Q&A With Tim Dismond, CBRE’s First Chief Diversity Officer
Amid the global momentum gained in the past two months by the Black Lives Matter movement, American companies of all sizes have been held responsible by their customers to make their stances known. In the notoriously homogenous commercial real estate industry, a number of CEOs stepped forward with public-facing commitments to improve diversity and inclusion at their companies. Whether they can deliver on those commitments is yet to be seen.
At CBRE, diversity and inclusion was already an active focus, and the company was poised to make a big change. In late June, the firm announced the promotion of Tim Dismond, formerly a division president, to its executive committee as its first-ever chief diversity officer, to help take the company’s D&I to the next level. The initiatives, objectives and policies he oversees will unfold on a global scale.
This week, as Dismond wrapped his first month as CDO, he sat down (virtually) with Bisnow to talk about what changes he wants to see, and where to begin.
Bisnow: This is a new role at CBRE. How would you describe its core purpose?
Tim Dismond: I'm focused on D&I initiatives aimed at furthering CBRE’s position as an employer of choice and also being a destination organization for top talent. It's absolutely critical to our success. And I feel that with the creation of this role, our company is acknowledging that.
Bisnow: And, in terms of a job description, what does that look like day to day?
Dismond: So, my job description is this: I am responsible for partnering with our senior leadership team, employees at all levels, as well as community leaders, on the development and oversight of CBRE’s diversity and inclusion strategy, in order to enhance both people and our business outcomes. It's truly focused on the strategy.
I provide recommendations, I support the implementation, but at the end of the day, the execution happens within the various business groups and people within the organization. I make recommendations around what those outcome-based goals are, and will first get adoption from our executive committee — that's the group of 12 that are reporting to Bob Sulentic — and then overseeing the tracking and measuring, just the overall progress of our ability to meet those goals.
Bisnow: Are you the one setting those goals and holding CBRE accountable? If so, how are you setting them? What are you looking at as your baseline?
Dismond: In terms of benchmarking or goal-setting, that's a collaborative process, but there's lots of information and data to pull from. [In cases where] it requires an understanding of data, we're still working to get our hands around that globally. You do your work on understanding where you are, and then, I think, it needs to be aspirational: where we see ourselves right now and over the next three- to five-year horizon. That's part of my upcoming deliverables, and we’re just working through that process.
Bisnow: How about hiring? In what way are you involved in the hiring process?
Dismond: We have a few initiatives and one of them is around diverse panels. So for leadership positions, those positions are determined by a group of individuals. I have actively asked and will continue to volunteer to be on those panels for certain positions. And in fact, I've had two today already. So yes, I will participate in some hiring decisions, but I wouldn't say that‘s core to my role. But it is important in terms of how the process is done in which we hire candidates.
Bisnow: How does the visibility and rank of this role set it apart from other D&I leadership roles?
Dismond: I report to the CEO as well as sit on the executive committee and in many companies, the head of D&I — whether it's a VP and chief or some other title — it's often a few layers deep in the organization. Reporting directly to the CEO and being on the executive committee gives me the position, the level of access, visibility, influence that it needs to impact the organization's D&I efforts. It's not just enough to be invited to the meeting once, to just be present. I am there, and just like other core metrics at our business that divisions and segment leaders report on, D&I is one of them. So to me, it's ongoing, it's sustainable, and it gives me confidence that others are listening. And it's something that, again, is important to our CEO.
Bisnow: The scope of this role is huge. So, where do you plan to start?
Dismond: We're going to continue to take a holistic approach that focuses our resources across three key areas that impact our D&I efforts. The first is around culture. That's looking at our work environment. The second is talent. That's our people. And then the third is marketplace: customers, suppliers, partners, communities. Underneath those three key areas, there are several initiatives.
Under culture, training is a critical component. A lot of it is focused on addressing unconscious bias, and it goes beyond just the regular standard D&I training. I spent some time with our learning and development team as well as the D&I team. And there were over 60 courses available on our learning platform around diversity and inclusion. So we were looking at what’s missing, what can be improved, and we've come up with some additional opportunities.
Bisnow: Anything specific that you can share along those lines?
Dismond: Something we're looking at that is not in place today is, when a position opens up, there would be some aids as well as e-learning — maybe 20 minutes — around unconscious bias. [These would ask questions like:] ‘When people are opening up a position requisition, are we sure that those are the requirements for that position, that the desired qualifications are truly requirements?’ It's just about being more conscious around what is needed to fill a job, making sure the hiring manager is coming with the right perspective and training to make the best decision around the selection of candidates.
Bisnow: You talked about this pretty extensive-sounding database of D&I courses and about looking at what’s missing. What gaps do you see that you want to address in CBRE’s current D&I training?
Dismond: Well, I wouldn’t call it a gap; I would call it an opportunity. [What we’re envisioning] is a little more focused, and then we’re trying to make it time-bound as well, and relevant. Beyond one-and-done training, there's just so much more we can do. As opposed to saying, ‘Everybody has to take this training, and then you're done,’ let's look at the life cycle. Let's make sure it's available, and at the optimal time, and in a way that will deliver the greatest impact. Then, we'll provide some report reinforcements over a period of time, just looking at it more holistically and how you tie everything together.
Bisnow: There have been a number of recent articles including one in The Wall Street Journal about how D&I officer positions are positions in high demand, but with high turnover. What are your thoughts on that? How can you make sure this role has staying power?
Dismond: I'll acknowledge that, right, there are some companies that may go for a quick fix, or what I'll call a surface-level solution that meets the need to check a box. But that doesn't necessarily address the root causes right up to the challenge — the problem. When that happens, they usually fail.
So, I think there needs to be a focus on addressing the root cause. And that means you have to look into it strategically, structurally, and come up with how you can make substantial measurable change. The creation of the CDO role at CBRE was done with that realization in mind, and not a short-term solution.
Even before that article came out, I had that conversation directly with Bob. He was fully committed to immersing D&I into the culture and fabric of CBRE, and an indication of that is that the position reports directly to him, and I'm on the executive committee.
I do have a team, and I'm working on building my organization, which includes perhaps some additional direct reports, but certainly, strengthening the matrix and how I interact with the people, organization and business segment leaders globally. So, I feel very good about where this position stands, and its impact — its potential impact — across all of CBRE.
Contact Alexandra Marvar at firstname.lastname@example.org.