9mins and 29seconds; an event that shook the human race.
This piece starts with an ominous request for 43 seconds of silence; being the number of seconds [extra over that originally established] of the time passed during the murder of George Perry Floyd Jr, his whole being suppressed with the life, literally, being squeezed out of him.
“I want to thank you all for your patience and for observing the additional 43 second count. What the world has witnessed since that dark day and throughout the trial and outright conviction of Derek Chauvin is further evidence of the investment and contribution required of humanity in general and the built environment profession specifically. Today [25.05.21], one year on, the world recognises that this unique occasion to acknowledge and demonstrate the monumental ‘shift in awareness’ concludes for many simply by the many unanswered questions and additional 43seconds which has since been added to the world renowned 8minutes and 46 seconds. An event that I personally reflected on with my pen, was published by the RICS on the 12th June 2020.” - Abisogun OBE
But, who would have thought that ‘the world would change’ in such a profound and material way, and has it, really? What could or should the measure(s) of progress and/or success actually look like, today – now one year on? The multi-faceted and layered conviction of the aggressor Derek Chauvin, guilty of all charges, publicly announced on 20 April 2021 simply confirmed what many knew all along - that no one is above the law and no one below it. But is that acknowledgement enough? In a world of two extremes that bounce literally between ‘privilege’ and ‘gaping inequality’ – surely it is time for the world to recognise that equality of opportunity benefits everyone. That doing the right all of the time, is not to be conflated with choosing to do the wrong thing some of the time. The only thing that matters, is the rule of law and no-one has the authority to dictate how inconsistently the law should be applied.
But without digressing, what does the learning from this single act mean for society at large and specifically the surveying profession....?? That the very essence of our being has been publicly challenged by our own membership, would suggest that, like others, the RICS also has some soul-searching to do. That the Senior Executive Team along with Governing Council has chosen to embrace the challenge is a good thing and one that demonstrates leadership into unchartered waters.
As the ‘global’ gold standard, I am convinced that as Chartered Surveyors, our purpose, relevance and trust is not only valued, it’s so much more than that. Our values have given rise to a now international presence and prestige and so has engendered and facilitated a unique relationship with each and every member of this wonderful professional body. To this end, and in seeking to build upon the solid foundations cast in 1868, there must remain a respect ‘for difference and other cultural beliefs’, across our global footprint.
Called ‘Defining Our Future’ the recent RICS Strategic Review has unearthed many areas that have warranted a complete rethink of what it means not only to be a Chartered Surveyor, but how and what the public sees our role as, both as technically adept custodians and representative ambassadors of a sustainable built environment. The growing scarcity of available resources, will continue to challenge any and everything that we do and must be reflected in all of our personal and professional endeavours. It remains our critical role to continue to educate not only our clients, but ourselves too, particularly as we continue to seek and roll out scaleable innovations, that continue to delicately serve the needs of an increasingly connected, global society.
Whilst the informed institutional, public and private sector client is prepared to willingly engage with the surveying profession, some with well-placed reservations as to our collective capability to rise to the challenge of their ‘data-driven, digitally enabled’ project brief - there are many other clients (and individuals) across the world, who are still unsure of the intrinsic value that we can truly unlock through our professional appointments. That said, the onus is upon us, as a professional body to dispel and de-mystify the multi-faceted perception(s) held by the public as to the value that we bring. Irrespective of one’s seniority, hierarchical position, influence, political persuasion and/or socioeconomic background, in the profession itself, a stronger and unrelenting appreciation of those ‘challenging conversations’ many yet to be had; must remain welcome by all. And to succeed here, unsurprisingly, many will need to upskill current levels of understanding around the key issue(s); just why were some of your colleagues so upset, disappointed and traumatised by the death of George Floyd?
