Back to News Room – This is What DE&I Looks Like in CRE Right Now

A new survey shows that 92% of CRE firms globally have programs or initiatives to improve DEI.

By Paul Bergeron | | December 20, 2021 at 05:36 PM

The first global benchmark of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) metrics for commercial real estate shows that there is a clear mandate and momentum for DEI to be a priority, with 92% of firms adopting a DEI program or initiatives to improve DEI in the workplace.

The Global Real Estate DEI Survey represents a global collection of corporate best practices and employee demographics for commercial real estate. The survey tracks gender, race/ethnicity and nationality across seniority and job functions in Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America as well as corporate practices in relation to DEI programs, recruitment, retention, training and development, inclusivity and pay equity.

The 2021 Global Real Estate DEI Survey, a partnership between REALPAC, ANREV, INREV, NAREIM, NCREIF, PREA and ULI and conducted by Ferguson Partners, reveals that CRE firms are increasingly employing professionals dedicated to DEI or utilizing DEI committees.

In Europe, 43% of CRE firms have professionals solely dedicated to DEI, while in Asia-Pacific that figure is 33%. In North America, 21% of firms have dedicated DEI professionals while 67% of firms have formal DEI committees responsible for developing, implementing and reviewing DEI strategies and initiatives. In both Asia-Pacific and Europe, around 44% of CRE firms utilize DEI committees.

The survey, which collected 175 responses covering 435,000 employees globally and representing $2.4tn of gross assets under management, was conducted between Sept. 8 and Oct. 29. Almost three-quarters of participants reported data for the North America region (77%), with 16% of organizations reporting for Europe and 7% of participants reporting on behalf of the Asia-Pacific region.

DEI is a Priority

Highlights from the report:

  • 92% of CRE firms globally have a DEI program or initiatives to improve DEI.
  • Of the 92% of firms with a DEI program or initiatives to improve DEI, 47% of CRE firms have a formal DEI program and 45% of CRE firms have DEI initiatives and policies to improve diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace.
  • Gender balance: The global CRE industry comprises 58% men and 42% women.
  • Gender and seniority: For all regions, women represent more than 50% of FTEs at the junior-level. In North America, women represent 20% of executive management and 21% of board of directors’ roles; in Europe women represent 16% of executive management and 14% of board roles.

Spotlighting Individual Company Efforts

GlobeSt asked many CRE companies about their DEI policies, outside of The Global Real Estate DEI Survey. Several highlights follow:

BKM Capital Partners Brian Malliet, CEO & founder tells “At BKM Capital Partners (BKM), diversity, equity & inclusion (DEI) are central to our business strategy. BKM has a clearly defined policy and subcommittee under ESG to ensure integration of DEI principles in our everyday business practices.”

Metrics tracked by BKM include employee demographics, women and minority owned business in tenant base, and impact of philanthropic efforts to improve social equity. The efforts to promote DEI are paying off, as 54% of BKM’s employees are female, 29% of female employees identify as BIPOC, and 32% of all BKM employees identify as BIPOC. 

Its leadership team is 24% female, and 24% identify as BIPOC, all above NAREIM benchmarks. BKM promotes and encourages a diverse workforce via training, hiring practices focused on DEI, and allowing a floating holiday not currently part of BKM’s federal observed holidays.

A recent endeavor that reflects BKM’s strong commitment to DEI was the fact that CEO Brian Malliet signed on to the CREW Network CRE Pledge for Action. 

“This industry-first, CEO-driven initiative is designed to advance women, and elevate actions that encourage greater diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in the commercial real estate industry,” Malliet said.

Mark E. Rose, Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Avison Young, tells “Long before it was en vogue, Avison Young was focusing its attention on the lack of diversity in our industry and implemented its overall DEI strategy. We worked hard to launch a series of mindful and engaging programs, trainings and accountability initiatives to address a variety of seen and unseen diversity components, including racial, gender and sexual orientation equality. 

“Programs were implemented to help us attract and retain underrepresented talent, a global diversity and inclusion advisory council was established, and unconscious bias training was provided to our staff.”

Avison Young is also evaluating organizations it can partner with that have extensive relationships with HBCU’s and other underrepresented communities to create a more diverse talent pool in our recruiting pipeline. 

“It’s important to go into the communities and universities where students don’t necessarily think of CRE as an option for a career choice,” Rose said. “Taking it a step further, we are developing an internship program geared at attracting and retaining underrepresented talent and prioritizing diverse talent being considered for every open position within Avison Young. 

“On the exterior, we are also looking to diversify our outside partners, extending into our vendor and supplier relationships. We implemented a diversity supplier questionnaire in North America and the UK and added software to better identify diverse vendors. The best way to encourage meaningful change in the industry is to be honest, to be accountable and to take action.”

