Diversity must always be accompanied by inclusion – by a sense of belonging – or else it will ultimately prove short-lived and unsuccessful. “It is all very well proudly proclaiming that you have hired your first person from a certain minority group. But if that person feels uncomfortable, excluded or like some kind of guinea pig, they are not going to stay,” says Chantal Clavier, head of the real estate practice for Europe and Africa at Heidrick & Struggles. “Culture is key.”
“That inclusion piece is more conceptual in nature,” adds Carly Tripp, global chief investment officer and head of investments for Nuveen Real Estate. “It relies on every individual in an organization challenging their baseline thinking in a way that may make them feel uncomfortable. It is also the piece that can genuinely impact performance.”
How that inclusion – or sense of belong – is fostered, varies from firm to firm but typically starts with formal inclusion and anti-discrimination policies. It also requires that all language, benefits and policies are neutral across different forms of diversity.
In addition, it will often include the creation of employee resource groups. “These are networks organized by employees around shared interests,” explains Brookfield’s Lori Pearson.
“Through these groups, which include women’s networks, Black professional networks, Pride networks and Asian professional networks, for example, employees have the opportunity to share experiences with each other and more broadly across the firm, while surfacing feedback and ideas to management.”
The specific constructs and initiatives that prove most effective, will depend on the organization. “When we see companies copying their peers it often doesn’t work. ‘Best practices’ are highly dependent on the firm context and culture,” says Apax’s Johnathan Medina.
“Diversity is all the visible and less visible things that make us unique”
“Companies have to understand what employees feel strongly about and where their passion lies. For Apax that has led, in particular, to our Thrive employee resource group focused on LGBTQ+ community members.”
OUT Blackstone is a similar initiative designed to create a supportive space for LGBTQ+ employees at the firm, so that people recognize that they can be their authentic selves at work, according to Blackstone’s global head of compliance Marshall Sprung.
“We raise awareness and visibility in a variety of ways, including ‘lunch and learns’ with organizations that serve the LGBTQ+ community. But equally, having senior leadership endorse and speak genuinely about the need for LGBTQ+ folks to feel comfortable, safe and supported is key,” Sprung says.
“At Blackstone, having someone like our COO Jon Gray talk about our Pride activities in our Monday morning meetings sends a powerful signal from the very top that this network is valued, that it’s mission is important and that people should be encouraged to be themselves.”
“Inclusion… is more conceptual in nature. It relies on every individual in an organization challenging their baseline thinking in a way that may make them feel uncomfortable”
Nuveen Real Estate
Instar, meanwhile, has taken an innovative approach with a diversity book club. “Members share articles and ideas,” says the firm’s Sarah Borg-Olivier. “The goal is to create more openness. It is a space for reflection on important topics that can sometimes be difficult or uncomfortable to talk about.”
Similarly, KKR has launched an initiative called KKR Conversations. “The aim is to learn more about our differences by having a dialogue about them, featuring external guests, as well as individuals within the firm,” says Pete Stavros.
Nuveen, meanwhile, hosts a series of working sessions between executive leadership and employees called Courageous Conversations. These are designed to catalyze awareness, encourage the advocacy of allies and create a larger voice for individuals who want to be heard.
For Actis, however, the key is an open-door policy. “I know everyone always says that their door is always open,” says the firm’s chief financial officer Susan Wilkins. “But at Actis, every female director and partner actually makes a pledge so that their female peers know they can share experiences and seek whatever support may be necessary.”