A national outpouring of activism and protests this year that started with a focus on police brutality rapidly sparked larger conversations about systemic racism in the U.S., including putting a renewed focus on the day-to-day realities in corporate America.
Commercial real estate has not been immune from that process. Recent months have been marked by internal and external discussions throughout the industry on how a notoriously white male-dominated industry can improve its diversity and inclusion. It’s also resulted in some firms making structural changes in order to foster this process.
One high-profile move came from brokerage behemoth CBRE Group Inc., which in June promoted Tim Dismond to become the company’s first chief diversity officer. Notably, the position has been made part of CBRE’s executive committee, which is the group of 12 global executives that drives the firm’s business strategy and reports directly to CEO Bob Sulentic.
Dismond had been with CBRE for about a dozen years, most recently serving as division president in the company’s Global Workplace Solutions Enterprise business. In that role, he oversaw more than 5,000 professionals who deliver real estate and facilities services to occupiers headquartered in nine U.S. states and Latin America and manage a global portfolio of more than 820 million sq. ft.
CBRE’s diversity and inclusion team now reports to Dismond.
Some of the company’s existing policies specify that:
- A visibly diverse candidate should be included at the in-person interview stage for all positions at the director level and above.
- The panel of interviewers for all positions at the director level and above should include a visibly diverse interviewer.
- A diversity and inclusion-focused objective is included in all performance appraisals for employees at the director level and above.
Dismond sat down with NREI to discuss the new role and what driving change going forward might look like.
This Q&A has been edited for style, length and clarity.
NREI: What does the creation of the Chief Diversity Officer position and its placement on CBRE’s executive committee mean on an operational basis for CBRE?
Tim Dismond: I have a passion for diversity and inclusion and am very excited about my new role. In the past, I’ve partnered with colleagues, clients and suppliers to advance diversity and inclusion initiatives from a business perspective — now I have the opportunity to directly impact CBRE’s entire global business operations and 100,000+ workforce.
As the Chief Diversity Officer, I am responsible for developing and overseeing diversity and inclusion strategy, and committed to furthering CBRE as an employer of choice and destination for top talent. That’s not just within the real estate industry. Our goal is to be among the best companies in the world. It’s a pretty ambitious aspiration, but it’s consistent with our enterprise strategy and has the full support of our CEO, Bob Sulentic, and Board of Directors.
Organizationally, I’m part of the global executive committee and report to our CEO. In many companies, the diversity and inclusion position is a few layers deep and often resides within the human resources department.
Bob Sulentic was very intentional in having this role report directly to him and adding me to his global executive committee, which meets monthly. This structure allows my position to have the level of access, visibility and influence it needs to advance CBRE's diversity and inclusion efforts. I’m connected to the overall enterprise operations of CBRE.
NREI: What kind of approach are you taking with the role?
Tim Dismond: I’m focusing on our resources across three key areas: culture, talent and marketplace. With each, I’ve identified several programs and initiatives intended to create a more diverse and inclusive workplace.
For culture, there’s a significant training component. We’re incorporating new interactive content for our managers that focuses on inclusion, as well as activity-based e-training that addresses unconscious bias and microaggressions.
For talent, we’re continuing to focus on enhancing and developing new recruiting and employee development and retention programs.
And for marketplace, we’re looking at things like growing our engagement with diverse suppliers, as well as philanthropic activities supporting social justice. This year CBRE contributed $1 million to the Legal Defense and Educational Fund and $1 million to the National Urban League. Our commitment to engage with the community is a core component of our diversity and inclusion strategy.
NREI: What are some ways to improve on the recruitment and development front?
Tim Dismond: We have broadened our sourcing efforts to partner with a few different entities. That includes, for example, Project REAP, which is a program designed to work with people of color in other professions such as attorneys, architects, investment managers, as well as brokers. We teach them about real estate and the many opportunities that exist within our profession. This is done through a 10-week training program.
We also support many ethnically diverse high schools, colleges and universities and teach their students about the industry and the benefits of pursuing a career in real estate. We do this in partnership with the Real Estate Executive Council, NAIOP, Posse Foundation, HBCU Connect and many other organizations.
NREI: How did you come into the commercial real estate industry yourself?
Tim Dismond: I’ve been with CBRE for about 12 years now. I started and have been with CBRE’s Global Workplace Solutions business. That’s one of three primary business segments and it supports our occupier clients—large Fortune 500 companies where we provide facilities management, project management, advisory, lease administration and consulting services. In many instances, these clients are looking for a holistic and integrated approach to managing their real estate portfolio.
Before that, I worked at Sprint. I’m an attorney by trade as well as a broker, and practiced law for six years, [focusing] on real estate. So overall, I’ve been in the real estate industry for over 25 years.
NREI: What about the real estate industry drew you in?
Tim Dismond: A big part of it is working with people.
I love helping people solve their real estate challenges and occupancy planning needs. As a broker and attorney, I also like negotiating and closing deals. I also enjoy architecture design.
When I first started practicing law, I got along well with one of my real estate development clients and I think that’s what helped me move from practicing law to managing real estate. I wanted to be on the occupier/owners’ side. For a brief period, I worked for the CEO at Sprint in a strategy position. It’s the only non-real estate role that I’ve held since graduating form law school. That’s when I knew I wanted to make real estate my profession, and CBRE proved to be a fantastic company to work for and grow my career.