look at our industry and see someone from a BAME background in that higher position and think, ‘You know what, if they can do it, so can I’”

But what's the incentive for businesses and other organisations to increse their BAME workforce? Shah referenced Why Diversity Matters, a report by McKinsey & Co. “One of its key findings was that the most ethnically diverse companies outperform their competitors by 35 per cent,” she said. “But this huge business opportunity is being missed as just 8 per cent of UK executives identify as black or from an ethnic minority.”

In addition to the business case, Shah made a broader social and service quality argument for a more diverse workforce in property and planning.

“The bottom line is that if the role of planning is to deliver diverse and inclusive communities, it is ironic that the profession itself is not diverse and inclusive. We should be reflecting the people that we serve to ensure that the decisions that we are making are appropriate to the needs of different people.”

To achieve this, Williams said that getting managers to take “ownership” of meeting measurable diversity goals was perhaps the game-changing factor. Having done so, he found they were employing more imaginative ways to attract a wider pool of talent into the department.

“What I found when I spoke to the managers was that they were doing things they hadn’t thought about before. Positive actions – how we advertise and where we advertise our roles. He added: “The whole organisation thought about what diversity meant to us, and what we would do to make it a reality.”

Shah stressed the importance of role models and the need simply to “start the conversation” about diversity.

“When I look at an industry and more specifically, a company, I ask myself, can I fit in here? Are there people from a similar background to me already in the company? Is there ethnic diversity in the company?”

She went on: “People need mentors. I want to be able to look at our industry and see someone from a BAME background in that higher position and think, 'You know what, if they can do it, so can I'. People become more attracted to an industry that is representative of themselves.”

Shah concluded by enouraging attendees of the launch event to ask their own employers about their diversity and inclusion policies and to work with them to improve these. Ethnic diversity, she emphasises, was one element of a “bigger goal” to improve diversity generally in property and planning.

* According to the 2017 RTPI Member Survey, approximately 6 per cent of RTPI members are from BAME backgrounds.

Read more

Find out more about BAME in Property

How diverse is planning as a profession?

Photo | Raj Gedhu