What do great leaders do? That’s a critically important question for this moment in time, as we see the social unrest that has knocked COVID-19 news stories off the front pages.
It’s a significant moment. As I made clear in a recent message to IREM’s membership, our traditions are rooted in diversity and inclusion, and the depth and breadth of our members’ knowledge forms the backbone of our professional network.
A broad scope of diversity in culture, race, generation, and faith creates an industry that’s rich in experience and knowledge. That same richness can, and should, be applied at the company level. As McKinsey & Co. reported: “Companies in the top quartile for gender or racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. Companies in the bottom quartile in these dimensions are statistically less likely to achieve above-average returns. And diversity is probably a competitive differentiator that shifts market share toward more diverse companies over time.”
Nevertheless, challenges in achieving that diversity persist. On one hand, roughly 98 percent of large companies have some sort of diversity and inclusion program, according to the Harvard Business Review. But it seems these programs sit on a shelf collecting dust, and “around three quarters of employees in underrepresented groups—women, minorities, and LGBTQ employees—do not feel they’ve personally benefited from their companies’ diversity and inclusion programs.”
To underscore that point, Jasmyn Sylvester, CPM, ACoM, and 2020 Chair of IREM’s Diversity Advisory Board, shares her own workplace experiences. She relates that she’s found herself in companies as the only woman of color, as well as the pressures that were put upon her to perform and fit in. As HBR points out, this is not an uncommon issue, and, she says, it starts at the top.
But, in addition to the performance scrutiny, managing with empathy and being supportive of all employees is crucial to the success of your business, and your team. “Even if I wasn’t a woman of color, empathy is something all leaders should have, whether they have experienced bias or not. The ability to listen and empathize with your employees and support them is very important.”
Success—the success both she and McKinsey point to—comes in a variety of packages. First, diversity and inclusion can broaden a management firm’s strategic approach to the market.
“When you have a group of like-minded individuals, no one is going to shake the table,” says Sylvester. “On the other hand, when you have an eclectic and diverse group, you’re bringing a variety of backgrounds and thought leaders to the conversation, and that enhances innovation and productivity.” It also establishes a forward-looking reputation for your firm, one that attracts the best across a pool of diverse talent.
Armed with a multicultural environment, your firm is positioned to provide a broader basis of outreach and a greater comfort level for tenants. Without that cultural foundation, it may be more of a challenge to build connections with an occupancy that doesn’t necessarily share many commonalities.
Bridge that gap, and you’re simultaneously addressing your local market position. “Reputation is everything,” says Sylvester. “If your employees are fully engaged and productive because of the company culture, you’re setting yourself apart from the competition as well.”
Maintaining diversity is the right thing to do, and good for the bottom line.
So, let’s return to the question we began with. True leaders build diverse and inclusive cultures, which contribute to a broad-based and strategic business model for the benefit of all stakeholders. True leaders deliver the best results by capturing the best in everyone.
In addition to her role as 2020 IREM president, Cheryl Gray serves as the head of special projects and operational excellence at QuadReal Property Group in Toronto. She’s IREM’s first international president.