Without fear or favour, we must all tangibly effect a pivotal outward facing role, and at its core, the RICS must provide some context citing the ‘desired’ needs of its global membership. Admittedly, I have also had to think long and hard about my own role, both as a thought-leader and as a professional at a cross-roads with technology. Both requiring ‘cultural transition’, aside from an evolving #PQS2030 vision which will tactfully address the evolving challenge of ‘digital-skills’ for the Cost Manager, the change that I really want to see, based upon my lived experience and continued conversations, was most recently discussed with the Bridge Group and the JLL Foundation; just last week [18.05.21]. More to follow as we begin to support their joint and commendable effort, but it doesn’t stop there. The collective roles of Governing Council, chaired by Chris Brooke, the Presidential Team led by Kath Fontana and the Senior Executive Team led by Sean Tompkins all co-exist to facilitate and deliver a seamless people-led, digital-first approach that the profession is still embarking upon. And in the current climate of [some would say] increasing levels of ‘corporate white-wash’, I hope that the ‘cultural competency’ of any future effort is as sustainable, progressive and representative as it possibly can be; I’m still the optimist.
Selfishly, like several others that I am aware of, I am also of the firm belief that given the criticality of sentiment and misappropriation, I have never been better equipped to support the work of RICS and those of the wider built environment professions. However, along with this realisation comes, very closely behind, a firm desire to inspire and inform current and potential members in those areas of the world that have (in a post_COVID / post_GeorgeFloyd environ), become closer to and more inquisitive of us as Chartered Surveyors. The ‘professional arena’ [or playing field] is not as level as it could be and we owe it particularly to the ‘emerging areas of the global profession’ specifically the young aspiring surveyors, to reach out to them and compliment their individual needs too. No mean feat, but by using a digital-first approach, not impossible either.
Fuelled by a conversation that for me began with the RICS in 2005/06 and wasn’t really explored until Matthew Howells interjected in June 2014 (during my stint as an APC Assessor at Heathrow Airport); I am convinced and uniquely positioned to observe and support RICS in what could be its most challenging hour. But like the current reflections that today’s anniversary has brought to bear; are we listening to what is being said by each and every member? Again, irrespective of one’s seniority, hierarchical position, influence, political persuasion and/or socioeconomic background, does RICS truly recognise the size of the opportunity in ‘challenging not only themselves’ but in embracing the perspective and views of every member? The role of Employer’s must also be challenged and appropriately tethered to achieve positive impact by remaining inclusive and equitably diverse in all facets of their operation(s). True leadership will not have to be reminded twice, and in fact will go out of their way to engage in a meaningful and measurable way, with a solutions focussed narrative. In a bid to strike the balance between home and office, such an approach will go some way to addressing the pent-up demand for the continued conversation in the safe space called the office, not just a safe space within the office……..
As a well-documented scholar of rejection and recipient of trial and tribulation - choosing to channel my acquired skill set in the positive advancement of my profession, along with in excess of 150 person-specific 'mentee' successes during my own career, I offer the above believing in the future of the surveying profession because if we choose to focus on the clear opportunity to be and do better, we will undoubtedly build back better. The consequence of failure is not even worth mentioning.
An experienced professional Quantity Surveyor, I am also a fan of ‘positive disruption’, choosing not only to challenge myself but my professional peers too around what the future could be AND more importantly, our role within it. In a digitally enabled, data driven world, that historically, has forever dictated that the Chartered Surveyor remains at the receiving end of innovation - this is the time for us as Chartered Surveyors to disrupt ourselves and boldly attempt to redefine not only our purpose, relevance and trust; but to better articulate and lead with ‘our why’. We undertake the latter in an environment that now clearly wants to see more equity offered to all willing participants, whilst simultaneously, refusing to accept the status quo as it has been designed to deliver. Clients are also seeking evidence ‘of positive change’ and are beginning to attempt to define it too; it's still very early days, but the ‘winds of change’ have arrived with a vengeance, never before seen in my almost 30year career.
So what is it about our why? In fact some may ask - what on earth can I possibly be taking about? Well, in all honesty ‘my why’ has constantly and consistently defined me. My own, well documented career trauma - a constant for many at the moment, across the globe [e.g. with furlough coming to an end in the UK,] is likely to be exacerbated towards the end of the year and well into 2022. Such an inevitable occurrence [in the absence of any sustained miracle] will dictate that ‘empathy’ as a professional skill will be required like never before. But why has empathy become so important to the profession in 2021?
