Corporate Real Estate Leaders Address Diversity and Inclusion

As Corporate Real Estate Week kicked off around the world this week, two panels of diverse, expert leaders in corporate real estate began a discussion about how to make the profession more inclusive. 

Sharing personal and professional experiences, three members of IBM’s corporate real estate team spoke about how diverse workplace yields benefits for the employees and for the company. Andrew Merewether-Helps is the Digital Recruitment Experience Solution Expert and Project Manager, Jane Muir-Sands is the Vice President, Global Real Estate and Operations and Ella Slade is the Global LGBT+ Leader, Diversity and Inclusion for IBM Global Real Estate. 

Jeri Ballard, Executive Vice President, Business Service Centers and Corporate Travel for Royal Dutch Shell and CoreNet Global board member moderated the panel, which also included Jordan Jones, Strategy Director for IA Architects. 

The IBM team praised the company for having a decades long history of promoting and advocating for diversity. 

The panel spent a lot of time discussing the challenges of providing a safe environment for the LGBT+ community.  Slade said that one of the challenges in this regard is that global companies face different cultural norms and laws around the world; for example, in many places homosexuality is illegal. But even as the company offers a safe space, privacy must still be ensured to protect individuals. Building bathrooms that any individual will feel comfortable using will also become a larger issue for corporate real estate professionals as more people identify as LGBT+. 

Accommodating people with physical disabilities is another aspect of creating a diverse workforce and a workplace in which they can succeed. 

Merewether-Helps said that in one instance  a team from IBM’s corporate real estate was encouraged to sit in wheelchairs and experience the challenges of different types of flooring (Carpet is more difficult than vinyl.)

And the panel pointed out that in embracing people with disabilities, companies need to make sure that their plans and designs for the workplace can accommodate everyone, and facilitate audits to be certain that everything was installed correctly. Ballard cited several examples where contractors made changes at the installation stage to make things “look right,” even when they had been designed with a specific purpose. 

“I think you can learn a lot about societies from how buildings have been designed,” Jones said. “And the same is true for the work environment; being able to come to work and be yourself without fear. For all workplace projects, I try and put myself in the shoes of the user, and empathize with them and speak with them.”

“You want to make sure workforce globally is representative of the diversity of population,” Ballard said.  “When you do that, that’s when you bring the best of the people, cognitively, to your organization to solve the world’s problems. Our population is representative of the world’s population. It leaves you with a feeling of comfort that you have looked as broadly as possible.”

At a later panel that day, another group of corporate real estate professionals discussed how to make the profession itself more diverse and inclusive. 

The panel included Nadine Augusta, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at Cushman & Wakefield;  Melony Bethel, Senior Consultant, The Clearing;  Tim Dismond, Chief Responsibility Officer, CBRE; Ingrid Jacobs, Global Head of Diversity and Inclusion at JLL; and Chely Wright, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer at Unispace. 

Augusta spent some time defining terms: “When we talk about diversity equity and inclusion, there are definitions that we use consistently. Diversity the presence of difference in identities, inclusion is authentically and deliberately bringing traditional.y under represented groups into the fold, with processes and activities and policies  in a way that ensures equal access. Equity access opportunity and advancement for all.” 

Citing examples of how their respective companies have been proactive, Dismond said that last year, CBRE worked with a partner last year to roll out unconscious bias training, which was held in 32 different languages. The top 300 senior leaders attended. It included a self assessment and action plan. The goal was for leaders to understand and execute the plan over a year. 

Jacobs added that supplier diversity is a focus at JLL, focusing on using small and minority-owned businesses. “We’ve got to make a nod to our processes and systems to ensure that we are being as open and available for those types of organizations to be able to thrive with us.” 

They agreed that recruiting diverse talent is critical to expanding diversity within the workplace. Once hired, inclusivity measures come into play, such as creating a flexible schedule, and assisting with wellness and mental health. 

Employee resource groups have played a key role in helping employees to learn the organization across their own business line, Augusta said. 

Bethela asked, “What are the key components of a successful DEI program?”

Dismond said there are three essential components: 

  • Visibility, providing better access to data, understanding where we are and what actions it takes to achieve those results
  • Capability, including training, and allowing people to feel open and that they have the tools they need to collaborate
  • Accountability, setting goals

“You have to have expectations; people need to understand where they are and be accountable. Those actions need to be deliberate and they need to be tied to achievement,” he said.