With many different industries being affected by accusations of discrimination and harassment, including the real estate sector, it was refreshing to see so many women at this year’s Mipim. Talking to some long-time attendees of the world’s annual property fest, women property professionals have moved from being a rare sight a decade ago, to about 20-25 per cent of visitors this year. There were several Women in Property events (which were also attended by men) from a breakfast to a cocktail party. And women were also well-represented on panels, with all the sessions I listened to having at least one woman, and usually more (including Adora Svitak, a female keynote, to kick off the event).
Gender diversity was also the key theme of several panel debates. In a session on the final day, Amanda Clack, the immediate past president of RICS, talked about how the huge degree of flexibility about how and where people work means organisations can recruit greater diversity into the workplace, with all the benefits that brings. But she warned that the new trend of keeping people in the office by having gyms, pool tables and free food and booze is not great for working parents and those with other caring responsibilities. “Some of those workplaces may become alienating as a result.”
So it was frustrating to come back to an article in The Guardian, about Mipim epitomising the “sleazy property industry”. The article claimed that all of the 25,000 attendees had been emailed and warned to “respect all individuals” and reminded that “under no circumstances does Mipim register prostitutes”. I certainly never received such an email. While I cannot testify to what went on behind closed doors, the atmosphere at the opening reception and throughout what is undeniably a very social week-long event was always cordial and appropriate to a business event.
The only shame is that while there was standing room only in some of the more popular sessions, many of the attendees never saw the inside of the seminar theatres and instead spent their time enjoying the impressive hospitality for which Mipim is famous. There was a huge range of conference sessions from keynote speakers to panel debates with some impressively high-profile speakers (read our report in i-FM.net). While there was an obvious and understandable focus on property investment, including some fascinating sessions looking at how UK cities are differentiating themselves, there was a strong occupier bent with several debates discussing how investors are changing to become more anthropocentric and focus on the needs of occupiers and employee/ visitor experience. That was in response to market changes including the popularity of co-working players and AirBnB.
All of which makes it a shame that some of the press chose to focus on the negative side of the property sector, rather than on how it’s trying to change.