Well consider this; many moons ago I coined a phrase that said “if IQ is greater that EQ, then you’ve no clue”. I was back then and remain so today, absolutely clear that our biggest challenge at the moment is two-fold, erring on the side of our people skills. We are a global professional body who’s technical standards ‘set the standard’ across the globe. Technically, the RICS have defined how success is described, achieved and measured, at least at the project level. As observing practitioners, RICS actively enforce the rules of conduct on its members, some would say with no regard for the feelings of the individual; not necessarily a bad thing, but feelings and sentiment must now also be considered too. As a profession, we need to do so much more to better empathise with ourselves and the RICS with membership, domestically in the UK and globally too. In doing so, RICS will better understand where our well-respected value proposition has fallen short of any domestic or third party expectation(s).
Expectation management has often been a cornerstone of my career to date, “winning hearts and minds across the industry”, whether that be enacting the ‘public interest test’ in the U.K., or a challenging senior level conversation with central government at the seat of our democracy in the U.K [ie House of Commons]. Similarly, I have delivered to audiences across the US and on the African Continent, the latter presenting an enormous opportunity to share RICS standards, values and ethics. What I have been humbled and honoured to observe enroute that journey is that people generally want the same things in life; we all default to some rather basic needs [including the pursuit of happiness] and still desire to be regarded as important, with respect due. The recent outcome of the George Floyd Jr trial has simply confirmed that fundamentally we all wanted justice for George, not only because he was a human being, but more importantly, a human being who happened to be killed because of the colour of his skin.
Credit: Alamy / PA
My own innate ability to convert despair into hope; traverse illusions of grandeur into simple impactful vision statements, focus unbridled aspiration into seemingly firm action plans and of course, lift the voice of the voiceless into an informed audible perspective - has guided me to share this perspective with you. Like many, I do not take the killing of George Floyd lightly, and just as I had hoped to make an indelible mark on my profession by setting up DiverseCity Surveyors in 2005; I am both humbled and quietly confident by what I have seen since then amidst the positive contributions that I have managed to garner from the RICS, particularly during Black History Month in 2017. The current plethora of ‘structurally systemic and cultural challenges’ that have been placed squarely at the feet of every Chartered Surveyor on the planet, must now be embraced, ideally without delay. Effective on the 15.08.20, RICS willingly embarked upon a new chapter, with it identifying a new reality and relationship with race and ethnicity. Whilst there is nowhere left to hide, we must be bold as we progress and seek to address head-on and first-hand, the prevailing issues and continued daily micro-aggressions that still infuse the wider and much bigger conversations around intersectionality. It’s time to be open and honest, time to be bold, time to be held accountable and of course time to still be patient and quiet as we listen to what is being said and challenge what is still taboo.
That I opened this piece suggesting a 43 second pause; was simply an attempt to demonstrate that some things just need to run their own course and insight can be a wonderful thing. The trial of Derek Chauvin has finally run its course and even as things were progressing, many of us still second guessed whether justice would prevail; but why? And, has justice really been served? If so, what is the true measure of success here? So many questions to answer, so we need to explore the conversation and truly identify with the challenges in the world of work, specifically within and across the office and/or site based environments. So today [25.05.21] every aspiring / Chartered Surveyor has a choice - either to be patient and empathetic or to take their presence elsewhere. It is solely because of my lived experience, that I choose [through DiverseCity Surveyors] to continue to support the RICS via our work with members from Governing Council, the Presidential and Senior Executive Teams. We do so to ensure that not only do we actively engage with fee paying and engaging members of this great institution but that we educate, inspire, inform and demonstrate what a 22nd Century existence, infused by technology and cultural competence, could and should actually look like.
The African American community across the USA – despite the documented effort of President Joe Biden – remain obliged to be a little more patient as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act continues to wade its way through the US legislature; missing a critical date [today] for timely enactment. However, one thing that we can all agree on is that we can and should remain firm in the knowledge that the world will continue to mourn this tragic event; in the honourable name of George Floyd Jr [RIEP]; gone but never forgotten.
The motto of RICS is ‘there is measure in all things’ and that measure is our collective duty, both to Clients, the general public and ourselves. Moreover, the profound lesson for us all, is to remain patient. You see, the ultimate requirement and challenge for us all, is not only our ability to wait patiently, but our attitudes and behaviours [towards each other] exhibited as we continue to be patient. It’s time to disrupt, unlearn and reskill; long may this journey [and the challenge] continue.