A growing body of research reveals that stronger business outcomes directly correlate with diverse teams and inclusive workplaces. However, commercial real estate, an industry serving many diverse populations, has a workforce that remains predominately male and white. According to CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) Network, the leading producer of research on gender and diversity in commercial real estate, very little progress has been made in the last five years. I decided to ask three CEOs in the commercial real estate industry about their pledge to advance women and encourage greater diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the space and why it’s important.
The CEOs are:
⮚ Wendy Mann, CEO of CREW Network – The premier business network dedicated to transforming the commercial real estate industry by advancing women globally.
⮚ Mark Rose, CEO of Avison Young – A global commercial real estate advisor that creates real economic, social and environmental value.
⮚ Larry P. Heard, CEO of Transwestern – A commercial real estate company that provides commercial real estate services, development, and investment management.
⮚ Wendy Mann, Mark Rose, Larry P. Heard
Reiss: What are you doing specifically as a leader in the industry to encourage more diversity in commercial real estate?
Wendy Mann: CREW Network has launched the CRE Pledge for Action, an industry-first, CEO-driven initiative that is designed to advance women and elevate actions that encourage greater DEI in the commercial real estate industry. Fifteen CEOs from leading commercial real estate companies have already made a commitment. By signing on, these progressive business leaders are pledging to take action and hold themselves and their employees responsible for implementing initiatives that advance women and DEI.
Mark Rose: The best way to encourage meaningful change in the industry is to be honest, to be accountable and to take action. The reality is that CRE is in need of people who represent a diversity of perspectives and thinking for the future and although efforts are being made, there is still such a long way to go.
Setting quotas is not the approach we are taking at Avison Young, instead our focus is on education, development, culture and standards for long-term mindset and behavior change. The changes we make today must continue to have an impact tomorrow and that’s why we are committed to making sustainable change both within our organization and throughout the industry. Recent leadership hires and appointments to our Board of Directors and Executive Committee have given us an opportunity to recruit experienced, talented, dynamic individuals from diverse backgrounds, and it’s exciting to see Avison Young powered by people who are driven by a common purpose to create real economic social and environmental value.
Larry Heard: The power of diversity and inclusion is not new for Transwestern. One of the firm’s Guiding Principles – established more than 40 years ago – is Mutual Respect. We strive for everyone’s voice to be heard and encourage the sharing of ideas no matter your gender, age, race, or other characteristics. We expect our leaders to mentor and invest time in others, seeking their input and supporting their professional development, as this is central to our commitment to an empowering culture.
Transwestern’s population is currently 40% female, and we are working to achieve a balance that matches the country’s demographics across all service lines and job levels. In fact, it is one of the most important objectives of our national Young Professionals program – ensuring that a diverse group of individuals with an interest in commercial real estate understands the variety of career paths available to them and are fully equipped with the skills to be future leaders in our organization.
Reiss: How are you addressing this fundamental issue in the workplace?
Mann: Through our pledge, we are asking pledge signatories to take action, and in turn, improve performance, drive growth, and enhance employee engagement. The pledge supports the advancement of women and other individuals in underrepresented groups including but not limited to race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, religion, and age.
According to the 2020 CREW Network Benchmark Study: Gender and Diversity in Commercial Real Estate, conducted in partnership with the MIT Center for Real Estate, we found that women earn 10% less than men in base salaries and 56% less in commission and bonuses annually; women occupy 37% of the industry and just 9% of C-suite positions; and only 16% of CRE workplaces have 25% or more staff that are from diverse backgrounds. CEOs must act to address these fundamental issues in the workplace to create a culture that values and embraces diverse experiences, thinking and outcomes. This is a moment in time when leaders have the opportunity to truly change the industry and walk their talk.
Rose: We have an established D&I strategy roadmap at our firm that creates a respectful and supportive workplace that is not only reflective of the communities we serve but also creates a culture that is active in supporting and promoting D&I initiatives around the globe.
Long before it was en vogue, Avison Young was focusing its attention on the lack of diversity in our industry and implemented its overall DEI strategy. We worked hard to launch a series mindful and engaging programs, trainings and accountability initiatives to address a variety of seen and unseen diversity components, including racial, gender and sexual orientation equality. Programs were implemented to help us attract and retain underrepresented talent, a global diversity and inclusion advisory council was established, and unconscious bias training was provided to our staff which currently is at a 70% completion rate.
Having Avison Young be a place where people feel they can show up as themselves and are supported, respected, engaged and rewarded is important to us. At the end of the day, we always put people at the heart of what we do.
Heard: While respect for every individual is woven into our culture, Transwestern’s leadership is constantly working to refine how we approach diversity, internally and externally. We are an entrepreneurial organization and didn’t want DEI to be a top-down driven initiative. Instead, we enlisted the voices of underrepresented groups from across the country as well as those passionate about advancing DEI to build a framework around four goals: awareness, belonging, training, and talent. Each goal is supported by a national committee made up of team members from different geographies and service lines that helps guide local efforts. These individuals are the ambassadors that hold each other accountable, share challenges and successes, and drive the initiative forward.
This initiative is not simply the right thing to do, but also makes good business sense. We’ve seen time and again when we gather different perspectives together to solve a problem, we ultimately get to the best outcome. This is what all of us owe our team members and our clients – the best possible solutions to meet their unique needs.
Reiss: How can other leaders in the CRE industry take steps to influence change?
Mann: For the commercial real estate industry to become gender balanced and more diverse, we need the hundreds of CEOs in this industry to commit to diversity. At CREW Network, we encourage CEOs to sign on to our CRE Pledge for Action and commit to real change. Our pledge incorporates intentional, meaningful and measurable goals that will have lasting impacts on the industry. CEOs need to take the steps necessary to drive change and demonstrate that leadership and accountability start at the top.
Rose: A good place to start would be joining CREW Network’s DEI pledge and commit to supporting the advancement of women and others in underrepresented groups. By signing onto the pledge, companies can take key actions such as closing the compensation gap, increasing inclusion throughout the company landscape, advancing women to leadership roles and intentionally recruiting and hiring individuals from diverse backgrounds.
It’s time for leaders in the industry to walk the talk – that means making a concerted effort to shift mindsets and behaviors and develop programs to make sustainable change within their organizations.
Heard: Our organization recognizes that to improve, we must be willing to openly discuss challenges we face as individuals and as an organization. Fortunately, a strong level of trust and respect among our team members paves the way for sincere, honest discussions about where we are today and where we hope to be in the future.
A more structured approach to DEI has better enabled us to set goals, share them broadly, and hold each other accountable for results. Nurturing and promoting talent from within is a good example of how change can be measured, as is cultivating relationships with organizations that champion diversity. Also, communicating regularly about progress at both the local and national level keeps our efforts top of mind and propels us forward. We’ve found that sharing individual stories within our organization personalizes the need for, and value of, diversity in the workplace.