Rose in September joined hundreds of commercial real estate leaders who have signed on to CREW Network’s CRE Pledge for Action. The pledge asks CEOs to support the advancement of women and other individuals in underrepresented groups, including those marginalized because of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, ability, religion, and age.

Unispace prioritizes incorporating DE&I values into their culture and physical workplace. It started with a “3P” plan to build an environment that sets up all of their employees for success:

Policies that support diverse employee needs, such as paid time off for parents and caregivers with flexible working hours; people-focused initiatives like resource groups and peer mentoring programs; and physical space designs that foster accessibility, wellness, and choice. 

For example: Organizations can bring DE&I principles to life through aesthetic and experiential design. Art and technology can actively support a culture of social responsibility and show a company’s vision and care.

“There isn’t a one-size-fits-all for a DE&I strategy; organizations will need to engage in purposeful discussions to create a workplace that goes beyond simple diversity and delivers a true sense of belonging for their people,” Chely Wright, Chief Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Officer at Unispace tells “DE&I work may relate to activities in our personal lives like practicing yoga, guitar, or golf. It’s an ongoing process for progress. When organizations approach DE&I as a practice, they can continuously improve their work environments.”

In October, Unispace marked a milestone in its corporate diversity goals with recent leadership appointments—women now hold more than 40% of senior leadership positions at the firm, a number that far surpasses CRE industry averages.

John Combs, founder and principal, RiverRock Real Estate Group (RREG), tells that executing DEI has been a challenge despite efforts and focus at RREG this year. 

“It is quite difficult to gain traction on any protocols with results,” Combs said. “This is not a dashboard report. It is cultural. That means to execute DEI effectively requires a culture where everyone on the team thinks about DEI in vendor selections and recruitment of team members.”

Each decision is examined in the realm of when all things are equal how do we execute DEI? At RREG, “we have shifted from developing outside non-profit DEI strategic relationships, to what we can do internally with our contracting. This is a top priority for our clients and us.”

Alicia Vaz, Partner and Chair of the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee at Cox, Castle & Nicholson, tells “Cox Castle strives daily to increase diversity within the firm and in the legal community at large. We recognize that people are our greatest asset and encouraging varied perspectives and experiences in our workplace is not only integral to the culture of the firm and the legal professional but also enhances the firm’s ability to deliver the highest quality legal services to our clients.”

Cox Castle is a participant in Diversity Lab’s Midsize Mansfield Rule certification process – the goal of which is to increase the representation of diverse lawyers in law firm leadership. 

“Our participation in the second cohort of the Midsize Mansfield Rule is part of the firm’s commitment to recruit, develop and promote diverse lawyers,” Vaz said. 

Cox Castle is also committed to increasing diversity in the legal profession by expanding access to legal education. As a result, for over a decade, a partner of the firm has served as an active Board member for California ChangeLawyers (formerly California Bar Foundation), a statewide foundation that empowers the next generation of legal professionals. 

On an annual basis, the firm sponsors a California ChangeLawyers 1L Diversity Scholarship, which provides financial support and mentorship to diverse first-year law students. Cox Castle also established The Phillip R. Nicholson Memorial Scholarship Fund for Real Estate Excellence at USC Gould School of Law and the Cox Castle & Nicholson LLP Endowed Scholarship in Law at UCLA School of Law. 

Five years ago, RealSource Properties, an owner of 16 multifamily assets nationwide, established an education department headed by Crystal Dukes, its director of education and training. And in 2021, in an innovative collaboration with the National Apartment Association (NAA), RealSource developed a diversity and inclusion training program that is hyper-focused on staff and working environments in the multifamily industry. The program facilitates pathways to conversations and greater understanding between colleagues. 

“We believe that our best efforts come as we create welcoming, supportive work environments for all of our associates,” Nate Hanks, RealSource Properties CEO, tells “NAA represents 93,000 members and more than 10.5 million apartment homes globally. Via this collaboration, NAA aims to take best practices established by RealSource to its wider membership.”

Fred Berk, Co-Managing Partner at Friedman LLP, an accounting and advisory firm, said diversity of thought, experiences and people in the workplace is one of the most valuable assets of any organization.

Friedman launched several programs in 2020 to demonstrate its commitment to DEI, including annual trainings with an initial focus on unconscious bias; a 21-day racial equity and social justice challenge in collaboration with the Young Women’s Christian Association (YWCA) to educate employees about race-related challenges and achievements in society at large; and collaboration with college career advisors at various schools on events geared toward increasing exposure to job opportunities for diverse students; and inclusive recruiting by partnering with affinity groups, expanding its recruiting efforts for veterans, offering mentorship opportunities and holding trainings to reduce bias and promote diversity.