Priya Shah, Built Environment Communications Group

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In support of Black History Month 2018, this weeks inspiring individual is Priya Shah, Founder of BAME in Property. This is a group for BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnicities) and non-BAME professionals who are passionate about increasing ethnic diversity in the property and planning sectors. Their aim is to support talented people of all backgrounds, encourage coming generations to venture into fulfilling careers, and inspire businesses to create a wave of positive change.


Thanks for speaking with us today Priya, can you begin by telling us a bit about your background and how you first entered the property industry?

I kind of just fell in to the Planning Communications and Public Affairs industry. After graduating in Politics and International Studies, I was keen to enter a career that aligned most with my degree - politics. So I applied for a graduate scheme in the planning communications sector, which focused on local politics and planning communication strategies for large housing developers, mainly in London. Through this I discovered an interest in the property and planning sectors, engaging with different London boroughs and seeing the diversity in demographics across the boroughs I was working in too.

After a short stint in Energy public affairs, I returned to Property and Planning communications and currently work in a range of sectors across the built environment more broadly. My interests still largely remain in housing but through working in other sectors, I’ve seen how interlinked the built environment is and how each sector complements one another.

We have so much admiration for you in setting up BAME in Property - please can you explain how this initiative came about and why it is important to you?

Thank you! Having worked in the property and planning industry for 3 and a half years, I noticed that the people I was working with, interacting with in terms of clients and seeing at networking events, were largely of one kind - dare I say it, white, middle class and male. Although there were women (still not 50%!), there was very little ethnic diversity in the workplace and amongst my clients. This was something that was important to me having grown up in Harrow, one of the most diverse boroughs in London and being surrounded by lots of different ethnicities. My upbringing has naturally formed the person I am today and it goes without saying, that I am openly Indian and cultural when around my friends and family, but haven’t always felt comfortable being this way in the workplace. With 14% of people in the UK identifying as BAME or part BAME, it is disappointing that the industry only has 1.2% of people from an ethnic minority background.

Based on the above reason, it dawned upon me that many young people from BAME backgrounds were looking at an industry completely unrepresentative of themselves and this can be the push and pull factor on whether they enter, remain and progress in their careers. I was asking myself the question, “why do BAME people enter the industry but rarely make it beyond middle management?” And this was especially because BAME people are ambitious, but clearly something was going wrong here. I was really keen to find out these reasons and have held sessions talking to people in the industry about this - it’s really important to understand the issue before trying to resolve it.

Lastly, after watching the horrific events unfold with the Grenfell Fire last year, I noticed a few things. The majority of people living in Grenfell Tower were of an ethnic minority background and aside from their grievances being ignored before the fire itself, the response after the fire was also not ethnically mindful. During this period it was Ramadan and many tenants living in Grenfell were observing Ramadan and being able to continue this would have and should have been a priority during such a difficult time. However, it felt like the short-term response largely focused on the blame game and trying to attribute responsibility, when realistically this was never going to be achieved in the week after the fire. Even now, throughout the inquiry, the issue of ethnic diversity (or lack off) has been raised several times and it’s shocking that an entire block of largely ethnic minorities lacks that diverse representation at the top.

Thus in short, BAME in Property is important to me because it is important that the industry is representative of the people we are trying to serve. You need the best inputs to achieve the best outputs.

Congratulations on your recent event success "BAME & Knight Frank present A Black History Month special, housing from the Windrush generation and beyond" - for those of our members who were unable to make it, can you please tell us what was presented and the key themes arising from the discussion?

Black History Month is extremely broad, so for this event, BAME in Property focused on the Windrush generation and housing issues they’ve faced. We chose Windrush largely because it is very topical and has dominated much of the media this year. To make it relevant to our sector, we wanted to explore the housing issues faced by the Windrush generation and how they have resulted in present-day diversity and inclusions struggles and/or opportunities.

We had three speakers, Dr Patrick Vernon OBE, who spoke about the Windrush generation, spoken word artist George the Poet, who gave some commentary on the housing issues faced by ethnic minority communities today and Cllr Sarah Wardle from Built Environment Communications Group (BECG), who shared best practice for the industry and how developers can engage with those ‘hard to reach’ communities better. The speakers complemented each other brilliantly and provided such interesting stories and insights into an important area of housing. I feel so proud to have held an event like this and encourage people to continue learning about issues faced by the Windrush generation and how we can avoid exclusion in housing today.

What do you wish someone had told you at the start of your career?

I hear this quote a lot and this has resonated with me many times: “A BAME person has to work ten times as hard to get anywhere or to be recognised, so when you get a promotion or are actually recognised, it is worthy on merit and not purely a token offering.”

What characteristic do you feel is imperative to have as a young woman working in the property sector?

Ruthlessness - it’s not easy being a woman and an ethnic minority in the property industry, so it’s important for me to shout down any stereotypes, whilst lap up the opportunities that come my way.

Thank you for your time Priya, it has been inspiring to hear your story and what you do to support BAME in the property industry.

Harri John