Gemma Burgess
Gemma Burgess

During the time since I was last asked to write on diversity, equity and inclusion by PERE in June of 2017, the CRE industry’s conversation about DE&I has assumed its rightful place center stage. The conversations have evolved from focusing primarily on gender diversity to a broader conversation that includes race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, ability, age and neurodiversity. Yet the real test of the industry’s commitment to DE&I will be its staying power, fueled by real systemic change that will support DE&I for years to come.

I have spent the past year or so talking with prominent Black leaders in the industry about the potential for real change and progress. The key message I heard repeatedly was that it feels different this time.

To keep up this momentum, firms need to take more chances and move faster toward change. As the recent labor market has shown, talent has become a ‘use it or lose it’ proposition. That means it will not be enough to recruit diverse talent – there must be a real commitment to retain, develop and promote this talent over time. If firms hope to generate the best possible returns, they must create career development opportunities for a diverse workforce.

Here are my eight top tips for DE&I success:

Acknowledge the business need 

CRE leaders must acknowledge the role that greater diversity plays in generating stronger returns for the business.

This acknowledgement creates a mandate to set goals and monitor the performance of DE&I initiatives, such as providing on-the-job sponsoring, mentoring and promoting promising talent into middle management and all the way up to the board level.

Concrete action and measurable results can create momentum for DE&I. This goes beyond just tying CEO pay to DE&I metrics and goals. Organizations need a diversity business plan just as they need to have an overall business plan, and they must measure results and report out regularly – not only to their investors, but also to their employees.

Measure ongoing progress

Follow industry-available research to know where your DE&I efforts stack up next to industry peers. One available tool is the Global Real Estate Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Survey in partnership with ANREV, INREV, NAREIM, NCREIF, PREA, REALPAC and ULI that we launched last year.

The survey collected details on best practices for DE&I-related recruitment, retention, training and development; for inclusivity, tracking and accountability and pay equity; and for DE&I program structure, resources and ownership. It also showed industry-wide demographic data on underrepresented groups, gender, as well as year-on-year hiring, promotion and departure trends related to DE&I. Survey findings can help benchmark your ongoing progress.

Create an authentic workplace

A key part of DE&I is creating a workplace where everyone feels comfortable being their authentic selves, regardless of race, sexual orientation, gender identity, life experiences, outlook or any other attribute that makes individuals who they are.

Nurturing an authentic workplace creates confidence within the workforce that colleagues will “have their backs” and act as allies on their behalf. Without this support, people may feel constrained by any unspoken pressure to fit in.

People who feel the freedom to be their authentic selves can bring new dimensions to the workplace. Without pressure to blend in, they feel more comfortable taking risks. This type of authenticity can be challenging for individuals to sustain alone, and they need allies who lend support by amplifying and defending their voices in the workplace.

Nurturing an authentic workplace also shifts the pressure for change from the individual to the entire organization. This commitment to nurturing DE&I and a more authentic workplace is an important starting point for sustainable change. However, organizations also need to support this emerging environment so that DE&I becomes woven into both the fabric of their organization and that of the industry.


To access diverse talent much earlier in people’s careers creates additional strain on a firm’s resources to build training programs from scratch.

Large institutions may have the resources to do this but small to mid-sized private equity real estate platforms might not. Finding similar organizations with like goals and spreading the burden of that training and development, coupled with support from associations like REEC, PREA and NAREIM, will all aid success.

Build on momentum

DE&I is definitely making progress in the industry. However, that progress is fragile. Current DE&I programs, discussions and opportunities available now will not be enough to move the dial on DE&I forever; there is still plenty of work to be done.

Achieving gains in pay equity, as well as parity in hiring, promotion and retention rates for diverse talent, will take time. That is why it is so important to maintain and build on the current momentum. The statistics do not indicate that we will get to proportional parity anytime soon, but intentional and meaningful change will help speed up our industry’s success.

If DE&I is to achieve real progress, the push will need to come from all directions. That means individual efforts can, collectively, be a force for change. Of course, DE&I initiatives can help create these types of opportunities for diverse talent, but it is up to individuals to make the most of them.

Keep responsibility where it belongs

The ultimate success of DE&I rests with senior leadership.

Accountability for DE&I results is crucial at both the company and industry levels. For example, individual companies can gather and share concrete data on their DE&I efforts. In an industry where performance is heavily driven by compensation, tying rewards to DE&I goals can be one of the best ways to drive results.

Build and maintain a diverse pipeline of talent

Increasing diversity means identifying sources of diverse talent with the skills and abilities to build a career in CRE and creating a pipeline for diverse talent.

Firms must then help the people they hire gain a confident foothold in the organization and the industry.

Mentoring is a key part of this. Exponential growth in DE&I results occurs when organizations nurture and promote leaders from diverse backgrounds. Ultimately, representation in leadership is key to sustaining and accelerating change.