Schroders: Factoring DE&I into building a global team

Diversity of thought is of paramount importance, says Schroders Capital’s Sophie van Oosterom.

This article is sponsored by Schroders Capital

Sophie van Oosterom, global head of real estate at Schroders Capital, joined the firm in January 2021 and moved quickly to build her team by bringing in the right blend of talent. She stresses the importance of encouraging the presence of a variety of perspectives.

What is your approach to DE&I when constructing a team?

Sophie van Oosterom
Sophie van Oosterom

Diversity comes in a number of ways, so we believe there are a number of different angles to this question.

For each new function (whether a replacement of a current role or recruiting for a role for a new area of development), we start by looking within our own platform for someone with the right capabilities and characteristics to be trained into the job. As a global management team, we push ourselves to think outside the box to ensure all potential candidates are considered. We believe this creates a wider sense of team building and inclusion.

When we go externally to market with a role, we ask headhunters to search widely, including people from different industries, gender, background, studies and geographies so we can get a more diverse range of candidates in to choose from.

Within our own team, we have all read the book The Culture Map, a manual to navigating global cultural working styles, and have done and shared our respective Insights Discovery character profiles. I strongly believe that being aware of your own cultural biases and customs, as well as having a common understanding of the preferred ways of interaction or communication (eg, introvert versus extravert, analytical versus emotional, etc) that others have, allows for better, more transparent communication across a team. This means there is more understanding and therefore more room to get team members to share ideas openly and look at common challenges and opportunities from different angles.

Irrespective of background and diversity, it is difficult to manage diversity of thought in a team filled with just dominant leaders or analytical observers.

How did you consider DE&I when constructing your leadership team?

When constructing our global management team we were really striving for diversity of thought and bringing expertise to the group from different professional and personal backgrounds, lived experiences and to a certain extent also character preferences. However, there was one constant in that we were definitely looking to build our management team around people who also believed in the power of being part of a diverse team and not a collection of big egos.

This has proven crucial in constructing a global real estate strategy, accounting for cultural nuances and different client preferences and to navigate the current economic environment in which we find ourselves.

How do you demonstrate the benefits of constructing a diverse team to avoid labels such as tokenism?

It is diversity of thought that counts, not diversity in numbers. So, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. When constructing diverse teams, it is important that the culture of an organization adapts as well, to welcome and include the diverse views to influence strategy and outcomes, and then to fully embed those thoughts and practices within the business.

If an organization really looks to add diverse talent that can bring valuable expertise and experience from their field, or different insights to the table, and then importantly ensures these different opinions and insights will be considered, the benefits become clear very quickly to the wider team.

Reversely, unduly promoting or adding diversity just through numbers can have the opposite outcome. Research shows that diverse teams that are not well-managed or which lack the ability to communicate, where there is a single focus on diversity in numbers, but diversity of thought is not heard, have proven to deliver suboptimal performance.

Real estate, like other industries, has clearly become more conscious of the need for better DE&I, but what are the main challenges?

I believe the biggest challenge to an industry where success has traditionally been achieved by leveraging local knowledge and networks – and is therefore difficult to penetrate for an outsider – is to adapt the culture and proactively invite diversity and diverse views to the table and the network, both from within the industry and more broadly. This means not just inviting others to the drinks, but to think around how to more broadly engage amongst a wider group.

It is important to remember to emphasize equity and inclusion, rather than merely focusing on diversity.

When thinking about promotions and new hires, we work from a set of qualities and capabilities the candidate should demonstrate, which go beyond the day-to-day immediate tasks. All candidates will be assessed equally against this wide framework, therefore enabling people to value expertise and excellence in different areas. In addition, the company invites 360-degree feedback for all team members, and especially for managers, such that a person’s qualities are assessed from different viewpoints.

Do investors pay attention to DE&I?

Given the proven impact of well-managed diverse teams on the investment and team performance, LPs definitely should if they don’t do so already. We have seen DE&I become a topic that is an increasingly core element of their due diligence, transitioning from something that was only included due to requirement.

The industry has already demonstrated over the past years that it is capable of change. That change is self-enforcing; more diversity helps to improve a more diverse culture which helps to improve diversity. Upwards and onwards!

What initiatives does Schroders Capital have to promote diversity?

We are involved in a number of projects which exist to attract diverse talent into the industry at junior level. That may be through apprenticeships or offering work experience to people who may not otherwise be aware of the opportunities on offer. Initiatives such as these are extremely important to open up the industry and build that diversity of thought, which we know is so important for decision-making.

Throughout the teams within the real estate business, DE&I is built into our investment practices. For example, our debt team, led by Natalie Howard, looks at our borrowers’ diversity statistics, as well as hiring policies and their workplace satisfaction scores. This due diligence process is embedded into their framework and investment underwriting process.