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‘This Isn’t Just About Filling A Quota’: How CRE Execs Are Thinking About Diversity And Inclusion


Commercial real estate, like many other industries, has a diversity problem. The outcry to address that problem has intensified this year, in the wake of George Floyd’s death and public protests that have highlighted the systemic barriers affecting minorities and people of color.

In CRE, there is genuinely a strong business case for introducing diversity and inclusion initiatives within an organization, according to McCarthy Building Cos. Diversity and Community Outreach Director Kamecia Mason.

Mason noted that studies have shown clear improvements in the financial performance of a company when diversity of race and gender are present.

“When you think about diversity and inclusion, [return on investment is] absolutely there and it's absolutely measurable,” Mason said during a Bisnow webinar July 16.

Though diversity is a goal that many people understand and accept, inclusion is a newer concept that some companies are still learning. Inclusion initiatives involve programs or avenues that empower people in the workplace, and allow them to be authentic in their views and self-expression.

“I've heard a lot of people say that diversity is being invited to the party, inclusion is being asked to dance,” Mason said.

“If you don't have those two tied together, you can have a mix of people but it doesn't mean they're engaged with the company, or that you have strong employee engagement across the board.”

One of the main ways to examine the effectiveness of diversity and inclusion programs is to analyze employee retention before and after the introduction of those programs. That way, an organization can compare the cost of recruiting and hiring new candidates versus money that has been saved in employee retention.

Although the coronavirus pandemic has disrupted typical hiring and working practices, CRE companies should avoid shifting their focus from diversity and inclusion programs and initiatives, Mason added.

“You've got to want to be an inclusive organization, and you've got to put the practices behind it, so that when things pop up — yes, the times are challenging, but not the way that you approach recruiting and retaining your talent,” Mason said.

Clockwise, from top left: LAUNCH founder Bijal Patel, Colliers International Vice President, People Services Kerris Hougardy, Transwestern Executive Vice President of Human Resources Colleen Dolan, E.E. Reed Vice President Patti Miller, McCarthy Building Cos Diversity and Community Outreach Director Kamecia Mason and RedSwan CEO Ed Nwokedi during a Bisnow webinar on July 16.

Transwestern Executive Vice President of Human Resources Colleen Dolan said there are plenty of competent and qualified diverse candidates to choose from, but hiring practices must include companies being proactive in seeking them out.

“I think what the real issue is, is that we have to be much more intentional about hiring a diverse work group, and stop hiring in our own likeness,” Dolan said. “I don't think it should be that difficult, and I don't think we should look at filling quotas anymore, because this isn't about just filling a quota.”

Colliers International Vice President, People Services – North America Kerris Hougardy said that in the face of claims that a candidate pool just isn’t diverse enough, companies must examine all internal processes around hiring.

“What obstacles or barriers are in the way of your process and your job descriptions and your hiring processes and the interview questions — what is it, systemically, that is stopping you from having a great, diverse slate of candidates to choose from?” Hougardy said.

“Until you figure that piece out, then the rest of it doesn't matter.”

RedSwan CEO Ed Nwokedi said that in particular, young Black males in commercial real estate will generate attention because they stand out in an industry that has traditionally been very white. That can be an advantage, depending on how that visibility is used.

“When you come into an environment where you might be the only one, you might be nervous, but actually, you should be confident, because that's an opportunity,” Nwokedi said.

Nwokedi said there is power in being different, but it is also important for young people of color to recognize that offering value to a company includes being vocal.

“In CRE, if you're young and Black, you'll get zero attention unless you speak up and show your worth,” Nwokedi said.