Nuveen: DE&I talent is at a premium

A shortage of mid and senior level diverse candidates in real estate means the pay gap has gone into reverse, say Nuveen Real Estate’s global chief operating officer Reisa Bryan and Asia-Pacific chief investment officer Louise Kavanagh

Louise Kavanaugh

How diverse is commercial real estate today?

Louise Kavanagh: We all recognize it’s a male-dominated industry and I do think the asset class is lagging. NAREIM’s recent study showed 16 percent of leadership positions are held by women and only 4 percent of males and 2 percent of females identify as African or Asian.

What DE&I challenges does real estate face?

Reisa Bryan: Commercial real estate is not typically a diverse workforce to begin with, so making diverse hires at the mid and senior levels is where we are looking to make an impact. We’re growing our diverse workforce organically, starting at a collegiate level, and in some cases at the high school levels, by bringing the opportunity for real estate careers to the population we want to grow. The strategy is that this will translate into a solid diverse pipeline.

Reisa Bryan

Does that talent shortage mean that experienced diverse talent commands a premium?

RB: Absolutely. Today’s market talent is at a premium and are engaging with firms focused on equity in pay. When you recruit diverse talent at the more senior levels, you are going to have to pay a premium. While we’re happy to make competitive offers, candidates are aware their existing employers will often counteroffer to retain them, which means we have to find ways to retain our existing talent and look for even more opportunities for internal mobility.

Which puts an emphasis on inclusion initiatives designed to stop that talent looking elsewhere. What works?

RB: What works is a committed focus on inclusion. We have developed inclusion initiatives to support our retention efforts. We have domestic and global BRGs that support our firm DE&I strategy with a focus on three key areas: business impact, enhancing a leader-led climate of belonging and offering initiatives that build bold leadership. Our Nuveen Real Estate women’s network, is one of the BRGs.

We also hold global roundtable discussions led by the executive leadership team. That’s been particularly effective with our more junior employees during the pandemic. Around 30-40 percent of our team are millennials or younger. In addition, we hold virtual coffee mornings and happy hours. These are open door sessions where anyone can share their experiences and, most importantly, celebrate their wins.

Is there a danger of tokenism as real estate investors strive to create at least some level of diversity on their boards?

LK: Inga Beale, the first female CEO of Lloyds of London in its 328-year history points to a rule of three. She says you need to have three people of diverse backgrounds to be effective. We need to create an environment where women can prosper, and we need to break stereotypes about women only appearing in HR and marketing roles. The data proves out that it’s not tokenism, rather its good business sense to have diversity on boards. McKinsey and Co. study concluded that diverse organizations tend to outperform less diverse peers on profitability.

How successful has your own program been?

RB: Nuveen Real Estate is 33 percent female; in addition, we have four women, out of 18, on our global executive team. In addition to managing our existing representation globally, we are very deliberate about looking at promotions, attrition and retention rates, which are really important to us as we continue to improve our diversity representation around the globe.

What has served you well in your own career as a diverse employee in a non-diverse industry?

LK: A lot of women doubt their abilities. You have to know your worth and be your own brand ambassador. You have to get the support of mentors, colleagues, friends and family, and you have to understand that you can’t have it all. You have to be selective and deliberate in setting personal and professional goals.

What next for DE&I in real estate?

RB: We are changing the narrative. We have to ensure that real estate is representative of the world we live in. And it isn’t representative today. We are developing DE&I initiatives and goals to hold us accountable. For example, developing mentoring programs at the high school and collegiate levels, securing partnerships with search firms for senior and executive leadership roles and growing our internal talent through sponsorships are just some of the ways we want to impact the commercial real estate industry. What we do know now, is that diverse teams deliver better results, so unless we get this right, as an industry, we’re setting ourselves up to failure.