Over nearly 30 years in the real estate and construction industries Sam Addison, a director at Colliers, has perhaps seen more change in the past five years than in the rest combined. The catalyst of pandemic may yet generate the fastest series of overnight working and lifestyle changes that we have seen in over a generation.
Far Eastern philosophy denotes I-Ching, all is change. For many in these industries it may be hold onto your hard hats time. What’s welcoming is that the change itself is welcomed. There is a definite momentum and we’re on the edge of a very dynamic time for a very dynamic industry.
With an education rooted in building surveying and an MBA specialising in real estate and construction, Sam’s career has spanned property journalism, Savills, JLL, development consultancy and now Colliers; a leading diversified professional services and investment management company with operations in 67 countries and more than 18,000 employees. All blue chip names at the top of the industry.
“ I have feet in both real estate and the construction industries,” she explains, “and both, in terms of diversity and inclusion are at very different points.”
For real estate the recent RICS research showed that 16% of chartered surveyors are female, a growth of only 3% in the last ten years. Of those 16%, approximately 70% have a close family member working in real estate or construction.
“I’ve always found the industry to be very flexible so I’m very surprised that there aren’t more women in it,” she adds. “It’s really important that we have more visibility. The RICS presented a video recently on how surveyors can help shape the world. It’s a really fascinating and exciting opportunity.”
Addison is however, very positive about the industry. “Inclusion still has some way to go but it is getting better. I’m a believer in positive action and I believe the industry does need positive action otherwise we won’t get parity on pay or representation at senior level for decades. Positive action is needed and I can see it happening.
“The graduate level has been getting close to parity over the past few years but this has yet to be reflected at the higher levels.
“Inclusivity is what we should be focusing on. An organisation or business embracing broader inclusivity is better for everyone, not just women, but men who are also parenting and need to leave earlier – looking at things in a holistic way accelerates change. For the current generations coming through there is a desire to see a different approach which is great.”
Along with this sense of slow moving but definite advancement towards greater inclusion two other themes, and themes that have resonated elsewhere in the LEADERSHIP MMXXI are sustainability and diversity; with all three being very closely linked and the three definite driving forces for evolution and change across real estate and construction.
“In my 27 years I’ve seen that a team with more diversity comes up with better ideas and is more innovative and creative. Teams that I’ve worked on with people across genders, backgrounds and nationalities just produce better work – the proof is there.
“McKinsey have added to that proof with their work on improved boards with more diversity in terms of efficiency and working. I’m passionate about it and I do feel positive.”
Health and safety have also been areas of significant change and improvement, “25 years ago these was definitely a more ‘macho’ approach but the industry has recognised that a safer site is a more effective site and more efficient.
One area however, that hasn’t seen the same sense of progress in Addison’s view is technology. “I thought we’d be far more advanced but we haven’t embraced it in the UK as much as in other countries, particularly Norway. I worked on a 50 000m2 office campus and we were able to complete our phase in a few weeks because we had it designed in BIM.
“I think we’re about to see a step change in the UK – so many of our clients are in the tech sector it’s a big area for us now and was even more so during COVID. I’m currently working with a technology client who is involved in the virtual world so wants to see our designs in the virtual world looking at a digital twin approach.”
So while the industry is making gains in catching up with the old world it is slower at adopting techniques that keep it ahead of the new.
“I feel very positive about the step change in health and safety and environmental needs but disappointed in technology and the update of BIM. I’m hoping that the pandemic will be a catalyst towards the implementation of modern methods of construction and another period of huge change.
“The Welsh Government has just invested in MMC to open up construction as a career to people who otherwise might not have engaged – removing the barrier of on-site for many women.
“We need to see a change and accelerate change across all areas. That’s the approach we’re taking at Colliers. Our approach is to support everybody so people can bring their whole selves to work.”