The commercial real estate (CRE) industry has evolved more in the past 10 years than it did in the preceding 50. Advances in technology, data analytics, communication and marketing have significantly changed the game. What was seen as “cutting edge” just 12-24 months ago, is now considered “table stakes” — and the speed of innovation continues to accelerate.

Just as technology has changed CRE for the better, I believe diversity and inclusion are the path to future success. It’s not enough to simply hire diverse populations. As Verna Myers says, “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.” Initiatives to recruit and hire diverse populations are an important first step, but inclusive environments are what drive successful outcomes.

If we agree that clients want to do business with those they know, like and trust, that means our teams should be reflective of the clients and communities we’re privileged to serve. Dimensions of diversity can include, but are not limited to race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age and ideological beliefs.

Teams with a diversity of thought and experience drive innovation. At Colliers, we believe in doing what’s right for our clients, people and community to guide our practice and vision. Progressive companies who actively hire diverse teams are changing the CRE landscape. A diverse team is a signal to others that inclusion is a priority. Messaging and visibility matter. Diverse voices in the workplace add texture, depth and insight which can help companies discover new, untapped opportunities and innovative solutions. Building a diverse workplace is shown to have quantifiable benefits, and investments made in these areas pay dividends over the long term.

In its 2019 Commercial Real Estate Industry Outlook, Deloitte recommends “companies should reward inclusive behavior such that it becomes a part of the fabric of the organization.” In order for inclusivity to truly become part of the fabric of an organization, company-wide initiatives and priorities should be employed to jumpstart these best practices.


Increasingly, clients across all industries are seeking to work with organizations committed to growing a diverse workforce. Our CRE workforce should reflect the demographics of the world in which we operate. Researchers project that by 2045, the United States will be less than 50% Caucasian. In order for CRE firms to grow, we must serve the needs of every client, particularly those from diverse communities.

To serve diverse communities, we need an understanding of the perspectives a community holds, and the challenges that a community faces. A diverse CRE team can serve the needs of diverse clients who might have specific or unaddressed needs. Companies are beginning to, at least in part, base vendor and supplier selection decisions on the cultural and diverse makeup of the teams pitching the business — and even on the diversity and inclusion programs and initiatives of their organizations. A diverse team adds credibility and demonstrates a commitment to understanding a variety of needs and perspectives.

From Hiring to Mentoring

Being a champion of diversity doesn’t end with hiring and onboarding new CRE team members. A commitment to diversity is a commitment to advocacy, support, professional growth and sponsorship.

CCIM Institute offers several programs meant to reshape the industry and provide practical skills for minorities and other diverse populations who want to enter CRE. Two programs in particular support minority and veteran accreditation. Interested professionals can complete training courses and gain professional designations.

Bisnow reports that companies with more women in leadership positions had higher returns, less turnover and more effective decision making. And there is no shortage of findings that support these outcomes. Analysts found that REITs with a greater-than-average share of female directors outperformed REITs with all-male boards by 2.33 percentage points over five years. The findings are unanimous: more equitable workplaces are mutually beneficial for all.

Gender inequality can be linked to pay disparity and fewer promotions for women and other under-represented professionals. Female mentorship programs work. They combat gender inequality and empower women to grow their careers, providing female professionals resources and development opportunities along the way. This is true across most target ages and industries. Research demonstrates the strong outcomes of mentoring in engineering and other STEM fields — other industries that are also heavily male-dominated and benefit from mentoring programs.

Many organizations seek to provide opportunities for advancement for women and their careers. For example, the CREW Network and Mortgage Bankers Association’s mPower Program work to balance the scales and place more women in positions of leadership within CRE.’s recent inaugural ELITE Women of Influence Conference drew leaders from across the industry, all focused on overcoming the gender gap in CRE and the value of women’s mentorship programs. Clearly, now more than ever, there is a significant push to create more diversity in our industry.

Within Colliers, the Diversity and Inclusion Program was designed with five integral pillars to provide growth and mentorship for professionals from under-represented groups seeking development and leadership positions in their real estate careers. I am personally proud to lead our Diversity and Inclusion Recruiting pillar, focused on attracting talented and diverse candidates to be part of the Colliers organization in North America. In addition, I take great satisfaction for providing mentorship to others and have seen first-hand the value of mentoring relationships, especially those that position women to participate in executive-level meetings and decision making.

Our women’s mentorship program matches women with experienced mentors, both male and female, to develop leadership skills and create positive change in career development. Mentors and mentees are matched based on areas of interest, experience and goals. Since its inception in 2016, the number of mentor-mentee pairs has grown by 32% on average. And since 2016, 43% of these mentees have since been promoted.

In both 2018 and 2019, Colliers | San Francisco was awarded the ELEVATE Break the Ceiling: Corporate Leadership Award at the Annual Gala Honoring Diversity and Women’s Leadership in Commercial Real Estate. Awards aren’t always a benchmark of progress and change, but this was a recognition that our efforts for increased gender diversity are making a real impact.

Diversity creates positive outcomes

Actionable diversity leads directly to positive outcomes, individually and on a company level. Including diverse voices creates opportunity. As diversity grows from an initiative to a priority to an integrated part of the workplace, women and under-represented groups gain the leverage, professional development, sponsorship and opportunities they need to advance their careers.

First and foremost, CRE is a people business — working with and serving clients and colleagues. Collectively, CRE has an opportunity to be a leader to other industries and create more diversity within our teams — not only will it benefit business, it’s simply the right thing to do.

About the Author

Kerris Hougardy is a senior member of Colliers’ North American People Services group, leading all Talent Acquisition activity for Canada and the U.S. As a coach, mentor and manager of a high-performing team of 18 Talent Acquisition specialists, her focus is on strategic business partnerships, candidate experience excellence, employment brand championship and continuous process improvement.