Collaboration is key to advancing DE&I in real estate

NAREIM's chief executive, Zoe Hughes, explains why idea sharing is crucial to advancing diversity, equity and inclusion within the real estate industry.

If there was one takeaway for commercial real estate from 2021, it had to be that of collaboration. From how to think about flexibility in work schedules, to the future use of real estate and to the challenges and solutions for climate risk, collaboration and the sharing of best practices were key for the industry on many fronts.

And nowhere was collaboration felt more keenly than in the realm of diversity, equity and inclusion. During the year, there was amazing work done by corporations within their organizations, at the asset level and within the communities in which their buildings resided. But it was the sharing of ideas and data on DE&I that really struck home in 2021.

One major act of collaboration to highlight was the joining of forces of seven industry associations in 2021 to track global real estate DE&I data and practices.

“There is no singular approach to increasing diversity in commercial real estate”

The Global Real Estate DEI Survey, sponsored by ANREV, INREV, NAREIM, NCREIF, PREA, REALPAC and ULI and conducted by Ferguson Partners, was released in December 2021, tracking gender, race, ethnicity and nationality across seniority and job functions in Asia-­Pacific, Europe and North America, as well as corporate practices in relation to DE&I programs, recruitment, retention, training and development, inclusivity and pay equity.

Tracking change

Among the survey’s findings is that 92 percent of participating firms globally have a DE&I program or initiatives to improve DE&I. While more than 50 percent of all junior full-time employees in all regions are women, the gap widens at the board level, with women holding 26 percent of board seats in Asia-Pacific, 21 percent in North America and 14 percent in Europe.

It was a comprehensive survey to say the least, representing more than 435,000 employees, $2.4 trillion of AUM and more than 160 firms across different sectors of commercial real estate. Most importantly though, it was a line in the sand, a benchmark for the entire commercial real estate industry against which progress can be tracked in the future.

But we cannot change what we cannot track – and thanks to the collaboration of the industry around one DE&I benchmark, impactful changes can and are starting to be made.

However, 2021 wasn’t just about data collection. It was also a year in which organizations shared what was working – and what wasn’t working – in terms of moving the needle for DE&I in commercial real estate globally. At NAREIM, there has been much sharing of ideas on strategies and policies. From ideas to pool resources to create internship programs, to resume-sharing tools, to DE&I resource libraries and industry-wide employee resource groups and education fairs, there is a true sense of collaboration around DE&I.

There is no singular approach to increasing diversity in commercial real estate. Instead, it is a commitment to partnership. There is a long road ahead, as everyone understands and recognizes. But the industry is being intentional in its approach. It is making commitments and strides and, collectively – collaboratively – commercial real estate is changing how it views diversity.