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To Create a Diverse Workforce, You Need to Provide Opportunities

Diverse Workforce

To be successful, diversity programs must be a core part of an organization. Find out how to create that environment.

For an organization’s diversity program to be successful, they must be viewed as part of the culture and not just “another initiative,” according Usha Chaudhary, President and Chief Operating Officer at Kettler.

“At some places, people create a diversity committee and it is just like checking a box,” Chaudhary says at the recent ULI Real Estate Trends Conference in Washington, D.C.

Jodie W. McLean, Chief Executive Officer at EDENS, an owner, operator and developer of retail real estate, says diversity in the workforce does not just occur. “You have to be intentional about promoting diversity and building it within your organization,” she says.

How do companies move beyond the notion that they want diversity to actually going about making it happen? For McLean, it starts with hiring. EDENS wants diversity from the board level and down through the organization. Age and race are not the only diversity categories.

“For us, diversity of thought is just as important,” McLean says. “We define it by intellectual curiosity more than anything.”

Hiring is only part of the equation. If diversity is a priority, companies must develop a way for employees to share their experiences and provide a path to leadership for talented performers.

That is not all.

In the #MeToo era, promoting diversity also means being hyper-aware of what is going on in individual divisions and field offices.

“If you have an abuse of power in a department or a division or a field office, it can become a major problem,” says Julie A. Smith, Chief Administrative Officer at The Bozzuto Group.

Smith says it is important for employees of all backgrounds to feel at home.

“We employ people from all over the world,” Smith says. “We want to give them a platform from which they can share their backgrounds.”

To do that, Bozzuto brings together 12- to 15-person roundtables comprising people from different backgrounds and different parts of the organization, such as construction and accounting.

“Anyone can bring their life experiences to the table,” Smith says. “There, they share their personal details, which provides opportunities to learn how people got to where they are.”

Bozzuto also encourages employees to organize groups around a shared identity, experiences and origins.

“It is an employee-led experience,” Smith says.

Promoting diversity also is reflected in policies and a tolerance for where people are in life. Bozzuto is cognizant that people need different things at certain points of their careers. In their 20s and 30s, employees might be eager to work long hours to climb the corporate ladder. Then, when they have kids, flexibility might become more important.

“Then when the kids are older there is a period where they don’t need flexibility and they’re ready to charge the hill again,” Smith says.

After that, they might be eyeing retirement and slowing down. Their wisdom remains an enormous asset, Smith says.

“Engagement is important at all four of those stages,” Smith says. “It is a challenge for you to get the best they can bring to the job during all four of these stages.”

Chaudhary says Kettler is working on developing a diversity program, which she wants to be impactful.

“We want to tackle issues that are cross-cutting to come up with ideas and solutions that are lasting,” Chaudhary says.

Minority executives constitute 20 percent of Kettler’s leadership group. For high performers with leadership aspirations, Chaudhary says companies must create an environment where minority employees feel like they can make mistakes and not be punished.

“Risk-taking is good; learning from mistakes is better,” Chaudhary says.

Encouragement and coaching is also important when developing minority leaders. Smith says that she has worked with talented women who may not think they are ready for leadership role. In that case, it is important to encourage them to apply for a job that might think is a stretch.

“When you’re leading an organization, your job is to spot talent and potential,” Smith says. “When you spot that talent and potential, you need to help them get to where they need to be.”

Where they need to be does not just apply to a job title and responsibilities. It can also be a salary band. As Chief Administrative Officer, Smith has insight into compensation and will bring an issue with a specific employee’s compensation to the attention of Bozzuto’s other partners.

“I may call it out before it becomes a problem,” Smith says.

On top of that, offering that employee access to influencers can provide a big boost.

“As a leader, you can choose who is sitting around that table [with influencers] and give them access,” Smith says. “If you bring a talented person into an investment committee meeting and let them be in the room where it happens, that can be a powerful thing.”