Championing workplace diversity

Ensuring that businesses take diversity in the workplace seriously is increasingly important – not simply as a tick-box exercise, but because diverse workplaces are more innovative, inclusive and successful.

My company CBRE has ambitious growth plans, central to which is our ability to attract and retain top talent. Our vision is to ensure that diversity and inclusion become ingrained in the fabric of our business, and that we are recognised as much for our commitment to responsible business as we are for the quality of our real estate services.

As part of our commitment to responsibility, CBRE recently launched an inaugural Diversity Week, starting on the UN Day for Cultural Diversity. The week-long campaign included a series of events across all our UK offices to raise awareness and celebrate diversity and inclusion.

It highlighted the key issues and questions that inclusive work environments face, and turned the spotlight on this as a business priority. Employees were invited to attend a series of ‘learning lunches’ to hear the experiences of a range of people from new parents to veterans, and discuss the ways in which businesses could best ensure inclusivity across the board.

Personal testimony

Some of the most personal accounts of difficult yet inspiring times were heard at the Veterans & Reservists event, at which senior director (and decorated Royal Marines colonel) Cliff Dare and project manager Sean Chapman spoke candidly about their experiences of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Indeed, never has the work/life balance been better emphasised than the example Dare offered of fighting in Afghanistan at the same time as negotiating a planning consent in Burton upon Trent via a satellite phone.Cliff diversity week

The network of reservists and veterans that exists at CBRE is indicative of the firm’s breadth of employees from different backgrounds, and the session, which was supported by the employment engagement director from the Ministry of Defence, offered information and tips for any current employees looking to train as reservists.

With one in four people experiencing a mental health issue at some point in their life, the important issues of stress and emotional wellbeing were addressed over a lunch session, supported by mental health charity Mind and CBRE’s Nick Martel. As well as offering practical advice on managing stress and increasing wellbeing in the workplace, the session outlined how mental health must be a strategic priority for the business, and earmarked areas for future improvements.

Family challenges

Wellbeing both in and out of the office was a topic of debate among a panel of mothers and fathers at an event hosted by CBRE’s Women’s Network and Family Friendly working group, at team of employees that has been advising the business on creating a more inclusive workplace and scrutinising policies and procedures.

The session offered insight into the challenge of managing the expectations of clients and colleagues and making it back in time for the school run, and suggested ways that employers can support staff returning to work after longer career breaks to raise children.

Tellingly, one of the male members of the panel also spoke about the journey he and his wife had taken with IVF, noting how much of a difference it makes when employers are sensitive to this very personal challenge.

Lastly, Nicholas Creswell, vice-president of talent and development – enterprise technology and operations at Thomson Reuters, and one of the world’s top 100 LGBT business leaders, spoke about the importance of supporting employees regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Creswell stressed that celebrating differences is something that must be part and parcel of how a company operates, and shared his strategy for ensuring this happens.

This included seeking senior sponsorship to ensure that you are speaking to the business in a way that resonates; finding allies; implementing a mentoring programme to ensure that junior people are matched with those more senior, and have their voices heard; and finally, going where the energy is – if there are supporters who have spark and ideas for how to drive the agenda forward, it is important to listen to them.

Diversity Week was full of debate, ideas and challenges, as well as new strategies to address them. Everyone left the different sessions equipped with new or strengthened understanding of the need to widen the net and listen to the views and concerns of the people they work with.

David Hitchcock is Executive Director and Head of Building Consultancy at CBRE, and chair of CBRE’s Diversity Steering Group.

David speach

Article first published in Property Week on 5 July 2016                                                   
David Hitchcock

David Hitchcock

Head of UK & EMEA Building Consultancy

Building Consultancy

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