LGBTQI+ Leader Series: Four change-makers transforming the face of property

Urban sits down with four change-makers transforming the face of the property industry to discuss the importance of queer visibility

LGBTQI+ Leader Series: Four change-makers transforming the face of property
Four change-makers transforming the face of property

Queer visibility in the workplace remains just as necessary as it was ten years ago to normalise LGBTQI+ leaders as corporate role models that young people can look up to. 

Only 21 per cent of LGBTQI+ leaders are ‘out’ to the whole of their organisation, according to global data from Accenture Research.

But visible ‘out and proud’ leaders provide a path for others to follow, with over 70 per cent of queer professionals claiming that these role models help them to thrive. 

Broader conversations about equality and representation have been a catalyst for more inclusive practices in the workplace. However, the property industry is indeed lagging behind. 

“Unless LGBTQI+ people see people like them having successful careers in property and construction they’ll look elsewhere,” said Lendlease special projects executive Aaron Spicer.

Urban sits down with four change-makers transforming the face of the property industry to discuss the importance of queer visibility, the targets currently in place and what’s next for the property industry.

Who are they?


LGBTQI+ Leader Series: Four change-makers transforming the face of property
Michael Vavakis

Michael Vavakis, Chief Operating Officer – Europe, Lendlease: Michael has worked in Human Resources roles for over 25 years at Hewlett-Packard and Lendlease. Formerly the Lendlease Australia CPO, Michael played pivotal roles in implementing initiatives to build a true culture of inclusiveness, where diverse employees are not only represented but truly engaged and integrated into their workplace. These include the Property Male Champions of Change collaboration.



LGBTQI+ Leader Series: Four change-makers transforming the face of property
Meg Patten

Meg Patten, Marketing Manager, Riverlee | Co-Founder, Queers in Property: Current Chairperson and Co-Founder of Queers in Property, an independent network connecting LGBTIQ+ people in the property industry, Meg has sought to foster safe spaces and empower the community. They also sit on the Property Council of Australia’s diversity and inclusion committee. 



LGBTQI+ Leader Series: Four change-makers transforming the face of property
Aaron Spicer

Aaron Spicer, Special Projects Executive, Lendlease: Aaron has been very involved in progressing LGBTQ+ inclusion at Lendlease and more broadly in the property sector over the last few years. Aaron is the present Chair of the Lendlease Pride Network, where he has driven numerous strategies that helped the company to be recognised in the Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI) Awards. Lendlease was named a Platinum Employer at the 2020 Australian LGBTQ Inclusion Awards.



LGBTQI+ Leader Series: Four change-makers transforming the face of property
Marcus Skeggs

Marcus Skeggs, Account Manager, DisplaySweet | Board Member, Queers in Property: Marcus is a committee member on the Diversity and Inclusion Committee for the Urban Development Institute of Australia (UDIA) NSW, and is the Chair of their subcommittee for diversity, inclusion, and leadership. Marcus also sits on the Queers in Property board, alongside Meg.



Why visibility makes all the difference

Young queer people want to know they can be themselves at work and that being LGBTQI+ will not hold back their careers.

According to a 2020 report by Indeed, 61 per cent of LGBTQI+ Australian workers say they either some or all of the time feel the need to hide their sexual orientation at work.

For over half of all LGBTQI+ employees to hide this part of their identity points to an underlying fear of stigmatisation – that perhaps there is a price to pay for being openly queer. Many workers hold a persistent feeling of being unwelcome, while others remain 'closeted' due to legitimate career risks, including fewer job opportunities and fears of discrimination.

This is why visibility plays such an important role in breaking down these fears and stigmas, allowing employees to feel more comfortable to bring their whole self to their workplace. 

LGBTQI+ Leader Series: Four change-makers transforming the face of property

As for Riverlee’s marketing manager Meg Patten, seeing others gave them the courage to be an “out and proud, non-binary lesbian in the workplace.”

