A national CRE company works to expand diversity within the company and throughout the industry.
AS EARLY AS 2001, Duke Realty began to focus on diversity. The Indianapolis-based full-service commercial real estate company wanted to branch out from the industry’s white male roots to become more inclusive.
As one of its early steps, Duke established a “Diversity Council,” an internal committee comprised of up to 30 associates who apply and are selected to serve a two-year term. Once they complete their term, they remain “diversity ambassadors” for the rest of their career with the company, according to Sharon Lleva-Carter, vice president of business development. This means they continually seek ways to bring diversity and inclusion to their work practices. “Duke Realty has 500 associates companywide, and we now have more than 80 diversity ambassadors,” she adds. Sixty-four percent of the company’s executive committee members are diversity ambassadors, as are 35 percent of management committee members and 17 percent of all associates.
This high level of commitment and participation demonstrates how long Duke Realty has been striving towards its goals, says Denise K. Dank, chief human resources officer. “When we first started our diversity and inclusion program, there was the normal pushback in terms of people asking, `What does this have to do with business? Is this just a legality or a check-the-box thing?’” she says. “But 15 years in, we’ve long since passed that threshold in terms of everyone’s engagement with the initiative.”
Dank and other Duke Realty senior executives all share the same answer when it comes to that first question: What does this have to do with business? Their reply is that diversity and inclusion practices are not just good, they’re good for business.
Lleva-Carter points out that Duke Realty’s two main product types are industrial and health care real estate. “On the industrial side, we have a lot of overseas clients — South Americans, Asians, international folks; on the health care side, there are a lot of women and minorities. As a business partner to these two sectors, we want to be diverse ourselves.”
This commitment to diversity also extends to Duke’s suppliers and subcontractors. “Instead of hiring nationwide vendors, we tend to go with local vendors because they bring their knowledge and expertise about things that are unique to that market,” explains Gregory N. Czarnik, vice president of construction systems.
To find those vendors — which also tend to be more diverse — Duke holds outreach events to advertise upcoming projects. This is an easy thing for commercial real estate firms to do and is well-received among local Latino groups, minority supplier development councils and women’s business groups, Czarnik says. “Minority associations love getting these invitations,” he notes. “That’s what their members pay their dues for — to make those connections.”
Dank adds that clients may have their own supplier diversity requirements. “While some companies may scramble to put these together, we have ours in place, so this gives us the edge when it comes to winning bids,” she says.
Duke Realty’s VIP (Value in People) initiative strives to present a diverse candidate slate for all open positions before a hiring decision is made. “Our staffing manager works with our hiring managers in terms of posting and recruiting for open positions,” Dank says. “If a business unit doesn’t have a diverse group [of applicants], we discuss strategies for improving that.”
Dank admits she was worried that this process might backfire and become a “check-the-box” exercise. “But we’ve had 100 percent compliance and genuine support of the initiative by hiring managers,” she says. “In our construction department, we’ve hired 12 people within the past year; 50 percent of these professional jobs went to diverse candidates.” In 2001, one in 11 (9 percent) of new hires at Duke Realty were minorities; in 2015, that number grew to more than one in five (21 percent).
Educating Minority Youth
Finding diverse candidates remains an ongoing challenge for Duke Realty, according to Dank. The company continues to look for new ways to bring more diversity to the industry.
One example is Duke Realty’s recent partnership with Arsenal Technical High School in Indianapolis. “Our construction professionals teach a class there once a week to show kids in a practical way the assortment of careers in construction,” Dank explains. “It opens their eyes to the variety of potential careers in this industry.”
Czarnik adds that the class makeup is 75 percent African-American, 25 percent Latino and 30 percent female. “We’re introducing them to our industry and letting them know it’s not just swinging a hammer,” he says. “They can be engineers, lawyers, designers, carpenters, electricians. We try to show all the angles.”
Looking ahead, Dank expects Duke Realty’s new president and CEO, James B. Connor, to not only carry on the company’s diversity and inclusion efforts but to push them forward. “He has demonstrated over the past years his support of the company’s initiatives and has been a thought leader himself on this issue,” she notes. “Often, top leaders are supportive but not personally engaged. Our new CEO will not only be personally involved, he will take things to a new level.”
The company’s newest diversity programs — diversity networking and mentoring — offer two early examples of this. For years, Duke Realty has networked informally with minority professional groups. According to Dank, “This year, we’ve upped our game because our new CEO said this needs to be a more accountable program.”
The diversity networking program requires each of the 50 senior leaders who comprise the company’s management committee to partner for at least two years with an organization that serves primarily women and/or minorities. During that two-year period, they must attend two events per year; sponsor, endorse or speak at a program at least once; describe their involvement with the group as part of their annual review; and identify at least one candidate from the group for hire.
The diversity mentoring program requires all 11 members of the company’s executive committee to mentor a woman or minority associate. “We identify our female and minority associates who are deemed to have upward mobility, and we tap them to be mentored by a member of our executive committee,” Dank notes.
Mentors and mentees must commit to the program for 12 months; meet monthly; complete an annual performance review; collaborate on and complete at least one special project; and participate in a diversity event together. In addition, the mentor provides written notes to the mentee’s manager on a quarterly basis about his or her ongoing development. In turn, the mentees will be required to provide written feedback on ways to improve the program.
For companies just beginning their diversity and inclusion efforts, Dank shares these words of wisdom: “Expect pushback and don’t be discouraged by it. Learn from others, secure strong executive sponsorship and involve as many employees as possible in order to cultivate widespread engagement and ownership of the initiative.”
This article is adapted from the NAIOP Diversity Resource Center.
For more information, see the “Company Best Practices” section.
Planning for Success
Denise K. Dank outlines four steps for companies that want to launch or improve their own diversity and inclusion programs:
1) Define what you want to accomplish.
2) Network with other companies that have diversity initiatives.
3) Line up strong executive sponsorship for your initiative.
4) Decide how you will measure success and have accountable goals.
Denise K. Dank