Presented By: Cushman & Wakefield
Challenges and Opportunities in CRE’s Approach to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
Insights on DEI from Cushman & Wakefield's Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, Nadine Augusta
There is no surprise we have a challenge with diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) in the commercial real estate (CRE) industry.
A 2020 study by CREW (Commercial Real Estate Women) Network estimated that the industry is made up of 36% women. Project REAP (The Real Estate Associate Program), whose mission is to advance DEI in CRE, credits the industry as being one of the least-diverse economic sectors. And while data on racial and ethnic diversity in CRE is limited, we know representation is low, especially in the mid- to senior levels of organizations.
This challenge isn’t unique to CRE or any one firm within the industry, but CRE is far behind industries like banking and finance, whose programs are more mature due to a prolonged focus and sustained efforts over time. There’s great opportunity to create change and learn from trailblazers to forge our own path.
What we mean by DEI
To set the stage, I’d like to define what exactly we’re talking about. Diversity simply means difference. And when we are talking about diversity in a corporate context, we are usually referring to diversity of identities, such as race, gender, sexual orientation and disability.
Equity is about fair treatment, access and opportunity. It’s about recognizing that advantages and barriers exist and making the commitment to address the imbalance.
Inclusion is about people with different identities feeling welcomed, respected and valued.
Real change is needed to move our industry in the direction of equity and inclusion for diverse populations and, while some real progress has been made, much more is needed to fundamentally shift the balance to true diversity.
Take where I work as an example. Cushman & Wakefield (CWK) is one of the top three real estate services firms in the world, with approximately 50,000 employees globally. In 2020, women represented 39% of our workforce, 40% of our board of directors, and 40% of new hires — and while that’s better than where we were several years ago, there’s still room for improvement. To continue working toward gender parity and further advance DEI for other groups, our job now is to put in place an infrastructure that facilitates long-term, transformational, sustainable change.
What’s next and why
On my very first day at Cushman & Wakefield, I was invited to speak on a client call. The client wanted to know about our commitment to DEI, the progress we hope to make, and how we will help them to achieve their diverse supplier spend. In order to remain competitive, we need to adapt. DEI is an essential element in winning new business, maintaining fruitful and dynamic relationships, and driving financial results.
The first big hurdle is being receptive to change. That’s a critical piece of the puzzle and not one that’s easy to solve in an industry that’s often resistant to change. We all know the axiom that change starts at the top — or, maybe better put by Gandhi, be the change you want to see in the world.
In my short time at Cushman & Wakefield, I can tell you everyone — from senior leadership to each of our employees throughout the firm — is genuinely excited and dedicated to DEI. Our approach for making transformational change is to drive meaningful impact across our strategic pillars of workplace, workforce and marketplace. We have some efforts in place as we are building the foundation for progress:
- – Hiring: In the U.S., we require diverse candidate slates for open positions that we are recruiting for, as well as diverse interview teams. We use a structured interview method that seeks to eliminate bias in the selection process. Additionally, Cushman & Wakefield is also one of more than 80 companies participating in Business Roundtable’s new, multi-year effort to reform companies’ hiring and talent management practices to improve equity, diversity and workplace culture. We are committed to learning from fellow members and implementing strategies that expand our view of talent.
- – Recruitment and Retention: We’re exploring how we can evolve our recruitment strategy by setting up pipelines for diverse talent to enter the industry. For example, we’re connecting with historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to position CRE as a potential career path for students early in their college careers. To retain diverse talent internally, we have a passionate network of employee resource groups who are thriving communicators of diverse talent that engage, develop and support each other in their career growth.
- – External Relationships: We’ve sponsored and engaged with external partners to drive DEI. As a Global Agenda Program Partner to CREW Network, we are actively working to expand the organization’s reach around the world to provide additional business connections, opportunities, and resources to members and increase visibility in new markets. We also recently launched a first-of-its-kind mentorship program for our professionals in collaboration with Project REAP. These organizations are doing important work that complement the changes we’re making internally and help the industry as a whole mature and develop real DEI strategies that strengthen us all.
These efforts, often led by passionate leaders and employees, are a start and an important part of our journey to greater inclusion. From here, we need to manage with intention, demonstrate a sustained commitment, and really get creative with the programs and initiatives we implement to make meaningful progress. That means strengthening our day-to-day actions to create an environment conducive to equitable and fair growth opportunities for all employees and the businesses we work with, while also exceeding the expectations of our clients.
While there are challenges with how the CRE industry approaches DEI, there’s tremendous opportunity that we’re accelerating — and while addressing challenges will take time, sustained focus and commitment will lead to meaningful progress. The industry has to recognize that greater DEI is no longer optional. Everyone is responsible for DEI, as we are all culture-makers and accountability partners on this journey.
Nadine Augusta is chief diversity, equity and inclusion officer at Cushman & Wakefield. She has more than 20 years of experience in financial services and, prior to her current role, was Americas head of diversity and inclusion at Goldman Sachs.