A Global Look at DEI in CRE

January 19, 2022

The Global Real Estate Diversity Equity and Inclusion Survey of 2021 is the only corporate study of its kind, and it shows a trending emphasis on DEI in the commercial real estate industry. In fact, an overwhelming 92% of firms that replied to the survey reported having some form of DEI program or initiative already in place—regardless of the size of the firm or location.

This survey, sponsored by the Urban Land Institute and other industry participants, represents 435,000 employees from 161 companies and traces valuable metrics on policies that assist with employee recruitment, retention, pay equity, and inclusivity training. The information that comprises this survey was acquired through exclusive interviews with the goal of identifying the DEI management practices that support running a business more effectively, efficiently, and inclusively.

Race and Gender Demographics

For 7 in 10 participants in the survey, diversity initiatives include gender as well as gender identity in addition to race, ethnicity, and nationality. Globally, men account for 58% of full-time employees while 42% are female. Of those surveyed, 69% desire to see more underrepresented groups in leadership positions and 56% want to see more women in executive management. Despite the growing emphasis on gender-based initiatives in the real estate industry, only 26% of Asia-Pacific region board of director members are women, with this number dropping to just 14% in Europe and 21% in North America.

While gender representation has improved, other demographics still have room for progress such as those with disabilities, mental health issues, neurodiversity, and addressing different socioeconomic backgrounds. When it comes to race, 31% of North America’s employees are people of color (POC) professionals, but that decreases in half to 15% at the executive management level.

How to Ensure the Efficacy of DEI

Affecting real change with diversity initiatives that are still new can be challenging especially without establishing benchmarks of successful DEI outcomes. One of the practices to ensure the success of corporate DEI programs according to responses in this report is to link DEI success with performance reviews for senior managers. Company leadership must also make it a point to train their employees on their specific DEI goals to help emphasize the importance of DEI which is the most common form of training adopted by 8 out of 10 organizations followed by anti-harassment and discrimination training. However, it is unlikely that there will be a formula that works for everyone, supported by the 6 in 10 companies with regional-specific variations in their DEI policies.

One of the main takeaways from the survey is that 72% of firms believe offering programs that support work-life balance such as childcare or parental leave have the greatest impact on underrepresented candidates and creates an inclusive corporate culture—regardless of regional location. Other initiatives with merit that support DEI goals include conscious efforts to invite diverse candidates to apply to the job pool or creating other internship, mentorship, and scholarship opportunities that target minority groups. Participants in the survey revealed at least 140 partnerships they maintain with diversity organizations in order to improve representation in the talent pool.

Only 17% of respondents believe that increased diversity needs to result in greater productivity as the most important outcome. Other outcomes like pay equity are analyzed based on gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, and age, but only 45% or respondents are looking to make payment adjustments with 52% having no plans to increase pay transparency.

Obstacles to DEI Improvements

One of the biggest issues is that DEI initiatives are regarded as low priority by most companies. Another obstacle is the lack of the connection between DEI policies and company objectives. Compounding these issues, the European market has additional restrictions on their ability to collect demographic data. Other companies cite budgetary concerns preventing the development and progress of new diversity initiatives. The positive news is that the 161 willing company participants in this survey illustrate a shift in the desire to take on diversity initiatives despite these challenges.