Recruiters are facilitators for change, but cannot do it alone

Chantal Clavier, head of the real estate practice for Europe and Africa at Heidrick & Struggles, calls for a more collaborative approach between executive search firms and private real estate managers when tackling diversity challenges.

How do we meet private real estate’s diversity challenge? We must take action and ownership of that action. Not because doing so serves KPIs, but because it is right and will ensure a successful future for the industry.

Executive search firms are often asked to find unique talent required for private real estate managers. Invariably, the conversation leads to diversity. This should be music to all ears, but so often is not. There remains too much superficiality and usually a conversation ends with “but there aren’t enough qualified candidates.”

Diversity, nevertheless, is a fact, and should be measured and tracked within a business. It is the inclusivity part which is more “art.” Let us call it out: hiring one Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic (as classified in the UK) and female candidate, for example, is not a reason for managers to pat themselves on the back and celebrate. Glancing through company websites and counting females, or non-white individuals and assuming organizations are diverse also cannot be considered a measure of success.

Executive firms are often tasked with providing the solution. How can we do it? At the highest level, we will listen before advising. Many of us already carry a conviction to make a difference and will be looking to do so. We will also push our clients to stretch their thinking. They are paying us to do this after all. But one successful search does not hold the answer.

A well-respected search firm knows the leadership of any business and its culture is the key to ensuring diversity and inclusion are embedded. A great leader is one who seeks out and values different perspectives while creating a sense of belonging for all team members. This leads to the acceleration of business results, better ideas, innovation, doing the right thing for your team and making an impact on the global workforce. It’s fashionable rhetoric, but it is substantiated these days.

Three key steps

Successfully attracting top talent is one first step. Ultimately, developing an environment that supports diversity of perspective is what it will take to retain diverse talent in the longer term. We will help enable that. Search firms advising private real estate should be doing these things:

Firstly: we should be assessing the cultural make-up of existing executive leadership teams to provide indications of cultural health across defined essential values. This includes analysis of the leadership team’s view of behavioral traits. We need clients to engage in this additional work. Possibly it is a first barrier to overcome. But we need to help them see it as a long-term investment and part of their transformational journey.

Secondly: when hiring, we must look beyond the usual places, think about transferable skills and what defines a “qualified” verses “unqualified” candidate. We need to push clients toward these definitions. Otherwise, we cannot break the pattern of hiring the same type of person over again. We should work together to get the experience criteria right and reflect on implications of that criteria. Who is being excluded as a result? We should also think about how existing employees can be bolstered by other talent. A good advisor should be able to lead the conversation here.

Thirdly, have candidates self-identify the leadership traits that contributed to their successes as a leader. So often search firms are regarded as places to go for senior hires. This is correct, but in part. Use us to help you address the broader topics of purpose, culture and leadership, as much as finding individual talent. Ensuring talent found lands well when it arrives, and is developed and retained, should be part of a holistic approach to modern recruiting.

Approach diversity and inclusivity strategically. It takes time. Start now by measuring who is in your organization. Measure inclusivity in your leaders. That is the most powerful way to make the sorts of sustainable change private real estate needs. My industry will help facilitate. But we must do it with the sector – not for the sector.

In September, Clavier’s white paper entitled Leadership in Real Estate: From 2010 to Today and Beyond was published. To read it, click here.