“Visibility has the power to inspire and cultivate change within the property industry which is known to be male-dominated and heteronormative”, they said. 

“There is nothing more empowering than seeing another LGBTQI+ person letting their individuality shine.”

DisplaySweet’s Marcus Skeggs echoed this sentiment, “Visibility equals empowerment,” he said. 

Feeling hopeful that the industry has moved beyond “having a conversation”, Skeggs has started to see real change and action, including support for Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras from development groups by gong rainbow for the festival, and diversity and inclusion training for workplaces. 

“I would like to see this happen more often and workplaces start to celebrate significant days for the LGBTQIA+ community, like Wear it Purple Day for example where we celebrate our rainbow youth.” 

“It’s important we keep the momentum going”, he concluded. 

With industry initiatives like Pride in Diversity, InterBuild and Queers in Property, it is likely we will continue seeing this push for action.

Executives who embrace these initiatives can become more successful leaders and boost the empathy, efficiency, and productivity of their organisations.

The blue-collar identity gap

While “good progress” is being made in corporate office roles, more work needs to be done on site-based roles, Spicer said.

Within the construction industry, homophobia was more present than on average, reported PwC’s GLEE team.

75 per cent of respondents indicated they had observed homophobia, compared to 56 per cent in other sectors. 

“The initial focus has been on corporate [and] white-collar environments and much more needs to be done here, but we also need to consider regional, site and blue-collar workforces.” 

“Given the subcontract nature of those environments we can only create truly inclusive workplaces if the industry works together to achieve a base level of expectations and behaviours”, he added.

However, Patten, despite co-founding Queers in Property, still feels like they are always learning about how to tackle this issue. It’s all a learning curve. 

“People don’t generally understand what they can’t see which reinforces how important visibility is”, they noted. 

Executives and diversity and inclusion teams can follow Patten’s lead in adapting initiatives to be “as inclusive as possible.”

The young change-maker immerses themselves in the community and listens to stories to help drive the change the industry needs.

Chief operating officer at Lendlease, Michael Vavakis adds: “Conversation, role models, product design, calling out positive and negative behaviours […] is really what creates an inclusive environment and each of these things needs to be relentlessly pursued.”

Lendlease is similarly working to increase its focus on inclusion, partnering with UNSW to research the barriers to LGBTQI+ inclusion on construction sites. 

“We look forward to sharing the results of that research and recommendations for the industry to address later in the year”, Spicer said. 

Building inclusivity into communities 

According to Vavakis, it is not only employees that developers and industry associations should be helping, but homeowners too. 

“Outside of all the activities we are doing to create inclusive workplaces, I believe that this point about designing and creating and building with inclusivity in mind is a unique proposition that has only begun to be explored in the property industry.”

“[This] is something unique that the property industry can contribute. That is how do we design, create and build places that reflect the importance of inclusiveness and the sometimes uniqueness of the LGBTQI+ community”, he said. 

Patten echoed: “We have so much influence on the built environment, we need to understand how we can create LGBTQI+ friendly spaces for people as well.”

Although it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing queer design hitting residential projects in the mainstream anytime soon, dialogue about inclusiveness and community-making should continue across the property industry. 

"Diversity is more than a box ticking exercise, it's about creating meaningful change to ensure the homes that we're building meet the needs of the communities we serve", said CEO Mike Bird.

For Spicer, this might include discussions on the “bigger picture,” such as “are the placemaking needs of our community different and how are they likely to evolve.”

“Inclusiveness does need more of a conversation across the property industry and [I] think it is starting to happen.”

Max Kwok

Max Kwok

Max Kwok is a staff contributor at Based in Sydney, Max has previously worked at Property Observer where he specialised in content creation and editorial research.

Queer leaders LGBTQI+ Property Industry Diversity and Inclusion Riverlee Lendlease Queers in Property InterBuild

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Thanks for including InterBuild in the profile Max. If people want to learn more about what InterBuild is doing or get involved they can find out more at
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