Solicitor Karl Brown FRSA writes about how his experience of a lack of diversity in the Bristol property business spurred him to create the Bristol Property Inclusion Charter
I am a commercial property partner in the Bristol office of national law firm Clarke Willmott LLP, but long before I qualified as a commercial property solicitor, property was in my blood.
My father was an immigrant from Jamaica, who came to the UK in the 1960s and found a trade as a plasterer. Like many West Indian and other immigrants in the 1960s the house building and property industry gave my father a skilled trade, and allowed him to give his children a better start in life than he had enjoyed. It also allowed him to make a contribution to the housing supply in the UK.
Because of my father’s trade, I witnessed as a child what was then a very diverse workforce in the house building sector in Bristol. But later, when I qualified as a commercial property solicitor – and then as I progressed in my career attending more property networking events in Bristol – I realised that diversity in the Bristol property industry was actually very low. This was especially noticeable given the very diverse wider population of the city.
I believe passionately that the vast opportunities in the property industry should be available to all who have the talent and the interest. So in 2019 I launched an initiative to help achieve this – the Bristol Property Inclusion Charter.
Data collection is critical to boosting inclusion in a sector. First, it gives an accurate picture of the current state of diversity and inclusion. Second, it provides evidence to others that something needs to be done. So before launching the Charter in 2019 I asked the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) for a breakdown of the composition of their membership in Bristol. RICS provided the figures, while flagging that it doesn’t capture the class background of its members, and that many don’t reveal their ethnicity. Even so, the figures provided by RICS were stark – a very large majority of the Bristol membership were male and very few were non-white.
When writing the Charter I wanted it to be clear, easy to be signed up to by property companies/organisations, but also to require signatories to provide an annual update… so that they would not forget their pledges under the Charter. Having run the wording past trusted colleagues in the property sector, I settled on seven objectives. These included signatories pledging to engage with local communities in Bristol to raise aspirations and awareness in relation to opportunities in the local property sector. Other objectives include ‘Collaborating where possible with other local property businesses or organisations to try to achieve a fully inclusive property industry and profession in Bristol’ and ‘Encouraging where possible suppliers or contractors to your business or organisation to have as a key objective creating an inclusive workforce.’
The Charter was launched in November 2019 with some 16 founder signatory companies/organisations. It now has more than 70. These include Bristol City Council, LiveWest, YTL, Willmott Dixon, Avison Young, Galliard Homes, Socius, Vistry Partnerships’ Bristol Office, and the Bristol office of Bellway Homes. One key point has been promoting collaboration. There have already been several examples of signatories encouraging their respective suppliers/partner companies to also sign up to the Charter.
Although many Charter events have had to be held online due to the pandemic, these have included signatories taking part in panel discussions on the best ways of boosting inclusion. I have also arranged for speakers who have presented ways for signatories to be able to boost engagement with local communities (especially young people) to signpost opportunities in the industry. I am determined that the Charter will try and add value to signatories by directing them to ways they can achieve the objectives under the Charter.
At the start of 2020 I launched the Bristol Property Inclusion Commission (of which I am the Chair) with representatives from various parts of the Bristol property sector to help in the progression and running of the Charter (including reviewing annual updates from signatories). The collaborative efforts of Commission members has been invaluable in extending the profile and reach of the Charter in Bristol.
I’ll end by making a confession. If you speak to my wife she will tell you that I am an avid follower of the news and in particular love watching CNN. It was on CNN last year that I saw someone mention an old African proverb. As soon as I heard it I thought I would use it in speeches and articles. The proverb is ‘If you want to go fast, go alone; If you want to go far, go together.’ If members of an industry work together then I firmly believe they can bring positive change to their industry.
Karl Brown FRSA, is a partner in Clarke Willmott's Bristol commercial property team specialising in the acquisition and disposal of development land. He has also been a Social Mobility Ambassador for The Law Society since June 2016. And he is Chair of Bristol Property Inclusion Commission.
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