CBRE celebrates diversity in the workplace with busy week of events

CBRE concluded its second annual Diversity Week today. Building on positive staff feedback from the inaugural event, the week has seen interactive workshops, keynote speeches and networking events held in CBRE’s London West End and City offices as well as across the UK.

Highlights included panel discussions on coming out as an LGBT person in property and how diversity can drive business performance, a talk from dietitian Celynn Erasmus on how to increase energy and improve health and wellbeing, and a session on business etiquette and culture in China.

The programme has also included more light-hearted events such as a drinks reception celebrating 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality and a quiz night testing staff’s knowledge of diversity in film, sport and politics. And on Thursday employees were invited to bring in food that reflected their culture, heritage or religion.

The programme of events has been organised by the various company steering groups including LGBTA (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allies); the Multicultural Network; the Women’s Network; Faith at Work; and the Wellbeing Network. Staff who do not come under the remit of these networks were also encouraged to attend.

CBRE’s Clarence Dixon discusses the importance of diversity in the evolving property market. #cbrediversityweek

— CBRE UK (@CBRE_UK) September 5, 2017

The firm wanted the week to “raise awareness, promote respect and celebrate diversity and inclusion for all in the workplace”, as well as offer an opportunity for “provocative discussion regarding the positive impact that having diversity as a core business value can have within the company and throughout the industry”.

The person responsible for co-ordinating events is David Hitchcock, who is executive director and head of building consultancy at CBRE as well as chair of its diversity steering group. Before the beginning of the week, Property Week asked him to explain the thinking behind it and what the company hoped it would achieve.

What is the aim of CBRE’s diversity week?

The focus is obviously around diversity and inclusion, and our strapline is ‘embrace it, share it, celebrate it’. It’s about making people more aware of the different network groups that we have, and bringing that to life with a series of different events, which represent a mix of different issues.

What will the week’s LGBTA element comprise?

We are holding a panel discussion that will look at research on the LGBTA community within property and consider how people feel about coming out at work. Because we are trying to raise awareness of these issues, it is not just aimed at people within that community but also people who are allies. We will then follow that with a reception in the evening organised by the LGBTA steering group.

What do you mean by ‘allies’?

Allies are people who might not fit into a certain category - for example LGBT - but who support people who do. More of our staff are realising the value of coming to these events in order to understand their colleagues’ perspectives, and this year we have seen more people signing up to events for this reason.

How does the talk from a dietitian relate to the theme of diversity?

Celynn Erasmus will talk about how diet and nutrition can help to maintain energy levels and help staff to manage their wellbeing. The session will focus on how people feel at work and it will also touch on stress and mental health issues - something we are hearing about more and more in the workplace.

How will faith groups contribute to the programme?

CBRE’s World Faiths Network is holding a breakfast workshop with the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity. It will offer a Christian perspective on why we work, whether it is worth all the stress and whether there is any greater purpose other than pay and promotion - taking a different angle from the usual discussions about the workplace and productivity.

What are the business benefits of diversity to CBRE?

Long gone are the days when you would turn up to a pitch and be faced with a team of white, male partners - the range of people we work with is now much broader. Unless our team has also got that range, we’re not going to win the pitch. But it is also about creating the right kind of culture and making CBRE an organisation that people want to come and join - somewhere that people feel comfortable, respected and valued.

Will this be reflected in the programme?

Yes. Clarence Dixon - the global head of loan services at CBRE, who also leads the firm’s LGBT and multicultural diversity networks - will host a panel discussion on what diversity means at CBRE, how staff can embrace it throughout their careers and how it can help develop our business.

What did you learn from the inaugural event last year, and how has that informed this year’s programme?

We had fantastic feedback last year - around 500 people attended the events and we are hoping to have even more this year. Most of the events are already fully booked, and some are even oversubscribed. But last time the programme was a bit more binary, with specific events that were aimed at one particular group. This time, instead of holding an ‘LGBTA session’ or a ‘women’s session’ we wanted to provide a more varied programme that allowed us to pose big questions, find different angles and be a bit more engaging.

Has it been easy to get staff to engage?

The initiative has a good vibe within the company - people do talk about it, and it gets picked up in different team meetings and other sessions. A lot of people, particularly in the younger age groups, are used to seeing these kinds of initiatives, but one of the challenges has been to make sure we get real engagement on a senior level. It has been a bit of an education programme, to make people appreciate that the diversity of our company’s workforce is pretty broad, and we need to reflect that in our business practices.

How does CBRE compare with other businesses when it comes to diversity?

We’re not perfect, but within property we do seem to be well ahead of the game - although the property industry is generally a bit behind in this area. I am not aware of anyone else in property holding an event like this, so perhaps we are unique in it - I would certainly like to think so. After we ran the event last year people told me that it was inspirational that a company like CBRE was holding a diversity week.

One of the other things we are doing is to pursue accreditation under the national equality standard - no one else in property is doing that. It is a pretty rigorous process, which I think shows our level of commitment to diversity.

How will you evaluate how effective the diversity week has been?

We tend to use the soft approach of simply talking to people and getting their feedback. We will talk to the network leaders and ask different teams what they learnt from it.

What other events do you hold throughout the year?

We have a big programme of events - each of our networks has their own programme and there is also a calendar of external events that they contribute to throughout the year. Diversity Week is really the culmination of all of that.

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