Commercial Real Estate Growing More Diverse

By Brian J. Rogal

Not so long ago, most commercial real estate firms were behind their counterparts in other industries when it came to fostering diversity. But a sea change has come over the real estate industry, and most firms have decided that to fully succeed in the modern business world, women and minorities have to play a bigger role in deal making and other operations. At the same time, a new generation has flooded the workplace, and companies need to change their use of office spaces and methods of working to attract and retain these new recruits. As a result, modern commercial real estate firms don’t resemble the companies of the past, but these changes have made it easier to succeed with clients, many of which have also put more emphasis on diversity.

“We have a purposeful approach to recruiting,” Mary Bilbrey, chief human resources officer, JLL, Americas, tells “We are sourcing talent from a broader set of companies and schools.”

“Some of our clients are absolutely champions in this way,” and have their own diversity programs, she adds, especially those in the larger markets. In fact, the company has found that there is a strong correlation between using diverse teams to pitch its services and winning someone’s business. “We’ve even been asked by some of our clients to share our ideas on how to drive diversity and inclusion.”

Bilbrey, who has been on the job for about two years, says JLL now trains its human resources teams to recognize confirmation bias, an innate tendency to respond positively to certain bits of information about candidates, even before any interview takes place, especially if the interviewer has similar traits. These could include what college they attended, family background or other life experiences. Left unchecked, such bias can result in the hiring of candidates who look a lot like the human resources department and sabotage efforts to diversify.

JLL also created recruiting pods that focus their attention on one particular segment of the business. This way, recruiters gain a deeper understanding of the skill sets truly needed by candidates and hire on that basis rather than whatever unconscious biases they may bring to the table.

The company has also adjusted the tasks handled by some recruiters. Instead of everyone doing end-to-end recruiting, some now focus exclusively on sourcing. That is, building relationships with organizations, including schools, black MBA associations, veterans’ organizations, women’s groups and others, that helps build pipelines of highly-qualified candidates.

“We’re connecting with the right people,” she says. JLL has seen a dramatic improvement in the efficiency of its hiring, including more applications coming in and a 96% acceptance rate when it offers someone a job.

And a more active women’s business group within JLL has helped build the capacity of its growing female workforce. The group has been around for a while, but in the past few years some voiced concerns it was too focused on social activities. Today, however, it puts more emphasis on fine tuning members’ business skills, including how to present yourself or how to set up a proper social media page.

These approaches have gotten results. Bilbrey says 68% of the firm’s recent new hires in key roles were either women or minorities. There has also been a 7% increase in high-ranking female officers just in her short time with JLL, and 44% of the non-director board seats are women. Furthermore, the corporate solutions division saw a 20% increase of new female hires year-over-year. “Our clients see that, and it’s important to them.”

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