U.K.-based real estate services firm Savills Plc found itself in the news two weeks ago and not for a good reason. The company, which also has offices in the U.S., had to suspend one of its employees pending an investigation into racist tweets the employee sent, blaming Black players on the English soccer team for England’s loss in the European Championship finals.
The story highlights the challenges the commercial real estate industry continues to face in becoming both more diverse and more inclusive. Over the past year, spurred by the Black Lives Matter protests and calls for more equity for disadvantaged Americans, many commercial real estate firms publicly announced they were committed to increasing diversity, equity and inclusion among their ranks. But a year later, what form have those efforts taken?
Savills North America
At Savills, Mitch Rudin, who has been president of Savills North America since 2019 and has since been appointed as CEO and chairman, has been serving as a mentor to two Black executives, in addition to leading efforts to implement larger diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives across the company’s North American offices. “A diverse workforce helps us view our organization and work from different perspectives. It enhances our ability to expand our client base and grow our business, as our clients want to work with companies with a diverse workforce,” Rudin says.
Several years ago, predating last summer’s protests, Savills established a Building Inclusion and Diversity (BID) board, which is tasked with raising awareness, encouraging dialogue and establishing new initiatives to ensure diversity across Savills’ various departments. The board is composed of representatives from different backgrounds and business areas to assist in planning diversity strategies and setting goals for new initiatives.
For example, BID developed strategies for expanding Savills’ diverse supplier program, developing partnerships with women- and minority-owned businesses and strengthening community ties with minority-focused organizations and historically Black colleges. “Many of our best ideas have come through collaboration via the board,” Rudin notes.
In addition, Savills hired a diversity consultant to look at strategies for recruiting and retaining diverse employees and improving their performance. Over the last year, nearly 100 percent of executive hires and promotions at the headquarters level have been women or people of color.
Savills also launched two initiatives in 2020 that are specifically designed to address the lack of gender and racial diversity in commercial real estate: Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and a Junior Broker Development Program.
The company began rolling out the ERGs in June 2020, beginning with Black Excellence United and the Women’s Initiatives Network. These employee-operated networks collaborate across all business groups, locations and company levels on recruiting, retention, collaboration and advancement for diverse members. Two new ERGs will be launched this year, including the Asian-American Pacific Islander group and a LGBTQ+ group.
The ERGs meet on a monthly basis to check-in, provide corporate updates or facilitate new programs related to their interests. Each group has a strategic plan for advancing diversity and inclusion at the firm, according to Rudin. The groups also provide professional development and mentorship roles to drive leadership development for ERG members and networking opportunities in the broader organization and community.
A junior broker trainee program, the brainchild of Vice Chairman and Northeast Regional Lead Janet Woods, was also officially launched in New York City and Washington, D.C., last fall with eight participants. The inaugural classes were 90 percent diverse, and the incoming classes, which also are 90 diverse, have been expanded to 10 participants. Participants are paid a full salary through the program’s 15-month rotation.
Now, the company is expanding the program to three other key markets, Chicago, Los Angeles and Houston, with a continued focus on providing minorities and women a comprehensive, immersive experience and the resources needed to establish successful careers in commercial real estate sales, Rudin says. Two slots have also been created for non-brokerage employees interested in transitioning into sales.
“I have always recognized the challenge of attracting diverse employees, especially on the sales side. No one has been successful at recruiting people of color on the transaction side of the business,” Rudin notes, adding that Black Americans still represent a very small fraction of all the commercial real estate brokers in New York City.
Meanwhile, Silverstein Properties, one of New York City’s largest landlords, launched a formal DEI initiative last year, comprised of senior executives and employees from every part of the company. According to a Silverstein spokesperson, the initiative’s goals include increasing diversity and promoting inclusivity at every level of the company; creating safe spaces to talk about racism and intolerance; and fostering a better understanding of how Silverstein employees, customers, investors and vendors conduct business.
Silverstein has also adjusted its recruiting efforts to ensure diverse talent hires. This includes recruiting directly from high schools and colleges graduates diverse in race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic background and age.
Real estate services firm JLL is also taking more steps to actively recruit a diverse sales team, investing $4 million to fund entry-level compensation for racially diverse and women sales professionals.
