Most people will agree diversity is a good thing. It is clearly the right thing to do, and there is plenty of research to support that it leads to better business results. But how many firms move past the platitudes, dig deep and really start to do the often messy work of implementing change?
Last year, JLL Asia Pacific decided it was time to commit to moving the needle on diversity. “The challenge for us is that we do make progress, and not just talk about it,” said Angela Newby, JLL managing director of transaction management, Asia Pacific.
This has meant dedicating resources, and “getting some of our best-in-class people in working groups to effect change,” added Anthony Couse, managing director, East China for JLL. “To try and say we are going to crack diversity in a year is not realistic. This is a very long journey. It is changing culture and that does not happen overnight.”
For JLL, which has over 250 years history behind it, diversity has become more than a strategic priority; it is an integral part of their value system. They face a tougher uphill battle than most. Diversity in the corporate real estate industry has, in Asia Pacific and elsewhere, lagged behind other industries. Property owners have historically been male, and in some places mostly white, and so have the business people who sought real estate services. Of course, this is no longer the case.
JLL’s customers have changed, particularly in markets such as India, China and Japan, where they are chasing the rising local firms as much as MNC clients. And MNCs, whether they are in Singapore or Mumbai, are also largely comprised of local employees.
This has meant the composition of JLL’s client-facing teams has also had to change. “It is interesting how quickly diversity has gone to the top of mind of a lot of people,” said Couse. “We are seeing much more diverse pitch teams. We look at what the client wants and put diverse teams in play.”
Diversity shakes up the status quo, strengthens creativity
Beyond having a greater understanding of the client, diverse teams are a great way to burst groupthink and the stultifying status quo that occurs when too many like-minded people get together and ‘sing to the choir.’
“When we put diverse teams, male, female, local, expatriate, whatever in front of our clients, we get a much higher performing team with different opinions and different views. We get much more creativity and innovative solutions out of diverse teams,” says Couse.
This corresponds with the research. In terms of sales, the American Sociological Association found that for every 1% rise in the rate of gender and ethnic diversity within a sales team, there is a 3% to 9% increase in sales revenue.
But getting to the stage of having the talent available is a big part of the challenge. On the one hand, there is a need for diversity – which is saying the right people are not there and going out and finding them. On the other, there is a need for inclusion – finding that the people are there, but not engaged.
In terms of hiring intake, JLL could easily decide to pat itself on the back. In China, for example, they hire 65% female employees. But when they examine the composition of their directors, it whittles down to the less than ideal 30% female.
“If you look at JLL, our offices are very diverse in race and culture. In many locations, we are 85% local. It is not to say that culture differences and other dimensions of diversity aren’t important, but gender is the big rock we need to move right now,” says Couse. JLL do not claim to have all the answers and Couse says he is working to better understand why there is so much attrition of female leaders in China. Unlike western countries, Chinese women are likely to have one child and they have family to rely on, with grandparents pulling together to take on childcare duties.
The pillars: culture, visibility, talent and employee benefits
In Asia Pacific, JLL is focusing on four pillars – the culture and its impact on diversity; the need for making diversity visible; building talent for the future; and employee benefits, checking to ensure that the right benefits and procedures support the diversity agenda.
Guided by the pillars, says Newby, they then take a tailored approach within each country. Local autonomy to decide what works is a key facet to the exercise. This shows an understanding that culture rarely changes when mandated from on high.
At the start of the process, the APAC Diversity and Inclusion Group worked with an external facilitator to put together a plan with key milestones. Instead of setting targets or quotas, they are designing a diversity-inclusion dashboard that allows leaders to check-in regularly to measure progress.
The dashboard in Sydney can and should look different than the dashboard in Shanghai. The dashboard incorporates a set of key performance indicators (KPIs) to track measures such as gender by country and corporate grade; hires and leavers by gender, corporate grade and country; and promotions by gender and country.
The action plan being implemented includes diversity intelligence leadership training – with an emphasis on understanding and breaking unconscious bias. This includes a mentoring program for senior female leaders, a diversity kit for managers explaining the basics and possibly most importantly, says Couse, flexible work practices that will allow both men and women to reach their potential in the business.
Change is on the way
“As a female in commercial real estate services for over 20 years, I am pleasantly surprised how many women are choosing to enter the profession,” says Newby. She says now her focus is on the inclusive challenge to get more of those women into leadership roles.
Her male colleagues have shown great enthusiasm for diversity and inclusion initiatives, another welcome surprise. “There has been a real mind shift from male colleagues about how important this is, not just as the right thing to do, but how much more business will be generated from this.” “We have really gone out on the front foot on this to make diversity a differentiator,” added Couse. “I think an equally important part of it is what our clients expect. They are expecting diverse teams to work together with them to bring more creative, innovative solutions to their business.”