CBRE: Real estate ‘needs a decade of change’

While much has been achieved in gender equality, CBRE Investment Management’s Jeffrey Marcus sees race as the industry’s next frontier.

This article is sponsored by CBRE Investment Management

“To build a great organization, you need to build your teams from across the full population of people… that includes all of the diverse groups in the population.” So says Bob Sulentic, CBRE Group’s CEO. Ninety-four percent of CBRE leaders have now completed an inclusive training program.

CBRE recently committed to serve as the Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Network’s inaugural DE&I program partner and its ‘power of we’ initiative brings together senior female executives from CBRE and its client companies in the Americas.

However, Jeffrey Marcus, global head of people, real estate investments at CBRE Investment Management, says CBRE’s approach goes beyond gender and explains how the firm is addressing racial diversity with a variety of programs.

Jeffrey Marcus
Jeffrey Marcus

Why does DE&I matter in a real estate context?

Real estate investors are closely embedded in the communities in which they operate. As such they have to recognize the importance of the social impact that they can have.

A real estate business of our scale is operating on a global basis, in multiple communities in multiple countries. It is also a major recruiter in these countries. This magnifies the potential impact and means we can do a lot to help move the needle on these important issues.

However, I wouldn’t go as far as saying the reason we are championing DE&I is because we are a real estate business. I believe these issues are important for all businesses, irrespective of which industry they are operating in.

What are the DE&I priorities as you see them?

It is important to look at all elements of diversity. Gender equality has long been a priority for the industry and that is something we have made great strides in. I have been in this business 30 years and I have seen major successes in that time, particularly in the last 20 years.

As well as gender we are looking at areas such as veteran employment and disability. But in the US there is no question that since the murder of George Floyd, and in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, there is a particular focus on improving racial diversity and inclusion.

This goes back to the role which a company like ours has in the community in which we operate in.

In approaching this issue there is much we have learnt from advancing the debate on gender. The importance of training and development, with mentoring being central to the latter point. These are critical elements in building a more diverse management team.

My core belief is that our differences make us stronger and with all elements of diversity we have to be very alert to the unconscious biases that can creep into decision-making. This is true at every point in the talent process, but particularly in recruitment. The objective must be to take this through to a senior level, but it is easiest to start at a junior level and build from there.

How are you addressing those priorities?

DE&I is one of the major pillars in our strategy for people and leadership. There are three crucial elements to that.

Firstly, managing and nurturing our talent. That is crucial in any business, but particularly for us – people are our greatest asset. We are actively seeking to increase the diversity of our workforce through ongoing recruitment, training and retention initiatives.

Secondly, our culture. We have built an inclusive culture so that our people feel safe, valued and heard. We have made considerable efforts to establish how different groups within our company feel about these three elements and encouraging them to speak up.

Finally, we consider our role in the broader marketplace. How do we as an organization help to move things forward on a global basis? We are investing in diverse suppliers and encouraging everyone we deal with to carefully examine their own supply chains. We are also increasing our philanthropic activities to impact the community.

Overall, we seek to ensure that these three elements become built into how we operate and interact with each other to become self-re-enforcing. Ultimately our goal is that DE&I itself becomes embedded in the DNA our organization.

What is ‘the next frontier’ in DE&I? It is greater cognitive diversity, or more inclusivity for a different priority group?

No, I think for any US-based business it is concentrating more on the issue of race and ensuring that those employees from a diverse background feel valued and included in our management processes.

For me, the next frontier will be when we are no longer talking about diversity because it has become so much a part of what we do and we have so fully embraced it that it becomes second nature to us all.

This is not an easy stage to get to, though. The impact of unconscious bias cannot be underestimated. It is a very sensitive issue for individuals and companies to tackle head on.

Talking about race is a hard thing to do and we need to make sure people feel comfortable in doing so. But when you survey people from a diverse background and ask them about their own experiences and feelings, it is clear that there are still issues. I have attended a lot of diversity and inclusion meetings in the industry over the last 30 years, but this is still something that we are building towards.

I return to the question of the broader society we are operating in. For me the George Floyd tragedy was very impactful. I think a lot of us asked ourselves ‘how are we still in this place?’ I think looking forwards we need a decade of change.

What initiatives have you implemented to focus on DE&I?

We have several, not least our women’s network. However, because recruitment is so central to drive change in DE&I practices, I would focus on our internship and analyst programs and our commitment to mentoring as we develop talent.

This is a global program across all three regions we operate in. We seek to make it as broad as possible to establish an extraordinarily diverse talent pool. This is an initial step towards the much broader goals we seek to achieve across the business, with buy-in from senior management. We really want to build this out as time goes by.

We have received over 2,000 applications for our internship program just here in the US. Globally, we are looking to select a strong cohort of fast-track interns, from whom our next generation of management recruits will come. We want to bring in a diverse cohort that will constitute our management over the next decade.

Although, I am very aware of the US challenges, I would stress that this is a global initiative. For example, in the UK we have partnered with the 100 Black Interns Program, which provides 100 internships every year to Black students and recent graduates in the investment management industry.

The first element in ensuring that diversity is central to the recruitment process is making sure you are going to the right places. There are many companies who focus on recruiting at the same top-tier schools year after year. There are great people there no question, but they tend not to be diverse. We start by going to schools and leveraging programs that have diversity.

The second step is to ensure that the panels doing the candidate selection are themselves diverse. We want to steer away from those unconscious biases. We brought professionals from just about every sub-category of diversity on board. When we started putting these panels together, that process itself had a positive benefit. People didn’t just want to be included, they felt very excited about what we were doing in general.

Finally, we need to make sure the process continues beyond the initial recruitment stage. We must provide supportive training and development and appropriate mentoring, ensuring strong foundations.


How important is it that senior leadership buys into implementing DE&I?

Absolutely crucial. For me it is very important that our CBRE Investment Management CEO mentions DE&I in many of the presentations he makes. He makes it clear to everyone that it is very much the foundation on which we build the entire business.

From there, the commitment is present across our global CBRE management team, and it is significant that our chief responsibility officer sits on our executive committee and ensures the diversity perspective is heard at the top level.

Our Mentoring Global Leaders program pairs each member of the global operating committee with one of the firm’s diverse leaders to regularly discuss key projects and professional development plans.

In terms of numbers, three out of our 11 board members are women and four are from a diverse background. Across the business, 40 percent of the CBRE global executive committee is now diverse.