“Our goal is to reduce financial barriers for capital markets professionals entering the commercial real estate industry,” says Chris Drew, senior managing director and co-head of the JLL capital markets team in the firm’s Miami office. Drew explains that analysts and associates in the capital markets group are paid an annual salary, but the majority of their compensation comes in the form of bonuses, so this funding provides supplemental compensation to traditional commission-based salary models for these employees.
JLL has also initiated a student loan repayment program for its capital markets recruits. “For professionals entering the workplace, student loans can be a huge impediment to selecting a career in commercial real estate and specifically within capital markets,” Drew says. “Statistically, underrepresented groups, including women, carry the biggest student loan burden, and we don’t want to overlook this massive talent pool.”
JLL’s student loan repayment program pays up to $5,000 per year, for a maximum of $15,000, for the first three years of a hire’s employment. This benefit is available to all full-time employees who were hired at the analyst or associate level on or after Jan. 1, 2021; have been employed at JLL for at least three months; and have student loan debt.
“By removing what has historically been significant financial barriers, we are offering monetary support at the early stages of a team member’s career, with the goal of making it easier for those underrepresented in the commercial real estate industry to enter and thrive in the capital markets business,” Drew says. “When a graduating student with student debt is willing to bet on themselves and their overall talent to be successful in this industry, we are willing to bet on them too.”
JLL also recently joined forces with the Historically Black College and University Business Deans Roundtable to expand its impact further through the launch of the JLL Ambitions Fellowship Program. This program partners with school deans and administrators to select students to participate in the program that increases awareness of commercial real estate career opportunities at JLL.
Real estate services firm CBRE employs a global strategic framework approach for DEI that is driving measurable results, according to Tim Dismond, CBRE’s chief responsibility officer.
CBRE also has local DEI councils in many of its metropolitan markets, which are charged with accelerating progress in recruiting, developing, and retaining diverse talent.
CBRE’s initiatives to attract, recruit, and retain diverse talent, include the following:
- Implementing a policy that requires a diverse panel to interview prospective candidates for key roles and focus on building a diverse talent pool.
- Launching a multi-million-dollar program to co-fund the hiring of diverse professionals within the advisory and global workplace solutions business segments;
- Developing diversity dashboards to collect, review and analyze data related to workforce hiring, promotions and retention;
- Establishing new and enhanced mentorship programs; and
- Continuing sponsorships and partnerships with minority-serving institutions and professional development organizations.
One of the biggest challenges in recruiting diverse talent is lack of awareness of the range of career opportunities within the commercial real estate sector, Dismond notes. “We are addressing this by increasing our engagement with universities, particularly historically Black colleges and universities, to raise awareness of career opportunities and build a current and future career pipeline.”
Traditional brokerage commission compensation structure also presents a challenge to recruiting graduates, so CBRE has implemented a subsidies program for certain diverse, young professionals who want to start a career in sales.
At real estate services firm Colliers International, which also had some diversity and inclusion initatives pre-dating the summer of 2020, the events surrounding George Floyd’s death last summer, “was the catalyst for us to do more, and we hope the work, learning and investment we are making will benefit our entire employee population,” says Muriel Aubrey Thompson, Esq., director, social impact and employee relations, North America.
“In the last year we have been able to significantly increase our hiring of women by focusing on inclusive job descriptions,” she notes. “We are hoping to translate our successes at attracting and promoting women to benefit other key demographics.”
To that end, Colliers has formed close partnerships with several vendors that amplify job postings within diverse communities. These include Mogul, a women’s job network; Jopwell, which focuses on Black, Latinx, and Native American professionals; and Circa, a OFCCP compliance management and recruiting platform that includes more than 15,500 community organizations and diversity groups across the United States.
In addition, there is the Black Equality Taskforce, which was established last year to focus on generating an understanding of the experiences of Black professionals, addressing inequalities and providing a sounding board for diversity and inclusion programs and initiatives.
This group played a key role in Colliers launching an initiative that specifically focuses on hiring and sponsoring graduates from Project REAP (Real Estate Associate Program) for the brokerage side of business in Dallas, Los Angeles and Chicago. REAP was established to advance diversity, equity and inclusion in the commercial real estate industry through education, mentorship, and partnerships.
Colliers now serves as a sponsor and partner of Project REAP, which guarantees participates compensation, mentorship and education for two years. Thompson notes that the California REAP hire has shown accelerated success after just six months in his role as a broker associate. As a result, Colliers has committed to hiring three REAP 2021 graduates into its U.S brokerage business.